The maiden edition of the Nigeria Football Federation-NFF well-thought out football awards ceremony ended in Lagos on Monday night with resounding hiss than applause. Change this caption to “Good thinking, bad execution” you wouldn’t be wrong. Reward for excellence and hard work is an age long tradition for motivation and encouragement to do more, especially in a performance based endeavour as sports.
For lovers of the round leather game in Nigeria, this has been long in coming from the the football house. Most football federations all over the world have made such event an integral part of their football calendar. Better late than never you would say. Kudos to the NFF for finally joining the league of national football federations which recognize and appreciate their own. Quality of attendance is also commendable.
However, it is always desirable to do well, that which is worth doing. Granted that the beginning of anything in life is bound to be difficult and challenging, there are always basic issues that should not be sacrificed on the altar of exigencies. Moreover, it is said that first impression matters.
Expectedly, the inaugural event has again put the football house on the spot, with very harsh criticisms by football analysts and stakeholders. This could have been avoided if enough awareness was created by the organizers on the parameters used in their choices. In a country where football is an opium , any selection without clarification is bound to generate heated debate. Therefore sensitivity on the part of those entrusted with the assignment must be key.
Sadly, much of the criticisms have been targeted at the so called “Legends 11”. We return to this shortly.
Personally, I watched the programme from what my dear friend High Chief Emeka Inyama would call the ‘comfort of his living room’. My first observation of an obvious omission or negligence was the inability of the NFF to honour some of their own either dead or alive. A minute silence was deservingly observed in honour of Chinedu Udorji, one of the finest home based Nigerian footballers. In addition ,the football house is still mourning the demise of a former board member, Deji Tinubu and it’s longest serving image-maker , Austin Mgbolu. It wouldn’t have been out of place to equally remember them at the event.
Again, the avalanche of artistes and performances have made both the CAF and the inaugural NFF awards very boring,creating crisis of identity for the events. Are the events still aimed at honouring football stakeholders or now a talent hunt for upcoming entertainers? There is no doubt, sports is a form of entertainment and any marriage with music would not a strange one.But such marriage ought to be creative and symmetrical . Our attention is quickly drawn to the 2010 World Cup hit song and performance by international artiste, Shakira with other South African folks. The song which went viral, was a fusion of football and music, is still aired globally till date. Nigeria is full of talented artistes who can recreate such feat if challenged. At most, three groups should be ideal at such event with less speeches.
On the contentious issue of Legend 11, the argument of whether it is Nigeria’s all-time greatest 11 or not does not hold water. This is why Wisdom should have been applied before adopting any nomenclature. The organizers and their agents are labouring in vain to pacify angry Nigerians who were taken for granted.
Interestingly, one of those who have written extensively on this issue is a very enlightened journalist, Mr Desmond Ekwueme. A reproduction of part of his views here would help highlight the areas that got Nigerians talking .
“One would have thought that the likes of Victor Ezeji( who played 20 seasons in the local league, my addition) Ahmed Garuba, Olumide Harris, would be invited to give the NPFL players some sense of belonging. But it never occurred to the organizers, who created a legendary team of mixed genders.
“We are indeed a peculiar race as the unthinkable find a way of being part of our culture, habit, tradition or innovation”, he observed.
Desmond ought to be reminded that this present NFF board has never hidden its lack of interest in our local league. We should therefore focus our attention on the creation of a legendary team of mixed genders, a novelty in such awards anywhere in the world, which paved way for the unpardonable errors.
The creation was a misnomer as football is not tennis which features mixed doubles. There is no doubt that if separate lists had been created for male and female , the omission of some names;whether you call it legends or all-time greats would have been avoided to a reasonable extent.
Admittedly, the lists would be as varied as who is drawing them up. Very clear parameters should have been set and explaination offered before hand by the organizers. There are some names you cannot leave out in the annals of Nigeria sports, particularly in football, under whatever nomenclature; legends or all-time greats, male or female.
The omission of late Rashidi Yekini and Stephen Keshi cannot be justified by any logic.Yekini remains Nigeria’s all time highest World Cup goal scorer. His goals guaranteed Nigeria’s first ever World Cup appearance. He also holds the record of scoring Nigeria’s ever World Cup goal. He was not considered or mentioned. I can imagine his cry from the grave. Keshi and Chairman Chukwu hold the record of Nigeria’s longest serving captains of the national team that won the African Cup of Nations as players and as coaches . Keshi was equally not even mentioned. What of Sam Okwaraji that paid the ultimate price on the field of play for his fatherland?
Emmanuel Okala, Peter Rufia, Ike Shuromi looked stunned as a young lady , Ann Chiejine who won only 14 caps for Nigeria for the female national team was named in goal as a legend.Not even Vincent Enyema with 100 caps for Nigeria and an African Nations cup winner was considered. Names of the likes of Peter Fregene, Inua Rigogo and Best Ogedegbe were not mentioned.
Fellow Nigerians, can someone tell us what parameters Mercy Akide Udoh, a great achiever no doubt ,would be considered more legendary than Perpetual Nkwocha?. Nkwocha-African Women Footballer in 2004,2005,2010,2011. Top scorer in CAF African women championship 2004,2006,2010 and All-time highest scorer. One can go on and on. How can anyone talk of Nigeria’s greatest milders and forget Muda Lawal, Aloysius Atuegbu or Friday Ekpo.
Repeatedly,the NFF President, Amaju Pinnick said the awards were a journey not a destination. Yet,the problem was created because NFF tried to tie both the journey and the destination together. The issues raised could have been avoided if the NFF had based their recognition on the evolution of the national team. Each deserving player would have waited for his era or generation of players.
Till next week, keep attacking.