E O EkeWednesday, July 16, 2014




he World Cup is over and Germany won. Brazil spent billions on stadia, security, and other infrastructures and the players and politicians have had their party and now it is over. As Brazil counts the cost of the World Cup, which saw its football team routed by Germany and Holland, and team sprit triumphing over individual genius. One thing that stands clear is that Brazil 2014, has demonstrated that indeed, it is better to build a team and play as one, instead of depending on one fantastic player and building the team around him. This is why Brazil and Argentina failed where Germany triumphed.

As Brazil counts the cost, and conducts the inquest into its abysmal performance, Nigeria has not disappointed. It has turned victory into defeat and the sublime into the absurd.

After an impressive outing in a World Cup, where Nigeria could have done better, the country has turned on its self, instead on the problems that made it lose to France thereby squandering the opportunity to enable the team do better next time.

Anybody who understands the Nigerian way, which is corruption and a dedication to using privileged position to pursuing narrowly defined selfish objectives no matter it's effect on the generality of the people and image of the country, would not be surprised that the Nigerian Football Association NFA, which also must stands for No Future Ambition, has imploded.

This is not surprising, considering that the players demanded the payment of their allowances before their lacklustre performance against France. I often wonder, why it is only African players that go on strike because of pay during World Cup. How do other countries reward those who represent her?

The NFA is an association that has been bedevilled by the peculiar Nigerian problem of everybody being an expert and believing that their opinion is not only the right one, but the only correct and perfect one. It is also not immuned to the Nigerian problem of ethnic and religious prejudices which has ensured that the country hardly does anything for the right reason.

From the first blow of the whistle in the match with France, the body language of the Nigerian players were that of a team playing their last match in a tournament that had only gone half way. Their performance reminded me of their first match with Iran. I wonder why they played for a draw in a match in which they had everything to play for.

In a manner consistent with a typical Nigeria farce, the inquest began with the rumour of the resignation of the coach, Stephen Keshi, it's denial by NFA, the intervention of the government and finally FIF's suspension of Nigeria,

Stephen Keshi's relationship with NFA had been fractious to say the least. It has been characterised by late or non payment of salary and attempt by some people to dictate to coach in a manner akin to the parents' Teachers'Association, telling a teacher how and what to teach the students the teacher is preparing to represent the school in a quiz competition. Understandably, Keshi has done what any professional with dignity would do, politely remind the power that be, his job description and that he tend to it his way.

Nigerian leaders often prove to be meddlers. They employ drivers and insist on teaching them how to drive instead of setting something in place to monitor how good they are. The president and governors appoint as special advisers party members who would tell them what they want to hear without a demonstrable expertise or understanding of the area they are supposed to advice on and wonder why the they are not getting good evidence based advice and knowledge.

They go to see doctors and tell the doctors what they are suffering from and the best treatment and then wonder why they do not get better. This megalomania, a serious disease of the mind and the belief that one knows everything and must influence and control everything, is at the centre if the Nigerian rot. This is why they leaders are scared of building strong independent institutions which would not be controlled by them.

The questions is what should Nigeria do, now that FIFA has suspended it for sacking the board of the NFA. Well, the government should not cow to FIFA, it should politely tell FIFA that the NFA, is not like any other National football Association and that it is not financially independent of the government like the British FA. As everyone knows, he who pays the piper dictates the tune. FIFA, has no business telling Nigerian government what to do with the NFA, unless the NFA, is financially independent of the government. The government should use this opportunity to make the NFA, independent and separate it from the federal ministry of sports so that it can exist like the English FA.

Footballing is not a profession like carpentry, law or medicine, where qualification would guarantee competence and high performance. It is a talent determinant profession like music, where talent determines who makes it and hard work the polishing of the rough diamond. Without a natural talent, it is very difficult, although possible to make it as a footballer.

The Peles, Messis, Ronaldos and J J Okochas are born, not made. This is why it is disingenuous for some professional footballers to set up football academy where they exploit misguided young people without talent, who are motivated by money, to believe that hay can become great footballer and earn millions in Europe. The attrition rate in football is so high that only those with natural talents should be encouraged to pursue it as a career.

For every 1000 footballers, only a handful make it to the world stage . Europe has become the grave yard of many of these misguided young people who were made to believe that they would become great millionaire footballers and neglected normal profession that would have guaranteed them a reasonable good life, had they devoted to it, half the time they wasted on football.

I love football and watch it on TV, but I think it is overrated and many poor and developing countries like Brazil and South Africa, have wasted large amount of money on football which they should have better invested in social development to lift millions of their citizens out of poverty and raise the standard of living of the people.

This is why I believe that the old system in Nigeria, where good footballers are identified at primary and secondary schools, through inter school football matches like the principal cup and other cups, is the best way of nurturing the stars and interest in the game, instead of the exploitative football academies that sale unrealisable dreams to many gullible youth.

It is therefore necessary for the government to set Nigeria sports on a firm footing in a sustainable manner by restoring school sports and making the NFA completely independent by separating it from ministry of sports and ministry of sports should concentrate in schools and university sports, where talents are identifies and nurtured.

This is one of the ways forward. Government should not be employing, footballers and football coaches. This should be the responsibility of the NFA, which should be in charge of the Nigerian football league and able to generate its own income. Only then, would FIFA, have the right to raise objection to government interference in the way and manner NFA is run.

FIFA has committed a foul in Nigeria and should allow Nigeria to decide how it runs its football until the NFA evolves into an independent association. This is interference in the internal affairs of a country and no country should fund an association it cannot tell what to do. It is time for the government to step away from professional football and leave it to footballers, this will save it a lot of money and allow it to invest its limited resources to benefit all sports. Football is not the only sport.