FEATURE ARTICLE

Cyril C. NwokejiSunday, December 17, 2017
[email protected]
Belgium

TIME TO TAKE THE SOCCER WORLD BY STORM! (4)

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

he Federal government of Nigeria has always shown great interest in the nation's soccer affairs. This interest has grown tremendously over the years, so much so that soccer affairs has become an unofficial "government policy"! A number of examples would suffice, to prove this point:

In 1977, when "Rangers international of Enugu," was paired against the "IICC Shooting stars of Ibadan", in a 1977, African cup winners cup semi-final confrontation, considering the passion generated by this match-up, occasioned by the tribally -oriented followership of both club sides, the match was certainly going to be a cracker, that threatened to be somewhat bloody, if not well managed. As a consequence of this realisation, the NFF, then known as the NFA, decided that both legs of the match- up would take place in Lagos, the then capital city of Nigeria.

The first leg match in Lagos, was not free of incidents; there were skirmishes between supporters of both teams! Realising that the second leg match -up, was likely to be much more contentious not only between both teams, but more especially their supporters, as only the winner would advance, the then Chief of Staff Supreme headquarters, the late Major-General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, of blessed memory, ordered that the second leg should be played in the then home state of his: Kaduna state. This decision proved to be a smart one, as the relocation of the match to Kaduna, diffused in a great measure, the built -up tension associated with the match.

When Nigeria hosted the 1980 Nations' cup tournament, the federal government was actively involved in the preparatory process. One remembers the visit to the "Trade fair complex" camp of the Super Eagles in Lagos, by the erstwhile Nigerian president: Alhaji Shehu Shagari. After the friendly banter with players and officials, he jokingly asked the players, to tell him if they were well treated or not. Of course he didn't leave without taking a group's photograph with the players. And when the boys delivered on the huge expectations, the Federal government rewarded them handsomely!

During the course of matches involving the Super Eagles, in Lagos, at half time, the erstwhile Nigerian Military president: General Ibrahim Babangida, usually sent half time message/peptalk through the billboard to the Super Eagles' players!

After the 1988 Nations' cup tournament in which the Super Eagles won the silver medal, as second best team, the then Chief Of General staff, the late Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, of blessed memory, renamed the team: "The Super Eagles of Nigeria ", from their original name of: "Green Eagles of Nigeria". Needless saying they were feted by the Federal government.

In 2007, when Berti Voghts was appointed coach of the Super Eagles, he was given a rare audience by then President Olusegun Obasanjo. Who told him to beware of the highly expectant Nigerian press and public.

In 2009, when the Super Eagles' 2010 world cup qualification ran into troubled waters, the then President Umaru Yar'Adua, of blessed memory, instituted a "Presidential Task Force", charged with seeing the Super Eagles through to the World cup tournament. This objective was achieved!

When the Super Eagles won the 2013 Nations' cup tournament, they were lavishly feted by then President Goodluck Jonathan.

However there is the other side of the medal:

Indiscipline is sometimes the bane of Nigerian teams at competitive events! In other words, when it matters most, our teams or rather some members of our teams become indisciplined. A number of examples will suffice to buttress this point:

At the 1978 Nations' cup tournament in Ghana, a Nigerian player broke camp and when to enjoy himself at the "Apollo" theatre. He was punished with exclusion from the team.

At the 1980 "Moscow Olympic games", team Nigeria won no medal, but made the wrong headline, through the infamous: "Moscow Sex" scandal!

At the 1994 World cup tournament in the USA, as a consequence of indiscipline on the part of some Super Eagles' players, the then coach of the Super Eagles: Coach Clemens Westerhoff, sometimes had to camp himself very close to the elevator, late at night, to forestall players who might want to sneak out of camp at night! Notwithstanding his efforts, a Nigerian player broke camp, late in the night, before the match against Italy, to enjoy himself at a local club! Needless talking about the purported wranglings between the players and officials, during the camping period over non-footballing matters.

At the 2004 Nations' cup tournament in Tunisia, three Nigerian players broke camp after Nigeria's opening match, without authority. They were subsequently dropped from the team.

At the 2010 Nations' cup tournament in Angola, some Nigerian players were reported to have broken camp to enjoy themselves in "town"!

In 2013, after the 2014 World cup qualification match against Namibia, in Windhoek, Namibia, the players refused to leave their hotel rooms to jet out to Brazil, venue of the 2013 "Confederations' cup" tournament. They protested the slashing of their allowances and bonuses; and threatened to boycott the "Confederations' cup" tournament, in Brazil. It took the intervention of the Federal government before they flew to Brazil. They arrived late for the tournament, and consequently didn't play well in their first match.

This "evil" of indiscipline, reared it's ugly head again at the 2014 World cup tournament in Brazil. Before the match against the French, in the second round of the tournament, the players missed two training sessions, as a consequence of non-payment of allowances. They threatened to boycott the match against France, but for the intervention of the Federal government, that sent the then sports minister with cash for the players. This money was shared between the players up to the wee hours of the morning of the match against France! At a time the French players were having a good night's rest! Is it surprising the Super Eagles collapsed in the last fifteen minutes of the match, and conceded the goals that knocked them out of the World cup tournament?

The essence of this part of my article is two- fold:

Firstly, to appreciate the Federal government's efforts in supporting the Super Eagles and Nigerian football over the years. And secondly, to urge the Federal government to join hands with the stake holders to stamp out possible acts of indiscipline that may bedevil Nigeria's preparations and participation at the World cup tournament, in Russia, in 2018. While some of the aforementioned acts of indiscipline, are blamable on the players, some of it can be blamed on the officials, who by not taking up their responsibility with regards the players, instigate them to be indisciplined. The Super Eagles have come a long way, getting to this stage of their development for the World cup tournament; the omens appear to be on their side, they are in my considered opinion, set to shoot for the stars, at "Russia 2018". The Federal government should please use it's leverage to ensure that indiscipline, doesn't rear it's ugly head in the affairs of the team, for "Russia 2018". The best teams in the world, don't allow non-footballing matters to distract them in their preparations for soccer tournaments, and during the soccer tournaments proper. In this light, one is pleased with the efforts of the NFF to avoid a repetition of what happened in "Brazil 2014". More can still be done!

TO BE CONTINUED!

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