Monday, November 30, 2009

A return to good sportsmanship

Congratulations to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), National Sports Commission (NSC), Presidential Task Force (PTF) Super Eagles players and Nigerians on our recent qualification for the first Football World Cup to be hosted by an African country.
The November 14, 2009 qualification was a divine favour coming at a time when the majority of Nigerians had given up on the senior national football team due to its lacklustre performance in the run up to the qualification matches.
Also deserving kudos is the Coach John Obuh who tutored U-17 football team that came second in the just concluded cadet championship hosted by Nigeria. The Nigerian lads lost 1-0 to debutant Switzerland at the final played on November 15, 2009.
The raging controversy between the NSC and the NFF over the issue of whether to appoint a foreign coach or technical adviser for the Super Eagles is a needless distraction.
In my own opinion, the NFF did right by sticking with Coach Shuaibu Amodu as the head of Super Eagles coaching crew for the 2010 Nations Cup in Angola and the World Cup in South Africa. Amodu, by his track record at the senior national team, is the best coach in Nigeria today.
He qualified Nigeria for 2002 World Cup but was denied the opportunity of taking the team to the mundial. He has done the same again and unfortunately, instead of celebrating this man, many Nigerians including the NSC are demanding for his sack.
In this era of re-branding and the campaign for patronising Made-in-Nigeria, is it not awkward that we still hold strongly that only a foreign coach can guarantee us a sterling performance at the World Cup?
History does not support this. I have discovered that all the countries that have won the senior World Cup did it with indigenous coaches. On several occasions that Nigeria has engaged the services of foreign coaches, their performances have been average. Yet, these foreign coaches are paid mind-blowing salaries and allowances. If the NSC and NFF will give adequate support and working conditions to indigenous coaches, they too will perform excellently like their counterparts abroad. Again, the timing is wrong to replace Amodu.
The Nation Cup starts in January and World Cup in June 2010, appointing even a world-class coach now may be counter-productive as it takes time to nurture a team.
Now that Amodu has been endorsed by the NFF, the next thing is for the PTF, NFF and NSC to ensure that adequate planning and financial provisions are made for the Super Eagles.
The team must be called to camp early, quality friendlies must be played before the Nations Cup in Angola while Amodu and his coaching crew should also look within and in the Diaspora for talented, young and committed footballers to blend with the ageing members of the national team.
Sporting authorities should also heed FIFA's advice about adequate maintenance of the eight stadia used for the FIFA U-17. Our bane in this country has been the absence of a maintenance culture. Ten years ago, Nigeria hosted a cadet championship but within a decade the entire infrastructure has become dilapidated through neglect. Examples of this can be seen in the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos and the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan, Oyo State.
These two stadia that were venues for the Nigeria ‘99 football are eyesores.
This fate should not be allowed to befall the Kaduna, Bauchi, Ijebu-Ode,
Abuja, Enugu, Kano, Calabar and Teslim Balogun stadia. The state of the art facilities provided for the U-17 tournament should not only be preserved but improved upon. Stadiums are not meant for football alone but for sports generally.
Even though the football pitches and spectators stands may have received greater attention during the recent soccer fiesta, other sporting facilities should now be upgraded and put to good use. Sport is a good social investment, a unifying factor and a good instrument of international diplomacy.
Apart from helping to positively engage the youths, it is also a goldmine for professional practitioners, especially those who ply their trade in Europe and America.
The controversy over the age falsification of some of our U-17 players is very disheartening and such should be avoided in any future age-grade championship. Cheating to win laurels is against the spirit of sports. The brouhaha trailing the N13 billion spent on the FIFA U-17 Championship should also be thoroughly investigated and culprits brought to book. Nigeria must return to the path of glory in football, nay sports.