By Ade Ojeikere
I won’t join the motley crowd who would dismiss the tales of bribery in the Super Eagles on the altar of lack of evidence or the death of coaches. Those in this school of thought don’t mind some people proffer defences against the allegations, with many doing it to whip up sentiments against the accusers.
It doesn’t matter if such people played for the Super Eagles without offering cash, gifts or other incentives to any coach. Such regulars made the team based on their sterling contributions playing for several European clubs, many scoring goals with aplomb. In fact, some of these boys distinguished themselves by making teams of the leagues in top European countries, making their invitations a matter of necessity. No coach would ignore such players.
Last week, I discussed this issue here, but didn’t include the perspective which Osaze Odemwingie introduced. Odemwingie revealed what some of the coaches were doing which affected the team’s depth in strength, given the calibre of players selected. It is true that players are picked on coaches’ discretion. But is this how others pick their players? Shouldn’t club current form be the basis of picking players?
Before major competitions such as the World Cup, ardent European league followers could off the cough list of players who would make the top five countries to the Mundial. And their choices are usually 80 per cent correct, using the indices of club appearances. Therefore, why would any Nigerian coach not pick our best guys for the Mundial or Africa Cup of Nations. Strictly speaking, if the players available for such positions are more than three, those who finally make the cut would know why they were picked.
For instance, Kelechi Iheanacho won’t begrudge Gernot Rohr for dropping from the Nigerian side to the last Africa Cup of Nations for rookie star Victor Osimhen. Iheanacho had a bad season at Leicester City during that period, where Osimhen was literally the French word for scoring goals in the Ligue Un. Rohr could have opted for Iheanacho on grounds of experience.
He didn’t. Apparently to kick Iheanacho on the bum to improve on his game and it worked. The biggest fillip from Rohr’s decision to drop the Foxes’ star was the emergence of Osimhen even Iheanacho would acknowledge the former Golden Eaglets’ scoring prowess. besides, Osimhen gained the required exposure just as he is easily Nigeria’s best striker in Europe.
In an Instagram live interview with the Eagles media team, Odemwingie admitted that some coaches would rather select a weaker footballer over a quality one — in an attempt to market their own player.
“Some of our coaches did get involved in a bit of player management, they had management companies. Shaibu Amodu for instance had a management company,” he said.
“Some picked a weaker player over a stronger one who played in a better club because they wanted to market their player. He was in and out as a coach and an agent, but he was a great man. I used to talk with him whenever I could about it. I loved Amodu.
“We used to fall out at times with him when they changed our hotels to a very poor one in Abuja. I would raise questions because it was disgusting and downgrading.”
In fact, top European countries have in the past filled their World Cup squad lists with their junior internationals, hence the smooth transmission of players from one cadre to the other, like we are experiencing with Osimhen. That is Odemwingie’s point without necessarily accusing any coach of receiving bribes.
Super Eagles squad should reflect our best stars anywhere in the world just as it should be used to show how our age-grade stars progress to the senior level. The young boys which European countries parade emerged from a structured nursery through grassroots competitions. Our domestic league clubs can only make a strong case for their sector if they religiously get the right kids to fill their junior squads. These clubs should forget about immediate results like winning trophies.
Youth teams are investments which would come with time. In fact, as many as six stars can emerge from a club, depending on the quality of coaching in the clubs. Interestingly, FIFA has allocated $100,000 (about N42 million) each for both the boys and girls teams, which means that the NFF should introduce a competition(s) where these talents can exhibit their skills.
It has been a long time since schoolboys played for Nigeria as we had with Henry Nwosu, Thompson Usiyen, Adokie Amiesimaka and Felix Owolabi as undergraduates, Haruna Ilerika et al.
The beauty about organising youth competitions is that it enriches the NFF’s data bank on players and helps the federation track the good ones among them who make it to Europe. Besides, these good lads boost the revenue indexes of the federation and the clubs where they are engaged in inter and intra transfers yearly. Football playing nations who see the industry as a business rely on the revenue from the transfer markets among other sub-heads for making cash to keep the leagues in session.
Indeed, such marketing windows help the clubs and federation evaluate how much they are worth. Both entities could also use the figures to know when they ran at a loss or incurred more profits for the particular season. In fact, FIFA’s $100,000 should invigorate the boys and girls competitions. Such lucrative activities would encourage the youth to remain here and earn a living until they are of age to make it big in Europe.
This writer would rather the NFF effectively use the $100,000 to raise the bar on the youth competitions than allow the clubs run it. A few clubs may argue that they would misappropriate the cash. But the larger number would, especially those who are indebted to the coaches, officials and players running into years. Such new competitions throw up fresh talents who could be nurtured and exposed to the world.
If we truly want foreign coaches and our prominent local tacticians to look towards the home-based players, we must increase the nurseries where the new lads can be schooled on the rudiments of the game. NFF should streamline the nurseries to eliminate quacks. The federation should get trained coaches who would be retrained periodically on the modern tricks of the game at the grassroots. Super Eagles level isn’t where players should be taught the basics of the game. No.
This flaw predates this current federation which has tried to change the narrative with several youth football programmes anchored on support from the corporate world, especially the banks. We are being told that close to five players of one of NFF’s youth programmes are in the current Golden Eaglets. This isn’t the point. the difference is that most of the serious countries have theirs from different academies or programmes, yet they play the same system. Hence the cohesion when they play.
Academies which are nurseries for warehousing the game have been standardised to protect the sector and backed by law for effectiveness. It is at this level that countries’ playing patterns evolve depending on what the coaches feel could bring the best from their nationals. Standards are set for owning such academies including their curriculum to shut out quackery. These academies are registered by the country’s FA with the right synergy struck where players’ movement in and out of the country are documented.
The serious-minded soccer nations expose players from academies who also have the template to monitor those who did well and have juicy packages in big clubs in Europe, Americas and the Diaspora. These academies ensure that the players’ career path is cut to fit their ambitions.
Those of them eager to combine playing soccer with going to school are enrolled to be educated. They also have drawn up training schedules to suit their schools’ curriculum, knowing the importance of education when their career as soccer players is over. Nothing happens in such countries as an accident.
Ade Ojeikere is the award-winning Editor of Sporting LIfe
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