Harvests of failure mark NFF’s second year in office
• Amuneke, Ezeugo, Kanu, Adepoju, Etim Esin Speak
• Only Board Members Can Assess Our Performance, Says Olajire
In September 2014, Amaju Pinnick stepped in as President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) in an election that went through second round of voting.
Pinnick, who was then chairman of Delta State Sports Commission and Delta FA, defeated those considered to be technocrats in the nation’s football, two ex-internationals, Dominic Iorfa and Taiwo Ogunjobi, as well as some seasoned sports administrators, Amanze Uchegbulam, Mike Umeh and Shehu Dikko.
Nigerians both home and abroad hailed Pinnick’s emergence as the new NFF boss. Even the President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), Issa Hayatou, sent his goodwill message from his base in Yaounde, Cameroun soon after the election saying that Nigerian football would witness a great turn around under Pinnick’s tenure.
Other congratulatory message followed, as former FIFA President, Sepp Blatter said that he was optimistic Pinnick would take Nigerian football to a greater height.
However, there were some Nigerians who refused to be carried away by the exhilaration of Pinnick’s victory in the NFF election. To such people, achieving results in Nigeria’s football may be different from leading a group of athletes to win the National Sports festival, a yardstick many people had used in judging Pinnick’s track record in Delta State.
Two years down the line, records have shown that the Pinnick-led NFF board has brought more pains than happiness to the nation’s football than any of his predecessors. As it is, all indices of growth for the round leader game in Nigeria are virtually absent.
Pinnick’s regime started on a high note with the Super Falcons reclaiming the African Women Championship (AWC) title in Windhoek, Namibia, a few days after he came on board. It was followed by a World title, as Nigeria U-17 team (Golden Eaglets), won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile. The nation’s U-23 team also won the African U-23 Championship in Senegal. That same team settled for a bronze medal at the just concluded Rio Olympics Games in Brazil.
However, in a country where success is the perimeter used in judging the performance of people in office, it has been more of melancholy for the nation’s football in the last two years under the Pinnick-led NFF board.
While some sports analysts still believe that there may be brighter days ahead, others are of the opinion that Nigerian football will go dipper into abyss, if nothing is done to stop the present board. Such pundits have claimed that myopic decisions, maladministration, incompetence and divisive comments have marked the present regime of the NFF board.
Former Super Eagles winger, Emmanuel Amuneke handled the U-17 national team, Golden Eaglets to win the FIFA World Cup in Chile to give Pinnick his first continental trophy. A majority of the players graduated into the Flying Eagles team with Amuneke in-charge as head coach.
But he failed to lead the team to the 2017 African Youth Championship to be hosted by Zambia, as Nigeria was sent packing by Sudan in Lagos.
Amuneke spoke on a live radio programme in Lagos last week, blaming the leadership of the NFF for the current football woes stating that politics has taken over the administration of the game in the country.
He said that indigenous coaches were not appreciated, adding that Nigerian football needs a total overhaul. “We are coaching because of the love and passion we have for our country. Whether you do good or bad, we all will be judged by our actions.
“Nigeria is not going to the Nations Cup for the second time but a lot of people don’t care because they are just thinking of their own selfish interest,” he said.
Amuneke further blamed the NFF for spending money on frivolities at the detriment of the coaches’ welfare. “Why did we bring the FIFA president to Nigeria when we have important things to do? The law of FIFA is to bring about the development of the game. Are we developing our game or just playing politics? These are the questions we should ask ourselves. “It is good we brought FIFA to our country, but what has it added to our football?” he queried.
For former Super Eagles captain, Nwankwo Kanu, Super Eagles’ inability to qualify for two consecutive Africa Cup of Nations and the failure of both the Flying Eagles and the Golden Eaglets to qualify for 2017 African championships are big nightmares.
“That is the reality one faces each time one sleeps and wakes up. It hurts and it calls for deep reflection,” the former Arsenal star said Wednesday night in Lagos.
Kanu called for ‘all hands to be on deck,’ adding that every one with enough knowledge on what could be done to turn things around for Nigerian football should not shy away from doing so.
“Everybody cannot be a coach. Some of us who know how things should be done can contribute in our own little way to move our football forward.
“Our football is down. We say we are the giant of Africa; we must strive to live like a giant,” Kanu added.
Over the years, Nigerians have used success of national teams as measurement for football administrators’ achievement. But going by results, the last two years are some of the worst in the history of Nigerian football. For the first time in history, Nigeria failed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations for second consecutive time.
After Dutchman, Clemens Wasterhof, led the Super Eagles to win the African Nations Cup at Tunisia ’84, Nigerians were looking forward to see the Eagles conquer Africa in the next edition of the championship in 1996. But due to political reasons, Nigeria withdrew from the competition and was banned from the 1998 AFCONs. Apart from those two championships, the Super Eagles had never failed to qualify for the Nations Cup on two consecutive occasions. It only happened under the Amaju Pinnick-led NFF board. The team failed to qualify for Equatorial Guinea 2015 Nations Cup and won’t be at Gabon 2017 AFCON. The failure to qualify the team to the 2015 AFCON not withstanding, Pinnick attended the championship in Equatorial Guinea as Match Commissioner, and was actually celebrated by a section of the media.
Coach Amuneke-led Flying Eagles will not defend the title the team won last year as they knocked out by Sudan in the race to Zambia 2017 African U-20 tournament.
What made the defeat so painful to some Nigerians was that the team had beaten the Sudanese away but they surprisingly shot down 4-3 in front of their home fans in Lagos to wave goodbye to the competition.
Many have blamed the NFF for Nigeria’s failure to qualify for Zambia 2017. The team’s build-up to the qualifier against Sudan was marred by protest by the players over unpaid allowances and match bonuses. For three days, the team did not train and even threatened to boycott the match until the NFF 1st Vice President, Seyi Akinwunmi was said to have brought out N5 million to settle some of the debts. The team eventually went down 3-4 in a match they were capable of recording a high-margin win.
Former Super Eagles midfielder, Mutiu Adepoju was furious saying: “Regardless of the mistakes from the players which made the Sudanese side to overturn the table against Nigeria at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, the NFF must also share in the team’s failure considering the fact that they failed to keep to their financial obligation.”
Nigeria is the most successful country in the FIFA U-17 World Cup having won the title five times. The Golden Eaglets won the last edition in Chile at the beginning of Pinnick’s tenure, but as defending champions, Nigeria failed to even qualify for the 2017 CAF U-17 to be hosted in Madagascar. The coach Manu Garba-led Golden Eaglets lost the ticket to Niger Republic, which means all Nigeria’s male teams won’t compete in any international competitions next year.
Again, many Nigerians put the blame on the doorstep of the NFF board for ‘the sin’ against the victorious Golden Eagles of 2015, who were dispatched to their various homes with just N20,000 each after emerging World champion at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile.
Signs of this rapid decline of Nigerian national teams may have appeared long ago, when the female national team, the Super Falcons were humiliated at the All African Games in Congo, losing in the semifinal and also failing to win their third place match. And for the first time since the game of women football was included in the African Games, the Falcons returned home without a single medal from Congo Brazzaville. It happened under the present board of the NFF.
Again, the Super Falcons failed to qualify for the just concluded 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, losing to Equatorial Guinea in Bata. The Falcons led then by coach Edwin Okon, were held to a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Abuja and needed a win to go though to the next round of qualifiers. That however didn’t happen as went down 1-2 to Equatorial Guinea despite taking an early lead in the game.
Former Super Eagles coach, Sunday Oliseh may have seen the claptraps coming. Unlike some other Nigerian coaches who will prefer to die in silence and allow the NFF rubbish them before crying out, Oliseh was bold enough to raise the alarm long before he resigned, revealing then that the NFF Technical Committee headed by Chris Green imposes players on coaches.
Rather than investigate the allegation, and probably dissolve the committee, Pinnick allowed some persons whose means of survival depend solely on ‘goodwill from players’ to frustrate Oliseh from the job. The coach was labeled unpatriotic.
Nigerian football is now at its lowest ebb ever, and some executive members of the Nigeria Football Supporters’ Club have decided to voice out their anger.
Secretary-General of the body, Rev. Sam lkpea, said recently that the Pinnick and his board members should have resigned in the wake of those poor results.
“lf Nigerians don’t want to lament for missing out of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, they must ask now for Amaju Pinnick to resign. The board has failed Nigeria and I feel that any reasonable and sensible leader will resign. Ibrahim Galadima was not as bad as this before Pinnick and his group pushed him out,” Ikpea said.
Outside the field of play, some Nigerians feel the present NFF board had equally embarrassed the nation in so many ways. Before the federation settled for the appointment of German tactician, Gerrot Rohr as manager of the Super Eagles, the NFF exposed Nigeria to international embarrassment with the announcement of Paul Le Guen as the substantive successor to Oliseh, when it had not reached agreement with the Frenchman.
The federation issued a press statement that it had contracted the Frenchman but Nigerians were shocked to hear a day later that the coach had denied that. “It was an embarrassment to our nation,” ex-international Friday Ekpo, said.
On his part, ex-international and social commentator, Emeka Ezeugo said: “There simply hasn’t been anything well thought out from the NFF and every decision has been a mishit for Nigerian football. From appointing three managers to selecting three different match venues for one qualifying engagement, each decision has set Nigeria on a path of fall.”
Ezeugo said those in the NFF do not have the interest of the country at heart. “Has Pinnick and his board demonstrated any genuine interest to develop Football? He lacks the necessary prerequisites to lead Nigerian football. What do you think is the reason that he’s been incapable of providing the needed leadership? Can a little boy do a grown man’s job? The answer is, no.
“All this board has been doing is to legitimise illegality. All we see is gloom. To name a coach is a problem and the welfare of players is not being taken care of. How do we record good results?
Also, former Super Eagles striker, Etim Esin described Pinnick’s tenure as a nightmare. “Pinnick has failed and the honourable thing for him to do is to resign. I don’t think we have ever had it this bad in our football. How can we not qualify for Nations Cup two times and our U-17 and U-20 will not also play in African championship next year. What kind of tenure is this? And I think some sycophants have been deceiving him,” he stated.
NFF President, Amaju Pinnick could not be reached for comment yesterday, but the Secretary General of the body, Dr. Mohammed Sanusi, said he was not in good position to speak on performance of the federation in the last two years saying: “I am very sick at the moment and I can’t talk on that issue. I am in Abuja as we speak and I don’t think I will be able to travel to Uyo for the match against Tanzania. I will advise you direct your questions to the spokesman of the NFF, Ademola Olajire.”
When The Guardian called Olajire yesterday, he also refused to speak. “I really don’t know. I think it is only the board members who can speak on our achievement in the last two years. I any case, I am at the airport traveling to Uyo for the match between the Super Eagles and Tanzania.”