The chairman of Borno State Football Association and member of the NFF Executive Committee, Alhaji Babagana Kalli Kachalla has said it is ignorance that makes most players in the Nigerian Professional Football (NPFL) to jump at any offer by foreign clubs. In this interview with Trust Sports, the former junior international cautioned home-based Super Eagles to look well before they leap. He also spoke on the friendly with Mexico and how football is thriving in Borno state amidst insurgency.
What is your assessment of the performance of the home-based Eagles against Mexico?
As far as I am concerned, I will give the players a pass mark. The reason is that they did not play together for a long time. Secondly, most of them travelled outside the country for the first time. So it was like a baptism of fire for them. However, they did their best. They have the potential to make the country proud in future.
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You sound so confident but most Nigerians feel otherwise. What is giving you this confidence that the players will not disappoint in future?
Anything in life is about time. If you are starting, you are bound to face so many challenges. However, if you do not give up, you will become better. It is the same thing with football. I am happy that the NFF president, Mr. Amaju Pinnick has said more of such top friendly matches would come the way of the home based Eagles. If they continue to play together, I am sure they will improve. We mustn’t forget the fact that most of the foreign based Eagles that we idolize today started like this.
What then would be your advice to Nigerians who are critical of the home-based Super Eagles?
The only thing I can say is for us to be patient with them. Like I said earlier, even the foreign based professionals that Nigerians talk about today started the same way. They were beaten and also made mistakes but today the story is different. So I want to plead with such critics to give the players a chance.
Would you say the players who prosecuted the Mexico friendly are the best in the NPFL?
I will say it was 80% of the best players in the league that made that team. It was not possible to bring together all the best players in the NPFL. Another thing is that each coach has his own style and football philosophy. Coaches look at players in different ways. It is not every time that the best player in a team is given the chance to play. I believe the coaches and the players did their best given the time they had to prepare for the match.
The NFF president also stirred the hornet nest when he said home based Eagles are not for ‘mushroom’ clubs in Europe and Asia. What is your take on this?
I agree with the president because most of these agents take the players out for selfish reasons. Truth be told, some of the players who have travelled to play for some unknown clubs don’t earn more than their colleagues at home. Players in Enyimba, Kano Pillars, Aka United, Rivers United are well paid. If not now that the value of the naira has dropped, I don’t think a player who is paid $2,000 abroad is better off compared to the one at home. There are so many players who go out but when they return, they have nothing to show. Meanwhile, those who are in Nigeria do better in terms of welfare. I believe it is for this reason that Pinnick made that statement. It is in the interest of the players. He does not want them to be enslaved by anyone in the name of professional football abroad.
What would be your advice to players whose dream is to play professional football abroad?
As a former player, my advice to them is that they should look well before they leap. Anytime they have an offer, they should sit down with those who are knowledgeable to discuss. They should compare and contrast whatever they are offered. The cost of living abroad is quite high. There are taxes to be paid. So in the end, what would be left for them?. These are the questions they must ask. When players hear they are going out, they become eager not minding what they will earn. I feel it is ignorance that makes some of them jump at anything that is offered to them. I advise them to take their time and be prayerful. Once their destiny clicks, they will make it in life.
It is said poor welfare packages in the local league is what makes the players desperate to leave…
To be honest we have a problem here. There are a lot of challenges. I was once the Chairman of players’ status and welfare committee and I know what these players are going through. Most of them are owed salaries and allowances for months. It is worrisome that some of the clubs allow these debts to even accumulate. However, practical steps have been taken to address some of these concerns. For instance, instead of sign on fees, players are now paid enhanced salaries. LMC has made it mandatory that no player in the NPFL should be paid less than N150,000. The least amount is for starters. Another positive development is that since most of the clubs are funded by the state governments, arrangements are made for the players to be paid at the same time as civil servants in such states. These changes have helped a great deal in addressing some of the challenges.
You are also the chairman of Borno State football Association. How soon will El-Kanemi Warriors return to the NPFL?
Our prayers are for El-Kanemi Warriors to be where they rightly belong and that is the NPFL. To achieve this, His Excellency, Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum, the Governor of Borno State, the FA, management of the club and other football stakeholders are doing everything possible to return El-Kanemi to the NPFL. I have been in close touch with the management and the Commissioner of sports to ensure that the players are motivated for optimal performances. You see the people of Borno state are used to continental football so seeing El-Kanemi Warriors in the lower league is hurting them.
How is football coping with insurgency in Borno State?
It has not been easy but the passion for football in Borno state is stronger than insurgency. The people of Borno are addicted to football. Therefore, despite mounting security challenges, the game has continued to thrive. Even at the height of the insurgency, we played football matches in Maiduguri without problems. It may interest you to know that we have so many competitions like the Peace Cup, Shehu of Borno Cup and a host of others. Borno wants to be the hub of football in Nigeria. I don’t think insurgency can stop our collective aspirations.