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Ex-players and matters arising

There have been too many half-truths and outright falsehood by some fellows who have the odd talent to cry more than the bereaved. I was…

There have been too many half-truths and outright falsehood by some fellows who have the odd talent to cry more than the bereaved.

I was not at the 10th All-Africa Games qualifying match between the National U-23 team, otherwise known as Dream Team, and the Black Meteors of Ghana at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City on Saturday, 25th June, as I was on my way to Germany for our Super Falcons’ opening match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup against France in Sinsheim the following day.

Ordinarily, any Nigeria Vs Ghana encounter is a crowd-puller, and any administrator would have preferred to stay back in Benin City, watch the match and then offer excuses on why he could not make it to Germany for the women’s game against France. But we are a responsible and responsive Federation and would never want to do that.

In Benin City, we had so many of our ex-superstars around, and I am sure it helped the team’s psyche, especially after going one goal down against the Black Stars. The previous weekend, it was against the Vijana Stars of Tanzania in a 2012 Olympics qualifying match, at the same venue, and I saw how our Football Ambassador, Nwankwo Kanu inspired the players alongside the technical crew to get a result.

The Tanzanians were proving stubborn after the early goal by Ekigho Ehiosun, but Kanu, obviously exasperated, came down from the VIP Box to, with the permission of Head Coach Austin Eguavoen, ginger the players. In the end, we won 3-0.

Against Ghana’s Black Meteors, it was always going to be difficult. The Ghanaians had been booted out of the 2012 Olympics qualifying series by Sudan and in an attempt to ensure the All-Africa Games ticket is secured, invited several megastars, including five members of the Black Stars that reached the quarter finals of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa last year, to be part of the party.

Our boys were certainly not intimidated. But the confidence and go-go attitude with which the Black Meteors approached the match from the onset must be appreciated. I was not at the Stadium, as I was in Abuja preparing for the trip to Germany, but was being filled in by a number of persons on ground, including the NFF’s Chief Media Officer.

Nwankwo Kanu did not play in the two matches I have mentioned above, but his presence and aura worked wonders, not taking anything away from the technical crew, or Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who spoke to the players in the locker room at half time and rewarded them with 15 million naira. As a role model of gargantuan dimensions, Kanu certainly works magic.

This brings us to the issue of ex-internationals and ex-players, which has been harped on by some fellows with the intention of whipping up cheap sentiments about the administration of football in Nigeria.

I make bold to say, at this point, that I cannot recall any NFF administration that has accorded as much recognition, preference and regard to our past performers as the current team.  It is important that we check this out by stating the facts.

Nwankwo Kanu, former Super Eagles’ captain and one of only two men to have played at THREE FIFA World Cup finals for Nigeria, has been appointed Nigeria Football Ambassador by the NFF. This enables him to be present at our major games and you certainly cannot quantify that presence and the aura around the arena. Kanu won 86 caps for Nigeria at senior level (no mean feat), equalling the record of late Mudashiru Babatunde Lawal. No other person has been able to equal that tally, though the present Captain, Joseph Yobo, can do that soon.

At the helm of the Super Eagles is Samson Siasia, who played for the senior team for eleven years after winning FIFA U-20 World Cup bronze with the Flying Eagles. Siasia played at the 1994 World Cup and contributed immensely to Nigeria winning her only African Cup of Nations trophy on away soil so far (Tunisia 1994).

Also in the senior team’s technical crew are Salisu Yusuf, Ike Shorounmu and Emmanuel Attah, who also played their part as ex-players. Shorounmu, for those who do not remember, was actually first choice goalkeeper for Nigeria leading up to the France ’98 World Cup finals, before he sustained an injury in a friendly against Germany in Cologne and had to miss the finals. He was number one in Korea/Japan 2002 and was also the first choice when Nigeria won silver in the African Cup of Nations in 2000 and bronze in Mali two years later. Emmanuel Attah was a junior international goalkeeper.

A step below (Dream Team), you have at the helm Mr. Augustine Eguavoen, who needs no introduction. Remember that before the appointment of Siasia and his unveiling on the first day of December, 2010, Eguavoen was caretaker Head Coach for the Super Eagles. Eguavoen was the playing Captain (Stephen Keshi was non-playing Captain) when Nigeria lifted the 1994 African Cup of Nations in Tunisia, and then handed over the trophy to Keshi in a show of respect. Eguavoen also played at the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cup finals.

With him are Stanley Eguma, Benedict Iroha and Alloy Agu. Who would say he cannot remember the exploits of Benedict Iroha and Alloy Agu with the Nigerian senior team? Alloy Agu started with the junior team and was the rock behind the team’s bronze medal feat at the 1985 World Youth Championship. Five years later, he was team Captain as we won silver medal at the African Cup of Nations in Algeria. He was also in the squad to USA ’94, after being number one for several years, including the 1992 African Cup of Nations in Senegal.

The Team Coordinator for the U-23 team is Peter Rufai (Dodo Mayana), who needs no introduction). He was in the senior team for 17 years, including being number goalkeeper at the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cups and at the 1994 African Cup of Nations. Agile and incredible with his anticipation, it is hard to determine if there has been any like him since he hung his gloves.

Benedict Iroha started at the 1990 African Cup of Nations. (Remember that tournament that was dominated by the home-based players as a result of a policy by Mr. Clemens Westerhorf?). He won a silver medal there. Two years later in Senegal, he was in the bronze-winning squad. Iroha was key to Nigeria’s first-ever berth at the FIFA World Cup finals and also played at the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cup finals.

Further down, you have Sam John Obuh, Samuel Abimbola and Suleiman Shuaibu in the U-20 team, and when the U-17 technical crew is composed, there will certainly be a number of  ex-internationals and ex-players playing crucial roles.

In the women’s team (senior category), Eucharia Uche is at the helm. She won several caps for Nigeria at the senior level and is a household name after scoring a bagful of games for the Super Falcons.

Down the ladder, we will soon compose new technical crews for the junior teams (Falconets and Flamingoes) and ex-internationals are top on the list.

We have had someone like Kelechi Emeteole (Caterpillar), respected defender for the Green Eagles (remember him at the 1976 African Cup of Nations in Ethiopia?) in charge of the National Beach Soccer team, and Oladunni Oyekale in charge of the Five-A-Side team.

It is important to also talk about the NFF Technical Committee. With Kanu at last week’s match in Benin City was Austin ‘Jay-Jay’ Okocha – so good they named him twice! The only other player to have featured for Nigeria at THREE FIFA World Cup finals. He’s a member of the NFF Technical Committee, just like the man who led Nigeria to her first African Nations Cup triumph (back in 1980), Christian Chukwuemeka Chukwu.

In the NFF Technical Committee as well are Victor Nosa Ikpeba, who was at the 1994 and 2000 African Cup of Nations, and also at the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cup finals. ‘Prince of Monaco’ was a megastar with his top French club and scored a beautiful goal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and another at the 1998 World Cup in France.

And who doesn’t remember Garba Lawal? Workaholic, energetic, versatile, patriotic and effervescent player who played a key part in the 1996 Olympics triumph and qualification for the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups. He’s also member of NFF Technical Committee.

Of course, the voodoo statisticians would not give out these details, preferring to mislead the audience by clamouring for more ex-internationals in the administration of the Nigerian game.

More than this, at the helm of administration itself, we have ex-international players Siji Lagunju and Rafiu Yusuf working in the Technical Department. My own Personal Assistant (PA) is a young man that everyone remembers, who has even worked for the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the dynamic midfielder Nasiru Yusuf.

The facts can also be cross-checked about how much the present NFF team has cared about our retired and ailing heroes, and unfortunately, those who have lost their lives in the past few months.

Women’s football: Between sincerity and hypocrisy

No doubt, I treasure the opportunity to be at the on-going FIFA Women’s World Cup finals, taking place in the Federal Republic of Germany. It is an opportunity to see the women’s game at the highest level first hand, and also learn a few things about how we can ultimately support the women’s game in our country to reach higher heights.

As a country and as a people, we have no absolutely reason to treat women’s footbal with disdain. I recall that the first National Women’s team we formed in 1990 qualified for the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup the following year. Brilliant! In an era when the men were yet to play at the FIFA World Cup, it became a big challenge to them, and they eventually, either by motivation or geared by the snide remarks, were able to reach USA ’94.

Our senior women’s team won the inaugural African Women Championship hosted by Nigeria in 1998, and have added five of the six titles on display since then. They have played at three Olympic Games (Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008) and have qualified for all six World Cup finals. The U-20 women’s team has played at all FIFA World Cups since 2002, and the U-17 women’s team has played at both FIFA World Cups in 2008 and 2010. The Super Falcons are at the edge of qualifying for London 2012 Olympics.

The present NFF administration at the NFF (less than a year in office, I must remind all), has great plans for the women’s game, including improving the welfare system – allowances, bonuses and general camping and playing environment. What we sneeze at is playing hypocrisy by persons who had immense opportunities in the past to improve the lot of women players but failed outrightly to do so, and are now crying wolf where there is none.

I was briefed about a group of persons who engaged in no more than cacophony on the streets of Lagos last week. Among them was someone who had been Board Member of the Nigeria Football Federation on two different occasions (last stint ended less than a year ago). People should have asked her what reforms she advocated for the women’s game while she was in office on the two occasions (seven years in all). There was also someone who had no idea of how many FIFA World Cups the women had been to, and the actual win bonus being paid to the ladies presently!

So much for that group. See you next week.

Next Week: Ghana Must Go, Finally!