The Chairman of Professional Footballers Association of Nigeria (PFAN) Task Force, Harrison Jalla, has said Nigeria Professional Football League club managers ‘club owners’ who lack business acumen to make their clubs viable are used by state governors as conduit pipes to siphon money. Speaking exclusively to Trust Sports, the retired footballer also said the abridged 2022/23 league format was necessary to reposition the Nigerian topflight for greater heights.
You are a known critic of Nigerian football so share with us your take on the abridged league format for the 2023 NPFL season.
It is a new beginning and we have the IMC because the LMC failed. The LMC ran the league for about 10 years and the league became worse. There is a need to reposition football generally. The NPFL is the flagship of football in Nigeria and if you don’t get it right, domestic football is dead. The NPFL is a critical sector that should be more important than the national team. The minister was right to bring the IMC and the NFF president supported it. The change was needed to rebuild the league and make it viable for sponsors.The league was for the highest bidder and it was even confirmed by the leadership of the club. The abridged league is to just get it right so that from August 2023, we can run a proper professional league where the clubs will meet their licensing obligations. Any club that doesn’t meet should be dropped. The Scottish league has just 12 teams and if we run with 8 teams, all well and good. We should use the abridged league to prepare for the kind of standard we want.
We saw the club owners going against the abridged league. Why do you think they are opposed to that idea?
- Despite Boko Haram, Kanem Bornu remains longest, most resilient empire in Africa
- Failing a Nation in Pain
The club owners are a club managers association and they lack what it takes to run a professional club and that is why you see that the clubs and players are not of interest to them. They are people who are just chasing their personal interests over the place. A structure has been put in place to reposition the league and they are opposing it, doesn’t make sense to me. IMC should ensure that qualified people are in charge. Yes, the clubs are owned by the states but that doesn’t stop them from having qualified persons in charge. If you take Kano Pillars, Shooting Stars, Rangers, Enyimba to the stock exchange, they will be over-subscribed. They should do things to make clubs viable instead of waiting for government money. These guys don’t know that football is business. They are not accountable and if you tell them they should bring their account books, there will be nothing to show. They are used by the Governors to siphon money. We need to get on board people who have business acumen into these clubs. Enyimba won the CAF Champions League back to back in 2003 and 2004 and got millions of dollars and I am not sure Enyimba can boast of a club house today. We should take a cue from North African and even South African leagues. Whoever takes over from IMC in the future should see that there is credibility in the recruitment of managers to run the league. They must show their business plans. Players are sold and the money doesn’t get to the clubs. The club owners find a way to divert those funds into private accounts but a professional club will have its income and expenditure. They will sell players and use the money to develop the clubs but these ones are devoid of this knowledge. The club structure has to change to where you elect who becomes the chairman and other board members. The current guys are just there for what they can put in their pockets.
The league affects our national teams but overall, what is fundamentally wrong with our national teams using the Super Eagles as an example?
This is the problem we are trying to solve. If you look at it very well, the nucleus of the 1994 and1996 squads was from those who played in the local league. The former NFF president, Amaju Pinnick was scouting for children of Nigerians who migrated 30 years ago to play for us. In our days, foreign based professional players fought for the shirt because the domestic league was solid. How many Saudi Arabians play outside, yet they defeated Argentina. Look at Morocco too. Once we build the domestic league, we can feed the national team with quality players. We don’t have to over-depend on Europe for players.
On a personal note, how did you get into football from the onset?
I started from the school system which we should go back to. I am from Delta State and during the time of Governor Samule Ogbemudia, any athlete that has potential to be great was under the scholarship of the state. The school system was a recruitment ground for clubs. Davison Owumi and I were classmates in Orobo College and played in the same team. I played street football till I was picked from secondary school with Owumi and Clement Emele to play for amateur club, Warri Nepa. They spotted us in class 3 but we started playing for them from class 5. Before we left secondary school, we were already playing high level football. I played for State Academicals. The system was built from the secondary school.