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This game is bigger than us all (1)

Be that as it may, it is important that I point out that we must all realize the importance of football in our dear country…

Be that as it may, it is important that I point out that we must all realize the importance of football in our dear country and therefore, do everything to protect it. As a young man growing up, I played football and enjoyed it to the fullest. Yes, I did not play to international level, but I enjoyed myself and till date, treasured those wonderful moments that I had on the pitch.

Even now, if not for my injury, I would have still been playing, at recreational level. That is the power of football. When I see people playing on the field, I get nostalgic and I want to go in there and be part of it.

At the risk of sounding like a broken pot, football is the biggest unifying factor in our dear country. Several highly-placed and not-so-highly-placed persons have confessed to this. And the biggest good we can do our country and the game is to do everything humanly possible to keep it alive.

As a concerned party, there is no point raising issues of what could happen if one thing or the other happens. That is not the subject of this discourse. The point I want to make here is that this football is bigger than us all and we should not put the knife to it simply because of selfish interests.

The present Executive Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation won a valid election, conducted on August 26, 2010, and to which all relevant individuals, organizations and institutions were present. The election was televised all over the country and followed internationally. World football-governing body, FIFA, which has been at the receiving end of some unspeakable insults by some persons who feel they have better vocabulary than us all, sent a representative, who affirmed that everything went according to laid-down rules and regulations and in line with the Statutes governing the running of the game. There was a representative from CAF as well as other institutions that have one thing or the other to do with Nigerian football.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have heard some incredible statements from some persons that are considered highly-respected statesmen.

Despite knowing the universal rule and the way things are done across the length and breadth of FIFA’s family, they have gone on and on about what they wish to be done and that nothing would happen.

It is not for me to start saying here that something would happen. That would be preposterous. The surprise is the way some individuals have bared their fangs and shown extreme anger with the game of football, not just the administrators.

I admit that the last quarter of 2011 was not particularly rewarding for Nigerian football, despite the efforts of the Nigeria Football Federation. But even the Coaches and Players of those teams have come out to admit that the NFF did everything possible to prepare and motivate them for their various campaigns. The NFF only came short of sending officials into the field to play the game.

Other countries have witnessed such downturn before, and with painstaking planning, sincerity of purpose and enterprise, they have turned things around and are doing much better.

When the poor results came one after the other, i was the first to admit that we would have to start doing things differently. The NFF got a new Head Coach for the Super Eagles, and insisted on a new line – get the home boys to have residential camping and make the foreign-based players the ones to fight for shirts when matches are around the corner. That is a new way of doing things.

Last year, we signed agreement with a young, result-oriented Match Agent who has ensured that we do not miss any FIFA free day for international matches. With this, the Super Eagles are well prepared for competitive games anytime these arrive.

Those who were at the National Stadium, Abuja on Wednesday, January 11, 2012 testified to the fact that the home based players’ experiment is an exciting option. The boys showed enthusiasm and desire and held the ‘A’ team of Angola, bound for the African Cup of Nations, to a 0-0 draw.

There would certainly be more excitement on Wednesday next week when the team takes on the Lone Star of Liberia in another international friendly match in Liberia. That comes exactly a fortnight before the 2013 African Cup of Nations qualifying match against Rwanda in Kigali.

While the present Executive Committee and Management of Nigeria Football Federation may not be the best persons in the land in their positions, the fact remains that they won election and are committed, passionate men and women who love the game and want to bring joy to Nigerians through the game.

From 1949 when the UK Tourists dazzled crowds in England on a playing tour, Nigerians have always loved their National Teams. From UK Tourists to Red Devils, to Green Eagles and now Super Eagles, Nigerians followed their Senior Team with passion and deep love.

Even when the Senior Team faltered in its first African Cup of Nations in Ghana in 1963, Nigerians kept faith with the team. The team eventually excited the world at the 1968 Olympic Games by drawing 3-3 with Brazil, and then won gold medal at the 2nd All-Africa Games in Lagos in 1973.

Bronze medals came from the African Cup of Nations in 1976 and 1978, and then the Cup and gold on home soil in 1980. Getting to the FIFA World Cup finals proved quite tough, as the ‘magicians’ of the 1970s and 1980s simply could not steer Nigeria to the global summit.

Tunisia edged the Eagles in 1977 and Algeria did same in 1981, and again the Tunisians blocked us from the route in 1985. In 1989, we were so close, needing only a draw in Cameroon, but we lost by the odd goal and that was it.

Stephen Keshi and company renewed their drive, energy and enterprise in 1993 and we earned a first-ever ticket to the FIFA World Cup finals. That team brought Nigerians joy with an impressive performance in the United States of America that saw it come within two minutes of a place in the quarter finals, and an accolade as the Second Most

Entertaining Team of the Tournament.

Two years later, also on American soil, the U-23 squad, comprising a great number of the same senior team, left an everlasting impression, winning for Africa a first-ever GOLD MEDAL in football. The country’s number two citizen at that time, described the football gold as ‘the mother of all gold medals’. At the same Games, long jumper Chioma Ajunwa won Nigeria’s first individual Olympic gold medal!

The importance of football is such that we should all strive to keep it above personal interest. Nomenclature has become a big issue, all of a sudden. Some persons who even contested the election, have now turned round to realize that the name NFF is not known to the laws of Nigeria!

There are several questions they must answer, including whether if they had won seats on the Executive Committee or the Board of any of the Leagues, they would still have been of the same opinion?

Certainly, this game is bigger than us all, and the interest of Nigeria is bigger than us all because the nation supercedes the man.

NEXT WEEK: This Game Is Bigger Than Us All (2)

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