A former Secretary-General of the then Nigeria Football Association (NFA), Dr Tijani Yusuf, has called for the immediate resignation of Amaju Pinnick, over the failure of the Super Eagles to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. In this interview with Trust Sports, the senior lecturer in the Department of Physical and Health Education of Bayero University Kano spoke on the declining fortunes of the senior national team, Nigerian football administration and the chances of the five African representatives at the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
How disappointed are you that Nigeria is not going to be part of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar?
To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. Every Nigerian is disappointed. There is shock, disbelief and anger in the land over the failure of the Super Eagles to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. But so many Nigerians saw this disaster coming. It all started right from the sacking of Gernot Rohr. Although he was not the best coach, he wasn’t sacked at the right time. Again, we have more competent indigenous coaches who could have led the Super Eagles in the World Cup playoff. So, our failure was as a result of administrative and technical deficiencies.
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How much do you think Nigeria has lost by not qualifying for the World Cup?
The loss is enormous. To start with, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) itself has lost billions of naira that would have come to it from FIFA. Secondly, Nigeria’s ranking by FIFA would have gone up. Thirdly, the players themselves are the biggest losers because apart from missing the World Cup showpiece, their individual ranking won’t improve. Then we talk about Nigerians who were warming up to hit Qatar for the World Cup. It is a huge loss.
You mentioned technical deficiency. Did you mean Coach Austin Eguavoen wasn’t the right man for the crucial assignment?
Honestly, we have so many indigenous coaches who could have done better. I believe so much in Nigerian coaches. However, it is either Eguavoen is not good enough or he was denied the support he needed to succeed with the team. Chief Adegboye Onigbinde had also complained that if even one quarter of what is given to a white coach is extended to the local coaches, they would perform wonders. We should have confidence in our coaches and give them what they need to succeed.
Some people are of the opinion that Super Eagles lost the World Cup ticket because the match was played in Abuja where they appear to be jinxed…
I don’t subscribe to this school of thought. The Super Eagles have been going to other places to win matches so I don’t think they failed to qualify because the match was played in Abuja. This is mere superstition which I think we should disregard.
How do we move forward from this present sporting disaster?
We have to revive our football developmental plans. We are overlying on foreign-based players. Nigerians have continued to clamour for the inclusion of home-based players who are hungry but nobody seems to be listening. The local players want to make a name and are ready to give their all. Meanwhile, the over-pampered foreign-based players are not committed enough. They don’t give their best when on national assignments. And most times, their clubs are not ready to release them in time. This creates problems in the area of team cohesion.
You were once in charge of the Football Association secretariat. What would you say the present leadership of the NFF is doing wrong?
Nigerians will remember that after the 1994 World Cup in the USA, we were ranked the fifth nation in the world and also rated the most entertaining football team in the world. Can we ever reach this height again? I think the problem with the people at the helm of affairs now is that they are too proud to ask questions. Sometimes you stoop to conquer, and when you are done conquering, you stand up and your normal height is still there. It is hard to explain what is happening. There are enormous resources at the disposal of the present NFF, yet they keep complaining. They have over N1b annually, plus money from sponsors and funding from the federal government, still they complain. Moreover, the government pays the salaries of most of the staff in the NFF. During our time, we took loans from banks to deliver on our mandate. So what is happening? We have to look ourselves in the face and tell each other the truth, there must be something wrong with how these enormous funds are managed.
Do you support the deafening calls for the sack of the present leadership of the NFF?
Like Distinguished Senator Orji Uzor Kalu said, they should all resign. This is the time for the government to step in. In a normal situation, the first person who should have tendered his resignation honourably is the NFF president. If it were in other climes, Pinnick should have resigned immediately. But in Nigeria, people don’t resign, they are pushed out by force. I expect him to resign together with his board members, He has done his best but it is not good enough so let him resign immediately.
But what are people like you doing in terms of advising the present leadership?
You see, some of the former players who played under me are still passionate about Nigerian football. They ask why people like me are not speaking out. But I tell them it is difficult to give advice when it is not asked for. When you talk, won’t you be accused of poke-nosing? However, I am an academician so I have not stopped talking completely. I still proffer solutions to problems just the way I am doing in this interview with you.
What is your take on the five nations that have qualified to represent Africa at the 2022 World Cup?
I am confident they will represent the continent very well. Reigning African champions Senegal, Cameroon, Tunisia, Ghana and Morocco are strong footballing countries. Having qualified, they must start preparations immediately. At this stage, they need the services of experienced sports psychologists to be motivated for optimal performance at the biggest stage of football. And since they are now representing Africa, we all must give them our support.
Do you see any of them breaking the semi-finals jinx?
This should be their target because no African nation has ever reached the semi-finals. Cameroon and Ghana came close but failed short. Going by the calibre of players these five countries are parading, I believe one of them would reach at least the semi-finals this time.
Are you in support of calls for more World Cup slots to be allocated to Africa?
I am not against such calls but I want Africa to make a strong case for more slots by making good use of the ones that are available. Let us perform well with these five slots before we ask for more. In essence, I am saying we have to merit additional slots. I hope I won’t be misunderstood.