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Nigerian football in 2015

The sad fact that the 30th edition of the month-long African Cup of Nations, AFCON, competition, officially kicked off on Saturday, January 17, in the Central African nation of Equatorial Guinea without three-time winners, the Super Eagles of Nigeria, in contention must be serious food for thought for football administrators in the country who must start now, early in the new year, to put machinery in motion to ensure that such a situation never recurs.
Equatorial Guinea stepped in to host the competition after it became clear that Morocco was not backing down from its demand to have the event shifted to June because of fears that the Ebola Virus Disease could through the competition, spread in the country and the continent.
The competition is, however, progressing on a high note and beyond the fact that the defending champions, the Super Eagles of Nigeria, are not there slugging it out as favourites as always for the trophy, what is harder for Nigerians to bear is the fact that the factors responsible for the national team’s absence from the tournament are mostly self-inflicted and can be squarely laid at the doorsteps of the football governing body, the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF.
This is the second time that the Super Eagles will be failing to defend the trophy, the first occasion being after the 1994 victory in Tunisia.
The case for Nigeria’s absence from the competition, aptly tagged the African World Cup, this time around differs from the 1996 and 1998 competitions in South Africa and Egypt respectively when a withdrawal of the team by the military administration of now late General Sani Abacha from the South Africa-hosted tourney led to a Confederation of African Football, CAF, ban on the national team for the subsequent event in 1998.
Nigeria, however, bounced back starting from the 2000 competition, winning several silver and bronze medals up until the last two years when CAF reverted to the odd year competition which meant that the previous winners, Zambia’s Chipolopolo had barely a year to enjoy their bragging rights from the 2012 tournament before losing it the Super Eagles.
In our view, the Super Eagles’ failure to qualify for the ongoing AFCON, is a function of several factors including distractions occasioned by the controversy surrounding the contract of Coach Stephen Keshi and in-house squabbles among members of the football governing body over elections that resulted in several law suits and appeals by aggrieved members, some of which are still pending in law courts. Another major distraction arising from the disagreements in NFF was the position of the world football governing body, FIFA, which severally suspended and threatened to ban the country from its competitions over what it considered as government interference in the running of football in the country.
Another factor that worked against the concentration of the players and coaching crew on their primary assignment was the issue of players’ entitlements which sometimes led to needless face-offs. There were also issues related to indiscipline on the part of some of the players and at other times what can pass for ego trips on the part of the coaching crew.
All said, what cannot be in contention is the fact that the failure of the NFF to put its house in order had a major hand in the inability of the national team to qualify for the AFCON 2015.
While it is no use crying over the proverbial spilt milk, we believe the absence of the Super Eagles at the continental soccer festival should afford the NFF ample time and opportunity to resolve all outstanding issues militating against its ability to coordinate the affairs of football in the country.
National interest, we insist, must supersede all personal interests, hence, we urge all aggrieved members of the football family to sheathe their swords and allow peace to reign.
On a brighter note, the commendable efforts of the League Management Company, LMC to professionalise and standardize domestic football in Nigeria, is the path to toe as this can only translate to a positive chapter for the country’s football.
All hands must, indeed, be on deck to effectively reposition football in the country for greater laurels. The embarrassment of missing out of the continent’s football festival should serve to spur efforts at righting the wrongs that have led to the country’s absence at the tournament.
Failure to quickly reposition football in the country will only lead to failure to qualify for other major competitions, such the 2017 AFCON and the next World Cup, which would be quite disastrous indeed. Now is the time to conclude the contract of the coach and embark on building his capacity in preparation for the coming challenges or go ahead to hire another handler for the national team. Whichever decision the football house would want to take, now is the best time to do so.
The absence of the Super Eagles’ from the AFCON is, indeed, a painful experience for Nigerian football lovers, but the corporate sector including the team’s major sponsors are also suffering major losses as a result of the team’s failure to be at the event. The team’s kit sponsors, Adidas, which had earlier served notice of withdrawal of their sponsorship to the NFF, may also now not bother to rethink their position.
The presence and credible performance by the Super Eagles at the AFCON 2015 would have served to boost their chances of getting a better sponsorship deal with kit manufacturers. Players who would have had a platform to market themselves have also lost a golden opportunity all of which must not be allowed to recur.
All said, the fact remains that football is the biggest unifying factor for all Nigerians, breaking barriers of religion, ethnicity, culture and creed and must not be allowed to be destroyed by any self-centred administrators, undisciplined players or unfocused coaching crew.

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