Heroes

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by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (March 22nd 2015)

AFCON 1980 Triumph

35 years ago today, I was one of sixteen young Nigerian football players that walked onto the turf of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos full of nerves, but exhilarated by the atmosphere and the expectations of my nation. Nigeria had never won the African Cup of Nations.

The tournament started in 1957. It was time for us to take our place at the summit of African football for the first time. A crowd of some 100,000 Nigerians packed in a 60,000 capacity stadium like sardines to witness our attempt to create history.

Making History

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90 minutes of football later, driven by the passion of a hundred million other Nigerians, the goal was achieved. The Green Eagles played beyond their capacities and soared high above the Desert Warriors. In doing so, we destroyed the invincibility of an Algerian team that was at its peak – an obviously more experienced and probably even better team than the Eagles.

Remember that just two years later only larceny of the most shameful kind could rob that Algerian team of World Cup glory. The eventual World Cup finalists West Germany and Austria contrived in the Disgrace of Gijón to fix a result that saw both progress to the second round at Algeriaʼs expense. It was one of the worst moments in World Cup history, but it showed how big a threat Algeria was and how good a team they really were.

On the night, Nigeria could not be stopped, having come through some really difficult early matches. We played our best match of the championship, scored the highest number of goals and won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in our country’s history.

Duty
The President of Nigeria at the time, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, led the sea of Nigerians that physically watched the event live at the stadium. As young men, we were over the moon. We had worked very hard and prepared well under the guidance of professional sports managers and administrators. Nigeria had well-established sports institutions, a clear sports policy, a clear strategy and vision for sports development.

We saw ourselves as ambassadors and patriots serving our country willingly in answer to our nationʼs call to duty. Our victory in 1980 was the culmination of a process that started in 1976 when the national team went to Dire Dawa and against all odds returned with bronze medals for the first time in our history. That was the impetus needed to aim higher and we did. In that spirit, we went to Ghana for AFCON 1978 and reinforced our confidence.

Cometh the Hour!

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When 1980 came and the event was held in our country we believed we had to win and were ready. The preparations were hard but meticulous, driven by our single-mindedness to be part of history. The entire country was involved on March 22, 1980. It was a day none of us that played in that match will ever forget. We soared like eagles – super-eagles.

In the end, hard work: good luck, the people’s support, our government’s commitment, all paid off. We won. And we were deservedly rewarded well without any solicitation by us. Football in Nigeria had never been the same and would never be the same for us any more.

Celebrations
This day, 35 years after that victory, I can still play back in my mind almost every minute of the final match – the blaring trumpet of the late musician Zeal Onyia marshalling Nigerians to the great battle, the vociferous singing of 100,000 Nigerians at the stadium, and the rampaging supercharged Green Eagles with humble me scoring a brace and coming closest to winning the continent’s best player award that year.

It was a day when the elements had no choice but to side with the eagles, and to provide Nigerians with the cause to truly celebrate. 35 years after that victory, the heroes of 1980 are still remembered by most Nigerians. Six of them have passed on to the beyond – Muda Babatunde Lawal, Best Ogedegbe, Okey Isima, Alloysius Atuegbu, Martin Eyo and Tunde Bamidele.

The rest are alive and kicking, not by our strength, but by the Grace of God, grateful for the opportunity of life, and of that day, March 22, 1980 when our names were written in Gold in the archives of African football.

On behalf of all 22 of us, including Emmanuel Okala, Sylvanus Okpala, Felix Owolabi, Shefiu Mohammed, John Orlando, Frank Nwachi, Christian Chukwu, Ifeanyi Onyedika, Henry Nwosu, Moses Effiong, Charles Bassey, Godwin Odiye, David Adiele, Kadiri Ikhana, Adokie Amiesimaka and me, I use this opportunity to say thank you once again to all Africans for their support and love, which since 1980 has occasionally still been showered lavishly on us.

Segun at Wembley

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Football Unite

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (January 1st 2015)

Segun at Wembley

My Only New Year Resolution

Welcome to 2015 and a happy New Year to all the readers of this column. The legendary soul singer, the late great Sam Cooke said it best: ʻA Change is Gonna Comeʼ. Actually a change has gotta come. As the world enters into 2015, I have set for myself one goal, a resolution of some sort – to join forces with whoever loves the game of football to stop Sepp Blatter from returning as President of FIFA when the next elections hold this year.

I just do not understand it. The sit-down syndrome in any organised setting is anathema to good governance, and is denounced globally for its penchant to turn even good leaders into power-drunk dictators. The history of the world is littered with the story of several of such political leaders. Their end usually is a sad story of abuse of power, corruption, internal strife and conflicts, controversy and the death of true democratic principles.

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Sepp Blatter must be stopped now

As the race for the Presidency of FIFA begins the worst news to come out of Zurich is that Mr Blatter has not only indicated he would be running again but that no one within the Executive Committee is actually challenging him despite the mountains of scandals and controversies that hang around the neck of the organization and now threaten the integrity of the greatest game in the world.

I do not intend to go into the details of the ugly scandals and charges that have rocked FIFA since Blatter became its President in 1998, and that have claimed several high profile victims within the football family through the years (Jack Warner, Mohammed bin Hamman, Lennart Johansson, Farro Ado1, and so on). He has even claimed to be incorruptible.

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The mere fact that Blatter promised that he would not be standing for the Prseidency again after the 2011 elections makes his recent announcement very annoying. He is making a mockery of the rest of the world. The man’s word cannot be trusted. It is just ‘full of sound and fury signifying nothing’.

The Old Guard

Sepp Blatter started his career in FIFA in 1975. That means that he has been part of the organization for 40 years. He has spent the last 16 as its President. By next year he will be 80 years old.

In a period in history when the world is preparing to send young men to the red planet, and planes that will cross the Atlantic in one hour are being designed, what is the new innovation this old-fashioned and old man is bringing to the world’s greatest sport?

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What did Blatter forget to do in the past 40 years that he has been part of the organization that he now wants to introduce at the twilight of his life? What is he afraid of in a new leadership? Or better still, what is he hiding from the world that he thinks will remain hidden forever? His predecessor – almost 100 years old – João Havelange was no stranger to accusations of corruption. He ran FIFA as his fiefdom. He was forced to resign his role as FIFAʼs Honorary President in 2013 because he had accepted bribes between 1992-2000 totalling £1m. Blatter was his protege.

Disheartening

Only Jérôme Champagne, a former General Secretary of FIFA, has summoned the courage to do what is obviously desirable and needed now for the advancement of world football – enter the race. Perhaps he can end the Sepp Blatter reign and usher in something new – something refreshing to take football to the next level.

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It is truly disheartening, shocking and disappointing that despite the numerous monumental scandals that have rocked the world body through the years, and the baggage of charges that Blatter has had to carry and parry with impunity, which presently and menacingly threaten the integrity of the game of football, the man still has the guts to eat his own words and announce to the world that he would be contesting the Presidency again.

The great tragedy is not that he wants to run, but that he might win again, whilst the rest of the world is watching and keeping silent. But how can this be?

What hold does Mr Blatter have over the other members of the Executive Committee of FIFA that makes them cower in the face of his arrogance? Recall how bin Hamman withdrew from the race in 2011 and was subsequently banned from football for life twice. Recall how Issa Hayatou, threatened by the IOC for allegations of corruption, bowed to pressure and withdrew also.

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History Repeats

In the 2011 elections Mr. Blatter was returned unopposed as President because there was no ‘clean’ person within the organization to challenge him. The same scenario appears to be is playing out again in 2015.

For example, why did Michel Platini, tipped by many after 2011 to be his likely successor, withdraw his candidacy from the race as soon as Blatter indicated interest to return? It is really shameful and unacceptable that the man under whose watch some of the most atrocious corruption charges have been levied remains uninvestigated and untouchable atop the organization.

Even the most recent controversy about the bribery allegations surrounding the 2022 World Cup and the Garcia report that was mangled to protect some interests within the organisation, are being swept under the carpet.

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Power Corrupts

Blatter has become too powerful for comfort. Until and unless he leaves FIFA and its activities will continue to remain shrouded in the murk of scandals. It is amazing that with the developments following Garcia’s report, protest and resignation, the FIFA President did not step aside to allow for an independent inquiry to protect the integrity of football and of FIFA.

Instead, he is contemptuously going ahead with his plans to perpetuate himself in power. Guilty of all these charges or not, Sepp Blatter has had his time, served football well but must now go. If he does not do so voluntarily and with dignity, he should be stopped by all means and all costs from contesting the 2015 elections, period. The world has had enough of the shenanigans.

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Meanwhile, the bad news is that he has kick-started his campaign. His foot soldiers are already knocking on the doors of the most vulnerable of his supporters, the impoverished army of African football federation presidents. They are, as usual, being tempted with offers of membership of committees and subcommittees to vote for him.

Africa Unite

Blatter helped bring the World Cup to Africa. For that he has our respect, but the love affair has turned sour. Despite his extreme age and that he was clearly ailing the continent’s greatest hero, Nelson Mandela was pressured to attend football events for Africaʼs World Cup. Following Madibaʼs passing Blatter delivered the final insult.

Let me remind Africa that this is the man that disrespected Mandela. One day after Mandela died in December 2013, during a FIFA event for the 2014 World Cup, Blatter rudely interrupted a one-minute silence called for Mandela after only 11 seconds. It was preposterous. So infuriated were some people that they vowed to do everything to stop him from returning as FIFA President should he dare to run again in 2015.

That time has come. All of Africa must rise up now and say no to Blatter. Since Sepp Blatter, has the audacity to seek to perpetuate himself in office, we the people also have the temerity to say no to another 4 years of his dictatorship. That’s precisely why Blatter must be stopped, now.

1 Ado was the Vice-President of the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF) and President of the Somali Football Association at the time. He claimed that he had been offered $100,000 to vote for Blatter and that others had queued up to take their money.

A New Experience

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (December 6th 2014)

Return to Tunisia

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I am definitely outside my comfort zone – in a strange environment, amongst stranger people. I’m back in Tunisia – a country that has pleasant memories for me – but this trip has nothing to do with football. I have not read any newspapers or watched any news channel on television since I arrived here a week ago.

Tunisia is a French and Arabic speaking country and there are no English speaking news channel such as CNN, BBC, or even Aljazeera, etc. on television here. Although there is a channel that shows some sports, including some football matches and analysis, that too is in Arabic and only once did I see a recorded Barclays Premier League match with Arabic commentaries.

So, do not blame me if my column this week has nothing of my regular comments and analysis on football matters. Having said that, permit me and enjoy me tell you a little of my experiences.

Memories

In the past one week I have been in Tunisia. The last time I visited the North African country was some 20 years ago on the occasion of the 1994 African Cup of Nations. The Eagles won the championship,Tunisia ’94 then, marking the second time Nigeria won the prestigious African competition.

The first time was in 1980.1 In that same year, 1994, the Green Eagles were re-christened Super Eagles, and qualified for the first time to represent Africa as one of Africa’s five representatives to the 1994 World Cup. So, I have very fond memories of Tunisia, which was unlike any other North African Arab country I know. Although it is a Muslim country, it does not shove religion in the faces of visitors.

So, from my visit 20 years ago I remember Tunis, Souse and also Carthage – a city rich in history and culture that Rome owed its emergence as a world power to and which could not be fully erased from history despite Romeʼs best efforts.

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A footballer at the 2014 African Basketball Championship

I did not know about Sfax then. But here I am in the city attending the 2014 African Basketball Club Championship for Women in my capacity as consultant to one of the two Nigerian clubs at the championship, the First Bank Basketball Club. The team is known as the Elephant Girls.

Seven days in Sfax have been some sort of education and also baptism for me into the world of international basketball. It is a world that I find completely different from football. It is simpler and less political, even though it also not without its own idiosyncrasies and intrigues.

In the past two years I have been involved in basketball as well as footbball. This is my first international trip with the current national women’s basketball champions of Nigeria, and make no mistake, they are serious contenders for the African title here in Sfax.

I am learning pretty fast. I am interacting at close quarters with some of Africa’s top female basketball players and administrators;. I am observing how the championship is run, meeting with those that run it and exchanging information and views about the differences and similarities between football and basketball administration. I am sharing experiences and expectations; observing the teams and sharing their moments of joyful celebration as well as painful losses.

In short, with all its headaches (and there are a few) this trip has provided me the opportunity to peep into the world of basketball.

The Sfax Experience

Sfax is a large seaport situated some 270 kilometres east of Tunis on the Mediterranean coast. I am told it has the largest fishing trawlers in Africa and has the world’s second largest deposit of Phosphate. However, for some reason Sfax is dusty. The entire city is covered always in white dust blown probably from the desert located to the south.

There is a regular pall and smell of tobacco in the air. It is everywhere. As our guide, Mahmoud, told me, (I guess he may be exaggerating) about 90% of all adult Tunisians smoke heavily. That’s probably why there is no law prohibiting smoking anywhere in Tunisia, public places inclusive.

The hotel we are staying in must be one of the most polluted places in the world. You need to see and experience it to understand what I am talking about. Every corridor, the restaurant, the lobby, the lounges, the bar, everywhere is filled with the reeking smell and fumes of cigarette smoke. It assaults the eyes and nostrils everywhere you turn to.

Marginally Worse

There is, however, one other place worse than the hotel – the indoor sports hall of the CS Sfax Sports Club – venue of the ongoing African Women’s Basketball Championship. Although it is a massive beautiful edifice with excellent state-of-the-art facilities, the place has little ventilation and, so, regularly suffocates with the acrid smell and fumes from tobacco consumed freely within this enclosure.

It is often packed with thousands of cigarette-smoking spectators whenever CS Sfax Sport Club, is playing. In one week I must have involuntarily inhaled more cigarette-fumes into my lungs than I have done in the totality of the rest of my life. It is that serious. This totally negates the health intentions of sports.

Something Different

Beyond that, Sfax is really different. Here, no one uses seat belts whilst driving their cars. There may also be no enforcement of restrictions about answering mobile phones whilst driving, as everyone’s driving with a handset in one hand. Cars are parked randomly everywhere.

Despite being a predominantly Muslim country alcohol is available in every hotel bar.

Credit and debit cards are only sparingly used, if at all, and in my experience, only in the banks. The Internet is not easily accessible. I hope all of this is limited to Sfax.  

When we attended an official reception for the heads of delegates of all the participating countries at the championship, the entire programme was conducted in French and Arabic. No one interpreted for those that did not understand either of the languages and no apologies were offered. Yet there were participants from Nigeria, Kenya and Angola.

Life in Sfax is leisurely. The unofficial clothing of the people is jeans. Two out of every three Tunisians (male and female) wear jeans on a regular basis. It is everywhere. This simple act itself tells a lot about their liberal society. There are hardly any security personnel visible around the town. We are told there is no need for them.

Finally, the championships we came for itself has been excellent and the matches competitive, particularly with the addition of professional players in all the participating teams. The practice is that when clubs qualify for the African championships they are allowed to recruit a certain number of professionals from outside their country to strengthen them. That way the standard of the matches is higher and sponsors are attracted.

First Bank Basketball Club has three Nigerian players from the USA. They are making a big impression here and have been great ambassadors of the sport. The championship ends this Sunday. It’s been a truly new and different experience, I mean, for a footballer to experience life in the world of basketball.

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1Odegbami played a vital role in the success of 1980. He was Nigeriaʼs best player and scored 2 of his teamʼs goals against Algeria in the 3-0 triumph, which resulted in Nigeria winning the African Cup of Nations trophy for the first time. He was rewarded with the captaincy. He retired from international football the following year. Nigeriaʼs second title came in 1994, ending Zambiaʼs impossible dream to win the trophy months after the devastating Gabon Plane Disaster, which killed the Golden Generation of the Chipolopolo with the exception of perhaps their greatest ever player and current President of the Zambian Football Association, Kalusha Bwalya. The Super-Eagles won it for the third time last year: The Editor.

The Ides of October

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (October 10th 2014)

BPL – Under Starter’s Orders

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There are two things on my mind this weekend – the Barclays Premier league and Nigeria’s match against Sudan! I am thinking and looking closely at the real contenders for this season’s BPL trophy already. Just one week into the league season I noted that Chelsea FC looked very seriously like the team to beat this season – not much insight needed there. But Manchester United was proving an enigma. Was last season just a blip, or is there a bigger problem?

Until last week Manchester United looked out of sorts with the much travelled and successful Louis Van Gaal wondering whatever happened to his football magic wand. Van Gaal conceded that this has been his worst and most challenging experience since he started coaching and he acknowledged how difficult it now appeared to be for the club to rise again and play like the champions of old.

Although it is still morning in the league, the signs don’t indicate a typical Man United resurgence. Whatever happened to Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and the new mercurial on-loan striker, Radamel Falcao? Colombia’s talisman looks lost in the team, although he and United have the class to demand not to be written off. Falcao has scored goals wherever he [plays, but ominously United don’t play the way that he has thrived on.

English football’s most expensive player, the Argentinian Ángel di María, may well become the Joker in the pack and alter the fortunes of Man U for good if and when he hits full throttle and finally starts to play as well as we all know he is capable of doing. There’s no doubt that United have bought class players and paid well for them. It remains to be seen whether they will deliver and what place if any will be found for the club’s previous record signing Juan Mata.

Fluctuating Arsenal

The Gunners spent heavily this season, but results show that they still need to spend some more to get the perfect combination going. The Chilean winger Alexis Sánchez arrived from FC Barçelona sporting great credentials, but for me, he has been a great disappointment.

His performances during the World Cup for Chile were so fantastic that even I believed that any club would be lucky to pry him away from Cataluña. Instead, he has looked rather slow and uncertain about how to play in Arsenal, just as the team also continues to display great vulnerability when defending. He may just need time to adjust to a new league and team and his team-mates to him, but football is not known for patience.

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The team’s performance has kept oscillating between mouth-watering brilliance and the abysmal. Arsenal also, like Manchester United, have not played like potential champions. Arsène Wenger still needs to make use of the next transfer window for players that can to shore up the team’s defence. Otherwise, despite celebrating 18 years at Arsenal recently – the longest serving manager in the BPL currently – this may be his last season with the Gunners.

Liverpool face different problems. They have just not struck a great rhythm yet. They have played with the promise of great things, but have failed to be firm in their delivery. There is more bottled up in side the team than being displayed so far. Despite new signings led by Mario Balotelli, along with Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana, world class is hard to replace. Warts and all Luis Suárez is world class and proving hard to replace. Liverpool may find a way to click, but in my opinion they are unlikely to walk alone with the crown this time even if on paper they have the capability.

Impressive Defence

Manchester City FC have been impressive. They are improving with every match, and may indeed have the best front line in the Premiership this season with several attacking options upfront led by Edin Džeko, Sergio Agüero and Stevan Jovetić.

Yaya Touré continues to inspire with his week-in week-out textbook demonstration of how to play in central midfield. When in top form he is the perfect bridge between defence and attack. He surely must be in contention for the best central midfield player in the world, and a leading contender for Africa’s next Player of the Year Award again this December!

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But it is Chelsea FC in England (not in Europe where they have looked boring and have been played tamely) that have shown quite clearly their intention to win the Premiership. The team has played every match with the signature of José Mourinho written all over it. The shoving spat between Wenger and Mourinho last weekend, when Chelsea beat Arsenal with consummate ease, really confirmed Chelsea’s strength and determination this season. They are the team playing with the spirit of potential champions.

Stephen Keshi, Super Eagles and the Ides of March!

The last thing on my mind as we approach this weekend is the most discussed issue in Nigerian football at the moment. As Nigeria Super Eagles of play away in Sudan the match could determine Stephen Keshi’s fate as manager of the Super Eagles.

Undoubtedly, while not plumbing the depths of Berti Vogts’ Super Chickens, the Super Eagles have been anything but super since after the World Cup. Before then Keshi could do no wrong. He had amassed the most successful record for a Nigerian in the history of football in the country. Then he took Nigeria to the World Cup where he put up a fairly good performance until some immature behaviour by the players, that many people have said he encouraged and benefited from, crept in to ruin everything he had worked for.

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With a new Executive Committee that appears not to want him but cannot get rid of him easily, he now faces the biggest threat to his stay as manager of the national team. For now he is hanging on to the job by the skin of his teeth and is likely to be laid off should the Super-Eagles fail to impress this weekend.

The biggest thing going for him is the absence of any alternative to him as coach of the Eagles. In this era of ex-internationals, no other Nigerian ex-international has his rich football management credentials. So, to consider anyone amongst a list of the few in his category is difficult. It can’t be justified.

Samson Siasia, whose name is being mentioned as a possible replacement, would be a hard sell. Nothing has happened in Siasia’s career since he was replaced by Keshi to indicate that he is now a different and better coach. Perhaps, Sunday Oliseh? He looks the part, but can he walk the walk?

I do not like the setting of this weekend’s match at all. I wonder why CAF would allow a match of this magnitude to be played on artificial turf. This could well spell doom for the Super Eagles.

I do not like it one bit! The Super Eagles and Stephen Keshi must beware the Ides of March, or should that be the Ides of October. But good luck to the Super Eagles.

Segun at Wembley

Hail The New President

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (October 2nd 

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Amaju Pinnick Steps into the Storm

I was in Ghana early this week when the elections for the Executive Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation took place. From what I gather there are still a few pending issues that must be resolved before final peace, if there will ever be such a thing in Nigerian football, can be achieved.

But first let me join Sepp Blatter and all other well wishers that have sent congratulatory messages to Amaju Pinnick in wishing him well in his reign as President of the Nigeria Football Association (Federation). It was no mean feat to emerge as President at the congress that was held on September 30 despite a court order that I am told directed it not to hold, as it was against a FIFA advise that the congress be held.

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The Cycle

The important thing for now is that, in spite of the faults of the electoral process that I pointed out previously, the elections came and went and a new Executive Committee has emerged. That ‘game’ is over. Despite the protestations, Amaju Pinnick will govern for the next 4 years.

After that, unless that term is used to right all the wrongs of the present, the crisis that almost consumed the country’s football will repeat itself again. You do not plant an orange and expect to reap an apple. I guarantee you, as I did in 2010, that in 4 years time, we shall go through this same cycle again, unless things change.

Without question, Pinnick deserves his victory considering his opponents. He was helped by a whole lot of other factors like where the congress was held: the political party the State belongs to, the previous zonal imbalance of power in Nigerian football and the influence of the Delta State governor and his relationship with the highest level of power in Nigeria. All were great influences on the final result.

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Without going into the details, all the other contestants should have known that for as long as the elections took place in Delta State – one of the contestants was from there – and the incumbent President was not contesting the elections this time, the chances of stopping the hurtling Amaju Pinnick train was almost impossible. That’s the nature of elections here in Nigeria. And there will be more to come.

Pinnick was the Chairman of the Football Association of Delta State – he now has to relinquish that position. That means there must be an election to determine his successor. There will also be an election for the position Executive Chairman of the Delta State Sports Commission – Pinnick must also give up tat position to remove any suggestion of ‘government interference’ that may haunt him in his relationship with FIFA. Nevertheless, Pinnick has added yet another feather to his already bulging portfolio of political achievements and offices. However, he faces huge challenges.

The Challenges Amaju Pinnick Must Conquer

At things now stand, Pinnick comes to office with his hands full of serious and, sometimes, complicated issues he has to deal with first. He will need all his wits: human relations and acute political, legal and administrative skills, to successfully manoeuvre through the minefields that lie ahead.

Somehow, he would have to find a way to stop the challenges still in court. Unless, there is a political intervention at a high level, and the courts agree to bend over backwards to allow disregard of their decisions to go unpunished, Pinnick will face a huge challenge. There is nothing new there, as it has happened previously and the last executive got away with it for the 4 years of their tenure. Pinnick may soon find that the simple decision of a high court judge in Jos, who may not even know anything about the game of football, could develop into a cancer that would make life extremely difficult for the new committee. But there are other problems too.

Besides Giwa – the football club in Jos at the centre of the problem with FIFA – there are still other aggrieved members of the last executive committee that appear to have now lost out in the battle of the last election. They are also stakeholders at different levels of Nigerian football and their grievances will just not disappear simply because Sepp Blatter has congratulated Amaju Pinnick. Far from it, he would have to appease them somehow and readmit them into the fold for him to be able to sleep with both eyes shut!

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Furthermore, he would have to take a firm stand, for good or for worse, on who has the rights to manage the affairs of the Nigerian Premier League – a situation that is confounding to everyone. The architects of that body, which is also known as the League Management Committee (LMC) and the NFF members appear to be on a collision course. Pinnick will have to resolve a situation that is unknown in the statutes of Nigerian football, while needing to hold on to the most priced possession of the members of the NFF – the Premier League. He will have to do this despite facing strong opposition. I foresee a grave crisis looming over this.

Even this is not all that Pinnick will face. There will be other issues too, including that of the future of the current coach of the Super-Eagles Stephen Keshi. I foresee a big battle of egos between Pinnick and Keshi, who will have to decide whether to fire the African Cup of Nations winning coach or retain him. The next set of matches will determine how that plays out in the beginning of what could be a turbulent relationship.

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Halting the Repetitive Cycle

Finally, I believe that unless the statutes of the Nigeria Football Federation are amended to accommodate all stakeholders on the basis of equal representation, as directed by FIFA years ago in their letter to the board headed by Sani Lulu, and are designed in such a way that every election is held with all contestants on a level playing field, and is not driven by vaulting ambition that introduces special rules from outside the statutes, the future is depressingly certain. In 4 years time Nigerians should expect a repeat of what we have all just experienced.

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Meanwhile, once again, I wish Amaju Pinnick and the rest of his Executive Committee members the best of luck in their future struggles. They will need it. Congratulations Amaju!

 

The ‘Monster’ called FIFA

By Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (September 6th 2014)

Same Old Problem

Segun at Wembley

This must be the worst period in the history of Nigerian football. I cannot recall a time quite like this: domestic football has grounded to a halt; the Super-Eagles are in tatters, losing scandalously by 3-1 at home to Congo in an AFCON 2015 qualifier – the first such defeat in a competitive match in living memory. The national team coach, Stephen Keshi, has been in a running battle with his employers over a contract that may now never materialize following the manner of the Congo defeat and a serious crisis has engulfed the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) following disputed elections to the Executive Committee. The problems are pouring!

Headless Chickens

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The tragedy is that no one appears to fully understand what to do in order to ride the raging storm of the chaos everywhere. As a result, there is panic and confusion everywhere, fuelled by the threat of an international ban by FIFA. Yes, FIFA again!

They appear every 4 years, invited by warring federation officials during what should ordinarily be a simple act, a straightforward electoral process into the board of the NFF that degenerates into a convoluted, incomprehensible conundrum. The elections have become a dangerous political power tussle to control the lucrative position of President of the Nigerian Football Federation.

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In the past 10 years a ‘game’ has been mastered by successive incumbent presidents intending to perpetuate themselves in office, FIFA-style. The ‘game’ effectively sidelines the real owners of clubs, disenfranchises the public, bars the law courts or ignominiously disregards their decisions, handicaps security agencies and ensures that government’s involvement is anathema.

Unfortunately, the government fights back every time to stop them because it claims that ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune’. The incumbent runs to FIFA claiming interference in its affairs and FIFA threatens the country with an international ban should the government not back off. But in Africa, no one fights governments and wins. So, crisis!

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The Stick

Having tasted an international ban once in the past and seen its devastating effect on the people, the entire country of some 180 million Black and proud Africans now catch cold every time FIFA ‘sneeze’. FIFA have put the fear of God in all Nigerians. Nigerians are quivering in submission to the threat hanging menacingly around their neck like the fabled Albatross.

Every 4 years they keep repeating the same question: how has an election into the board of an agency of government, established and funded almost entirely by government and run by a handful of ordinary Nigerians hand-picked by government, become such a convoluted, confusing process that brings the entire country to its knees at election time? Some things obviously do not add up. Something is wrong with the system and the process.

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In the past 10 years elections into the board have become disruptive, an international humiliation and detrimental to the progress of Nigerian football. In 2014 we are about to tread that path again. We already can see the devastating effect of the present crisis in the disastrous outing of the Super Eagles on Saturday and the grounding of domestic football in the country.

Catastrophic

Football is a team game where every department of the game has to contribute to the maximum for the team to perform well and to win. So far, in the absence of administrators that can provide the physical and psychological incentives and motivation for the players to win, the Eagles played one of the worst games by any national team in Nigeria’s history. This must stop.

Segun at Wembley

As the national team prepares to confront Bafana Bafana next week another disaster looms. FIFA must ease off its pressure on Nigeria and not stampede the country into another badly organized election that would do more harm than good to the country. FIFA know that the NFF has always been an agency of the federal government. It knows that the NFA Act 101 exists. They know that Government funds the secretariat of the Federation and all competitions.

In almost 60 years of knowing this they have not suspended Nigeria for this ‘breach’ because that is how things are in this part of the world. So, why would FIFA be interested in the local elections into the NFF board? Why should Nigerians be reduced to a bungling bunch of school children as a result of FIFA’s seeming interference?

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At the moment the whole country is frozen in dread. FIFA, the ‘monster’, is lurking in wait to clamp down on Nigeria because of a faulty electoral process that can be fixed internally without the menacing threat of a sanction by FIFA. Instead, FIFA must help the country to look into its peculiar situation and challenges, and advise on a way out, not put an axe to their head and watch the country’s football go to ruins!

The Falcons set to fulfil Pelé’s prophecy!

By Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (August 28th 2014)

Were you Watching?

Segun at Wembley

Did you watch the finals of the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup last Sunday night (August 24th)? If you did, I welcome you to the future. I believe that what happened in Montreal, Canada, between Germany and Nigeria was a preview of the future – the emergence of an African team good enough to become world champions in the beautiful game of football.

Sir Walter Winterbottom, England’s youngest and longest-serving national team manager, and, later, the legendary Brazilian striker, Pelé, had predicted that an African country would win the World Cup before the end of the last century.

That forecast did not come to pass at the highest level of the game. African countries became global champions only at junior levels, with the credibility of some of the victories in doubt because of issues about the true ages of the supposedly ‘junior’ players. At age-group levels older players have a physical and mental advantage that can make the difference between winning and losing matches.

A Hard Struggle

Whereas the age-group competitions were established for the purpose of building a more solid foundation for football at grass-roots level, and specifically to narrow the huge gulf between developed and developing football cultures, African countries saw it as an end to achieve at a junior level what they could not at the senior level.

Africa’s football was considered of such low standard that, for a long time, only one spot was allotted to the continent in the World Cups, both male and female. The African teams were admitted only to make up the numbers and serve the purpose of political correctness.

For the first forty years of the World Cup, Africa was not deemed of even one automatic place at the World Cup. They had to compete in the World Group. They got their automatic place in 1970 after boycotting the 1966 edition. Morocco, hosts of the next African Cup of Nations, were the first team to qualify for the World Cup from Africaʼs group

Improvements

The situation has improved significantly in recent years. With increasingly better performances Africa now has more slots in global competitions, but even that has stagnated. Africaʼs World Cup (2010) was a disappointment and Algeria and Nigeria apart, so was the latest edition. The Quarter-final barrier remains in tact.

Generally, however, one area that had suffered ‘neglect’ and, definitely, inadequate attention has been the women’s game. Africa, in particular, for years, did not put up high performances in female football. The sport suffered adversely from the consequences of cultural, religious and traditional restrictions and taboos. As a result the level and growth of female football at domestic levels in most African countries has been low and limited.

At grass-roots level, particularly in schools, there is hardly any female football played. The pool of exceptionally gifted ones is also very shallow. The few countries that have been participating in international championships have done so against the backdrop of very poor funding, neglect and little public attention.

Progress

That’s why any little achievement by the teams must be celebrated and well acknowledged. Africaʼs men have failed to break the quarter-final hoodoo in the World Cup, but Under-20s football is a different story with Ghana leading the way. In 1993 Brazil beat them in the final 2-1. Four years later they placed fourth. In 1999 Nigeria hosted the tournament and Mali came 3rd – the best of the African effort. Two years later, in Argentina, Ghana placed 2nd again and Egypt came third.

In 2005 Nigeria lost to Argentina in the final. Morocco were beaten by Brasil for third place – the second time two African teams reached the semi-finals. No African team, let alone two has achieved this in the main event. In 2009 an African country, Egypt, hosted the Under-20 World Cup – the second African nation to do so and an African nation won a World Cup for the first time – Ghana. They placed third four years later.

At Under-17 level Nigeria’s boys are the most successful in the world, with four titles, including the inaugural event at Under-16s in 1985. They won again in 1993, sandwiched between Ghana’s triumphs. They won again in 2007, losing the next edition in the final to Brasil two years later before winning again last year.

Breaking the Barrier

Africa’s men and boys have won World Cups at youth level, but never before have our women been the best in the world at any level. That’s why we must celebrate the most recent African achievement – Nigeria’s Falconets. Nigeria’s female teams, since their first appearance in 1991, have been the most successful in the continent and have represented Africa more times than any other country. Close observers have seen a slow but steady progress of the Nigerian female teams.

The major tipping point appears to be the FIFA Women’s Under-20 championship of 2010 in Germany. The Nigerian girls played against the host nation in the finals of that competition. Although they lost by 2-0 the occasion marked Africa’s best performance in all categories of female football until that time.

Two years later in Japan, Nigeria repeated their remarkable ascension of the ladder of global football by getting to the semi-finals of the same championship and losing narrowly to the USA, a country with the best record in female football at all levels. In the last two championships, therefore, Nigeria has been up there amongst the best in the world. Last Sunday, Nigeria sounded notice of fresh ambitions, when the country met Germany again in the 2014 finals.

To play against the world’s current best footballing nation in the final, and match them ball for ball, tackle for tackle, and only narrowly lose by one goal scored by 20 year-old Lena Petermann after extra time, is confirmation that Nigeria has truly arrived at the apex of female football in the world. Petermann impressed me too. She has the knack of scoring important goals – match-winning ones. She also scored the winner in Germany’s opening match against the USA and a stunning goal which beat France in the semi-final.

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The Best Player

Nigeria produced in the 2014 championship the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot award winner, the highest honour for the best player and the highest goal scorer in the championship. Both awards were won by one person, a Nigerian, Asat Oshoala, an authentic new female footballing genius!

In a match that Nigeria could have won in regulation time but lost in extra time, the world was privileged to glimpse the real possibility of an African team winning the World Cup at the highest level! What I saw that night is the clearest indication yet that an African team is about to fulfil one of football’s most anticipated predictions.

The Future Beckons

The next FIFA Women’s World Cup will take place in 2015 in Canada. I can already picture the Nigerian national team, the Falcons, a mixture of some of the girls from the present Under-20 team and remnants of the best of the old Falcons, who are now, like the finest wine, much better with age. That combination will be ‘lethal’.

The Nigerian girls in Montreal were spectacular. They displayed all the typical characteristics of Nigerian male players and more – physical strength, mental toughness, athleticism, great skills and (their greatest asset) uncommon fighting spirit. This team can play with such power and pace that most opposition will find it hard to deal with. They will play as if possessed with some spirit, fighting and contesting for every ball as if their lives depended on it.

With a little bit of improvement in the technical area, the girls will be ready to take on the world and do what the men have failed to do – win the World Cup for the first time. That way, Walter Winterbottom’s prediction half a century ago, and Pelé’s, a little bit later, would finally be fulfilled.

Well done magnificent Falconets!