THE ‘mathematical’ and cerebral Segun Odegbami deserves plaudits for his virtual coverage of the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations, Egypt 2019. In his “AFCON 2019 – Daily Diary” titled, “The Fly on the Wall – Day 23”, the ex-Green Eagles striker wrote: “The team (Super Eagles) has been completely focused on the match, keeping everything close to their chest. During the 15 minutes’ window given the media to cover their only training session yesterday, where tactics and the pattern the team will play (against Algeria) were planned and rehearsed, the team gave nothing away, harmlessly going through their warm-up routines and allowing cameras to capture them.” (Emphasis mine). One wonders what the Super Eagles did in the so-called training session, ahead of the semi-final match against Algeria last Sunday. Save the penalty, you played about 10 free kicks at close range and not a single one came close to threatening the Algerian goalie? Not a single one could be said to be creative even if it did not end in goal. Not a single one caused the spectators to rise in spontaneous anticipation or awe. What then did you do in training? What did you learn in training? What were those secrets that could not be revealed on the big stage, when it mattered most?
Most football nations have mastered the art of converting free kicks into spectacular or TV goals, including some of our neighbours. Look at that free kick converted into a TV goal by Michael Essien in Ghana 2008! “That’s what you learn in training,” I remember commenting then. So, until we learn how to maximize our free kicks, we end up wasting tax payers’ money every time. It’s not all about winning. No, you don’t win all your battles in life. But being seen to have impressively given a good account of yourself is paramount. You got 20 corner kicks, you ballooned them! You got 20 free kicks at close range, you squandered them! You committed so many mind-boggling, unforced errors in the defence throughout the tournament. What then did you learn during the training sessions? Those who comment or analyse matches need some caution. We should stop giving Nigerians false hopes at the dawn of every tournament. Russia 2018 is still fresh in our memories. Some soccer analysts even said Nigeria could reach the final of the World Cup in Russia!
When our team wins a match, we say they are good. When the team loses a match – in the same tournament – we conclude they are bad. How can a team be good and be bad at the same time in the same championship? If we had defeated Algeria on Sunday, we would have praised the team to the high heavens! A team that is inherently weak is weak even though it wins matches – by fluke or depending on the quality of the opposing teams. And if our players are so good, how come they are not in the top leagues in Europe? How many Super Eagles players are in Barcelona, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Napoli, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Lyon, etc.? (One must warn: playing in top leagues does not automatically confer success if there is no sufficient time for players to bond.)
Yes, we should aim high. But our optimism should have a foundation. Mere wishes don’t win matches. For now, given our current strength, we need a miracle to progress beyond the First Round of the next World Cup. Qatar 2022 is around the corner. AFCON 2021 will precede the global event. What should we do now to be able to play, at least, in the semi-final of the tourney? How can we win the Cup of Nations in Cameroon in 2021? We should do everything possible to get our players into the top-class leagues. We shouldn’t expect much from players that are regularly on loan or sit on the bench in their clubs. We should not ignore players from the domestic league. However, it will be mere platitudes to talk about developing the local league – exclusively – at this juncture. With information and communications technology ‘aiding and abetting’ fanatical support of millions of compatriots for foreign clubs as against the Nigerian clubs, it is futile to preach mere patriotism as a way of developing the local league. We need to think outside the box in order to save our domestic clubs and restore the glamour witnessed in the 70s and 80s – the days of Mighty Jets, IICC Shooting Stars, Enugu Rangers, Stationery Stores, Bendel Insurance, Abiola Babes, Leventis United, etc!
While I believe everything rises and falls with the economy, we may probably discuss or explore the possibility of a franchise, in which case you can have Chelsea Nigeria, Barcelona Nigeria, Man U Nigeria, Arsenal Nigeria, Liverpool Nigeria, etc! Franchising, according to Business Dictionary (BD), is an “arrangement where one party (the franchiser) grants another party (the franchisee) the right to use its trademark or trade-name as well as certain business systems and processes, to produce and market a good or service according to certain specifications. The franchisee usually pays a one-time franchise fee plus a percentage of sales revenue as royalty, and gains (1) immediate name recognition, (2) tried and tested products, (3) standard building design and décor, (4) detailed techniques in running and promoting the business, (5) training of employees, and (6) ongoing help in promoting and upgrading of the products. The franchiser gains rapid expansion of business and earnings at minimum capital outlay.” Rather than our big men thinking of buying the big clubs in Europe, they should explore the possibility of becoming franchise holders of those clubs in Nigeria. They should enter into any agreement or partnership that will benefit them and help our economy. Football is a big business.
Africa, nay Nigeria remains one huge market for business success. We can explore a win-win situation for our football.
In the meantime, I think we need new faces at the Glass House and fresh hands to manage the Super Eagles. We need to get to a stage, and as quickly as possible, where the team can maximise free kicks like other great football nations in the world. Why? It rankles! Why should Super Eagles, in this age of hi-tech football, continue to squander and fritter away corner kicks and free kicks? What then did you learn in training?) We need to assist our talented players to further develop their potential by securing good contracts in Europe. We need a new Nigeria Football Federation that will no longer feed off the government but turn football into a viable industry to develop the economy of Nigeria.
- Soyombo, a media practitioner, writes in via firstname.lastname@example.org