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Thursday, July 18, 2024
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Sack the Nigeria Football Federation!

By Bolanle BOLAWOLE turnpot@gmail.com

Nigeria’s senior national team, the Super Eagles’ last two games against South Africa and Benin Republic left much to be desired; the one against the minnows Benin Republic especially left a sour taste in the mouth. Everyone knows that sports remains the only adhesive that glues this country together, football especially. It is, in fact, the only occasion when Nigerians’ sense of patriotism and nationalism overrides every other primordial sentiments of creed or religion, state of origin or region, and tribe or race. Assailed on all fronts by debilitating odds, sports offer the only opportunity for the vast majority of our long-suffering people to know joy and have some respite. It is one occasion when they glow.

So, you can imagine their grief when our national team not only disappoints but also does so miserably. Hence, the call for heads to roll. Quite understandable, then, when the head of the Super Eagles’ Head Coach, Finidi George, was demanded on a platter, like that of the biblical John the Baptist! I became suspicious, however, when I read somewhere that the NFF conducted no interview for Finidi before handing him the job. If that is true, then, we must ask on what basis did they decide that Finidi was fit or was the best candidate for the job, since there were other competitors? Mere sentiments moved them? Extraneous factors other than competence and suitability for the job decided for them? That being the case, they are as guilty as Finidi himself – perhaps, even more so! So, the NFF itself deserves the boot! Sack them!

I know they will try to hide under the FIFA umbrella but we must find a way to rid ourselves of unpatriotic and self-serving football administrators feeding fat on national resources only to end up causing us pain and anguish, as you will soon see. We cannot allow such elements to continue to trample on the emotions and sensibilities of Nigerians, smiling their way to the bank while Nigerians groan and moan. The passion for football is such in this country that only God knows how many of our citizens lose life and limbs each time our football team disappoints. The last African Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire is a case in point.

To evade FIFA sanction, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should borrow a leaf from how former President Olusegun Obasanjo offloaded many Senate presidents and PDP chairmen one after the other! This is a low-hanging fruit that Tinubu should take advantage of and football-loving Nigerians will, at least momentarily, forget their sorrows and hail him!

Now, if you think the NFF is not as guilty as I have charged them here, read the following investigative report by Adewale Ajayi, reporting for Score Nigeria Editor; titled “Osimhen versus Finidi: The whole truth”, It reads:

“Many out there saw the Finidi vs Osimhen saga as just another player vs coach disagreement that will fade away with time. To some, this is the perfect occasion for the NFF to stamp their feet on indiscipline among national team players by coming down hard on Victor Osimhen. This writer knows Victor Osimhen very well. I worked with him for close to two years as media officer of the U20 national team of Nigeria and I don’t really need anyone to tell me about his temperament. We ate together, traveled together and spent the nights gisting after dinner… he is a warrior, fighter and, above all, he is the most patriotic footballer I have ever seen or known. His passion for the green-white-green jersey is second to none. His hunger for success is unbelievable and he has got a big heart.

“I remember the U20 qualifier against Burundi in Bujumbura and the victory against Sudan in Omdurman. On both occasions, Osimhen rose to the occasion, even though he was nursing a knee injury and had to play in pain. That tells you how passionate this young man is when dressed in green-white-green. So you will understand why he felt betrayed by comments allegedly made by coach Finidi George describing him as unpatriotic. Such comments will hurt any true patriot, especially when you remember the sacrifices (you have made). Let’s not forget, too, that he claimed he called to inform the coach of his injury after visiting his doctor in Wolfsburg and also pleaded with the coach that he would like to be in camp to offer moral support to the boys at the detriment of his own comfort, which coach Finidi reportedly turned down.

“Nevertheless, there is always the need to apply caution and maintain a calm, cool and coordinated approach at all times, especially when you find yourself in that position where many now see you as their role model, mentor or icon. As the current African footballer of the year, Osimhen ticks these boxes perfectly and has even grown to be classified as an idol to so many young footballers on the continent.

“In an attempt to unravel all the miseries surrounding the accusation purportedly made by Finidi that Osimhen and a few others pick the games that suit them and that majority of these players are not patriotic, this writer took time to dig deep to find out what transpired at the meeting that was held inside the conference room of the honourable Minister of Youth and Sports…

“The Meeting That Matters: The NFF delegation to the meeting, held at the office of the Honourable Sports Minister, was led by the NFF president, Ibrahim Gusau. Also on the entourage were the NFF 1st Vice president, Anyansi Agwu; General Secretary, Sanusi Mohammed; team secretary and director of competitions, Dayo Enebi, with the NFF technical director, Augustine Eguaveon, completing the list. The Sports minister, Senator John Enoh, had invited the NFF and Finidi to explain Nigeria’s dismal performance in those two World Cup qualifying games against South Africa and Benin Republic and point the way forward.

“At some point during the deliberations, Finidi was asked to speak and he poured out his mind, without holding back. According to my source, Finidi heaped the blame on his players. He was furious with the way the players responded to national call-ups, which some of us had complained about in the buildup to these matches. My source said Finidi then went on to assure the minister and his employers, the Nigeria Football Federation, that he has absolute confidence that the Super Eagles can still qualify for the World Cup if all hands are on deck. He said that he was surprised that a few players in the team have godfathers in the NFF. According to him, if he tried to stamp his feet on certain behavior in the team, some persons will remind him that the players in question belong to either a board member or a top official of the NFF.

“It was at this point that the NFF technical director, Augustine Eguaveon, cut in and told Finidi that, to succeed as head coach, he needed to stamp his authority, be decisive and be brutal, if need be. Eguaveon gave an example of how he banished Yakubu Aiyegbeni to the bench because the former Portsmouth striker who, at the time, was doing so well in the Premier league, thought he deserved an automatic jersey whenever he came to camp.

“Finidi then responded by saying he was going to change his approach henceforth. He said he would no longer tolerate these unpatriotic players in the national team. This was when he now said a player like Osimhen could have taken the risk and come to play for Nigeria if he really wanted to… At that meeting, the NFF didn’t tell Finidi in the presence of the Sports Minister that they had plans to engage a foreign technical adviser. However, he might have offended the “gods” by revealing during that meeting with the minister that some top guns in the federation are godfathers to players in the Super Eagles and that explains why they are seen as untouchables. Little wonder, a decision was (then) taken behind him to employ a foreign technical adviser and demote the former Enyimba head coach to assistant coach. Immediately Finidi got wind of this plan, he quickly tendered his letter of resignation…

“How did Osimhen get to know about what Finidi said or did not say? It will also interest you all to know that there are top officials of Nigeria football that are on the payroll of Nigerian footballers. I know of a footballer that once gave an administrator in the previous Board a wrist watch worth over €40,000. I am also aware that every Super Eagles team list comes with a price. Before a Super Eagles team list is released, there are lots of interests at stake and most players, except the established names like Osimhen, Lookman, Nwabali and a few others, come to the Super Eagles camp armed with gifts for their godfathers. That is why these godfathers will do anything to please the players in return. There are also those secretariat staff that have their ears to the ground and push out information daily to curry favour. So it baffles me why anyone would be surprised that Osimhen got inside information of what transpired at the meeting. He is too connected and too rich to be left in the dark.

“Now that it is established based on available facts that Finidi alleged that Osimhen and a few others are not 100% patriotic to the national cause, it is on that basis we will judge the Instagram live video posted by Osimhen… Osimhen has no reason to go live the way he did and his choice of words on the day are not acceptable. Victor Osimhen is a superstar of repute. The current African Footballer of the Year, a Nigerian player that is now idolized in Naples… the best footballer after Diego Amando Maradona to have played for the club.

“Putting all these into consideration, Victor Osimhen should know the weight of whatever comments he makes. He must learn to talk at all times to impress his fans and promote his brand, no matter his frustrations, obsessions or irritations. Secondly, for his personality, class and position, he shouldn’t be the one speaking always (but) should delegate these responsibilities, especially reactions to sensitive issues like this one, to his manager, agents or trusted friends. Your choice of words also matters… Attacking your coach the way you did and generalizing the attack to include Nigeria and Nigerians is demeaning, to say the least.. Go out there and apology to coach Finidi and everyone affected by your comments… for the sake of posterity”

I subscribe to this write-up hook-line-and-sinker! Tell Osimhen to watch it! He is yet to achieve a cent of Finidi’s contributions to our football. Where are yesterday’s super-brats of Nigerian football? In the end character trumps talent!

* Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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