There are several matters that have arisen from the debris of my columns of the past two weeks. I have received more responses to them in one week than I did since the start of the year. They seem to have touched some very raw nerves. Even my football compatriot from the past, the great Central Defender, Godwin Odiye, wrote to me from his base in the United States of America, taking a contrary position to my decision not to join in the celebration of a Bronze medal from our Egypt 2019 AFCON campaign. Some people have also said that, with my remarks about him both on television and my writing, I am championing the sack of Gernot Rohr as coach of the Super Eagles. It is important, therefore, to get the facts right.
The content of my columns and interviews are entirely my personal opinions. It has no authority of any sort beyond that. As an official Sports Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, although without an office or a portfolio, the least I can do to justify occupying that position is to express what I think about issues in sports without the power of enforcement. That is the authority I have derived from dedicated 4 decades of my life in sports. There are serious issues that touch on the emotions, sensibilities and possibly livelihood of millions of people across the country. It will be a disservice to keep silent on such issues. There is no right or wrong in my expressions, just positions that provide some illumination that can help set agenda, drive causes, and help untie difficult knots.
Gernot Rohr – end of the road?
On Gernot Rohr, I said it without any equivocation that if I was in charge of Nigerian football during the last AFCON, I would send the German away from the Nigerian bench after the match against Madagascar. I would not sack him on the day or during the championship. My reason is simple – he gambled and took the match lightly by deliberately fielding a team that did not represent the best of the squad. He adduced no reason for what he did. Rather, he laughed it off and expressed relief that Nigeria had already qualified from the group before the match.
Unfortunately, that action exerted a heavy toll on the country’s chances at the championship and on the Nigerian public. At the championship, the country paid a huge price by taking a more difficult route, with all the additional tension and pressure, to advance through the knock-out stages. On the Nigerian public, what Gernot did not realise, is that whole industries and millions of Nigerians relied on the success of the Super Eagles for their livelihoods and even survival. I am one of those badly affected. When the Super Eagles fail to win a championship or fail to qualify for a major championship or lose a match they should have won and prematurely exit a championship, millions of people suffer, psychologically and physically, particularly those in the unofficial but thriving local football economy.
Most affected are journalists. Personally, my work in the media including dedicated coverage and columns and multi-media production of programmes are all affected. Media organisations, including television and radio stations, all suffer from stopped patronage. Ask every television station in Nigeria what their greatest source of revenue is outside of political campaigns. The answer is international sports events, especially when the Super Eagles are playing and winning matches and trophies in a championship. A bad loss brings a halt to further income. The years between 1993 and 1998 must mark the best period in the history of the economic growth of the sports industry in Nigeria, a period of 5 years during which the Super Eagles recorded their greatest achievements in football. It was an eye-opener for close observers of the sports business environment. In short, advertising agencies, television houses, newspapers and magazines, betting houses, viewing centres, bars, souvenir manufacturers, travel agencies, tour organisers, breweries, soft drink manufacturers, all benefit massively from the success of the Super Eagles and lose immediate patronage following their defeat. It is as simple as that. As a brand, the Super Eagles may be the strongest Nigerian brand in our entire history. No one should toy with the team and its fortune from match to match. To do so is to take lightly the lives, livelihood, business, emotions, passion and joy of an entire people. That’s what Gernot did, in my humble opinion.
My first grouse is that he did not show any remorse, or understanding of his action when Nigeria met Madagascar. It means he had no appreciation of how important football is to the people, how winning is very important, and how, when the Eagles lose (which will inevitably happen from time to time), they must do so fighting till the very end.
My second grouse is that the NFF set a target of semi-finals for a foreign coach paid in tens of thousands of dollars every month. Anybody coming to earn that kind of money must justify it by doing what no Nigeria can do, or has done. So, I cannot understand how coming third in an African championship where we have arrived at that same destination 15 times before, with Nigerians in charge, should be a new target and be celebrated by the country. Having said all of that, whether Gernot Rohr goes or stays is not mine to determine. Some people own that responsibility and should face the music that comes with it. I cannot help them to take the decision, one way or the other. I have made my own position clear though – Rohr has done well (and we thank him), but not well enough, in my humble reckoning, to remain a day longer than the end of AFCON 2019. He is not good enough for the Super Eagles of the immediate future and of our dreams. From 2020, Nigeria must plant the seed of a future that includes aiming to become African Champions again in 2021, and a serious contender for the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2022. Rohr can’t take Nigeria to both places.
The imploding CAF and re-colonisation!.
To say that all is not well with the Confederation of African Football, CAF is to state the obvious. The house of African football is going through turbulences such as Africa has never experienced before. With the high turnover of personnel in the body, it is clear that many in the leadership are not grounded in the politics and administration of the game. Even Ahmad Ahmad, in calling for external help to fix CAF by FIFA, is admitting as much. It is unfortunate that Nigeria’s Amaju Pinnick is caught in the crossfire, either as a victim or as a catalyst of the implosion of the continental body. I cannot pretend to understand what is going on, and the immediate and unfortunate causes of the earth-shaking decisions by President Ahmad’s leadership that have turned CAF inside out, and brought it to the brink of collapse. As former disgraced FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, said, surrendering CAF’s sovereignty to FIFA is a return to the days of colonisation of Africa. That it is Ms Fatma Samoura, an African woman, that is being deployed by FIFA to do the ‘dirty’ job, is just a pawn in this game that has not come to an end by any means. Sepp’s words may be hauntingly true.