opinionBy Pini Jason
AS you were reading this column last week where I was deprecating the self-serving behaviour of members of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, and their inability (or is it unwillingness) to pay the Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi, his entitlements, the news broke that the coach of the Under-20 team, Mr. John Obuh refused to accompany the team to Egypt because he was being owed 13 months salaries.
You heard right, 13 months salaries! To get him to join the team, the NFF hurriedly paid him six million Naira, part of his outstanding salaries.
And that may be it for the next 13 months! How does a coach with family and kids in school survive and concentrate on his job when he is being owed salaries for 13 months? Yet, we are not aware that those guys in the NFF forgo their own allowances.
In the midst of this, I found confounding, the suggestion by a man with arguably the shortest run as Nigeria Football Association, NFA, chairman (thanks to those with vested interests in players' ticket racket), Mr. Kodjo Williams, that the NFF should quickly hire a foreign coach to work with Keshi. Tongue in cheek, he added that such a foreign coach would work under Keshi.
That prescription, considering Keshi's well publicised, if you like, unflattering views about "foreign coaches in Africa", is a recipe for disaster.
Which foreign coach will want to prove that he is actually adding value to African football by working under an African coach, least of all, Keshi? Mind you, I am not against foreign coaches in our sports. But I don't think that a "foreign" coach is the most important issue for now.
Obession with foreign coaches
First, the obsession of some Nigerians with foreign coaches in our football, to me, smacks of colonial mentality--downright inferiority complex! Are these Nigerians asking for a "foreign" coach or a "European" coach? If it is a foreign coach, then they should look no further. Keshi is a "foreign" coach by whatever standard you measure that.
When Keshi coached Togo he was a "foreign" coach (abi?) but Togo brought a "European" coach after Keshi had qualified Togo for the World Cup! When he coached Mali, he was a "foreign" coach! Coming back to coach Nigeria does not make him any less a "foreign" coach.
But, if we are looking for a coach more competent than Keshi, I can understand that, no matter where he comes from. But a European coach for the sake of anything from abroad is colonial mentality.
But, seriously now, how can an Association that cannot pay our local coaches afford a "foreign" coach? Where will the money be coming from? Why will such money be available only when a "foreign" coach is involved? Is there a racket involved in this obsession with a foreign coach? If you paid our coaches as much as we would pay a "foreign" coach, will they not perform better?
Let us not forget that most of the stars who play for our national team today were discovered and nurtured by Nigerians (I don't like the derogatory term "local") coaches like Obuh and others.
Some of these coaches have won international competitions with these players. So what mentality makes the NFF to treat Nigerian coaches shabbily only to recover their manhood at the mention of "foreign" coaches?
Moreover the obsession with "foreign" coaches is not a new one. We hired them before, but could not pay them. Manfred Hoener ran away from here abandoning his passport! Clemense Westerhoff was able to survive five harrowing years here by bypassing the NFA. These "foreign" coaches, with the exception of Clemense Westerhoff, were never hired to develop our football, but to take us to competitions. Most of the "foreign" coaches were contracted for not more than the life of a competition, some for as short as six months.
Their contracts spelt out the stage of the competition he must qualify us. Bronze or Silver medal was good enough for Naira rain at Abuja. This is Nija! Thus, the "foreign" coach was mostly idle and spent his time luxuriating in his home country, pretending to be "monitoring our players in Europe".
Come competition time, he clobbers together a team of "established foreign players" he believes would deliver in the carefully scripted racket. If he leaves out any of those the Association considered favourites, they scream havoc to the coach! That is how our football nosedived!
An industry for youth empowerment
I am surprised that we have continued to allow a few selfish men to toy with an industry that has the greatest capacity for youth empowerment. Why are we not advocating for foreign coaches in other sports that we used to show appreciable presence, like boxing and weight lifting?
In Denmark today, any sports reporter (in Nigeria, we are all editors and no reporters) will tell you the number of Danes who are professionals in any of the sports and where in the world they are! The records are there. Here, the NFF could not even manage a website.
The last attempt they posted wrong data that nearly jeopardised the careers of some of our players. The euphoria of our recent achievement must not delude us. I don't believe that Keshi's rebuilding project is over. There are urgent tasks ahead.
As I have written in the past, football is a spectator game. Without spectators it dies.
The urgent assignment for the NFF today is not to hire a "foreign" coach. It is to conduct a study to find out how to put spectators back into the stadia as it used to be in the seventies and eighties.
I am game for hiring a foreign administrator to help us run our professional league properly. In less than 20 years, South Africa's league is one of the best organised in the world.
The NFF must learn how to maintain security at our stadia to make them spectator friendly and how to market our football, not marketing advertising space! NFF must enter into merchandising too. In short, the NFF must be making money, its own money from football and properly account for it.
That is the way to attract private sector investment. If it then feels it can pay a "foreign" coach, so be it. But it must put the spectators back to the stands! If not, selling matches to Governors who can pay for them, will ultimately kill our football!