It is no longer news that Nigeria's participation at the ongoing 2018 World Cup in Russia is over after a 1-2 defeat to Argentina in their final group stage match on Tuesday.
The Super Eagles were just five minutes away from sending Argentina packing from the tournament. A short-lived lapse in concentration allowed Manchester United defender, Marcos Rojo, to steal ahead of Victor Moses and shoot past the goalkeeper, Francis Uzoho. The nation's football fans had been hopeful that the Gernot Rohr-tutored crop of young players could progress from Group D - widely considered one of the toughest in the tournament as it pitched Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria - but the late Argentina goal left Nigerian soccer fans heartbroken.
It goes without saying that sports, football in particular, is a major unifying factor amongst Nigerians. However, despite the massive array of talents in the country and the palpable love of the people for football, it is unfortunate that the round leather game is still very much under-developed.
Football development around the globe is hinged on a number of factors which include competitive domestic leagues, efficient administration, modern facilities and equipment, funding/sponsorship, well-trained personnel and, more importantly, institutional football development.
That said, to ensure the desired development of football in Nigeria, there has to be an all-encompassing National Policy on Football Development to directly engender improvements in the above-mentioned areas. But the unfortunate reality is that the body saddled with running the game in the country, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), has no such policy at the federal, state and local government level on how to develop football. There is no clearly spelt-out blueprint or long-term development plan to develop football at all levels in the country.
As a notable footballing nation, it is unfortunate that we could not advance beyond the group stage of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. However, there is no use crying over spilt milk. The question is, what is the way forward?
Much has been said about the lack of strategic planning and the ineptitude of the country's football administrators. The NFF under Amaju Pinnick needs to understand that its task goes beyond qualifying and preparing the national teams for tournaments. The country's grassroots football system is in total disarray. In places where they are in existence, they are plagued with poor facilities and poor coaches. It is noteworthy that world-class players cannot be got from such poor surroundings. That is why local league games are so unexciting and unappealing to the interested public, thus failing to attract the necessary sponsorship. The coaches and their employers are so focused on the result at the expense of developing a football philosophy in Nigeria.
Going forward, Nigeria should be serious about developing football at the grassroots, especially reviving school tournaments and state football association competitions. Also, the country's local leagues should be rejuvenated to make them competitive and attractive to followers and for private companies to invest in as obtained in other countries.
Also, the Nigerian media need to give attention to the local leagues the same way foreign media do theirs. This way, they will help generate and sustain interest in that sector of our national life.
It is our considered opinion that government has no business running football clubs. Private individuals or companies should own and run clubs as it is done in other countries in order to enhance growth, development and profit optimisation. However, it is not all negatives from our World Cup outing; there are positives to take from our participation in this Mundial. The Gernot Rohr-led Super Eagles showed true promise against Iceland, and those lessons must not be forgotten during the coming weeks. Our squad was the youngest at the World Cup in Russia and there is a lot to build on. It is commendable that Rohr has been given a new two-year contract by the NFF. This will ensure continuity towards the next tournament in 2022. The time to start preparations for the next Mundial is now if the country hopes to make greater impact.