Nigerian Football and a Succession of Failure
By Halima Abdulkadiri
Nigeria boasts of a rich footballing history, with the potential to reign supreme in the world of football, both on the African continent, and on the world stage. In the 80s and 90s, Nigeria was the toast of African football, during which we won two African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in 1980 and 1994 respectively. And in 1994, Nigeria achieved the highest ranking of any African footballing nation when it ranked 1st in Africa and 5th in the world, according to the FIFA ranking of April 1994. The Nigerian team also went on to win the 1996 Olympics at the expense of Brazil and Argentina.
Such were the glorious days of the Nigerian football team, which within the period in review produced such great footballers like Segun Odegbami, Chairman Christian Chukwu, Late Stephen Keshi, Peter Rufai, Jay Jay Okocha, Kanu, Rashidi Yekini, Mutiu Adepoju, Samson Siasia, and their likes.
However, fast forward to the last decade, in the period between the last victory of the Super Eagles at the AFCON in 2013, and today, it has been one story of failure and near successes of the other. The Nigerian football team has fallen seriously down the pecking order in all categories, including the women’s football team, who have gradually lost their holds on women football in Africa, with the likes of South Africa and Equatorial Guinea, giving Nigeria a run for our talents and money.
Nigeria’s football team has faced challenges in recent times. From failing to qualify for the 2017 African Cup of Nations, it barely managed to snatch the bronze at the 2019 edition. On the world stage, our performance at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia was disappointing, as we failed to progress past the group stage.
On the other hand, in recent times, while Nigeria’s stock diminishes, Senegal’s has been on the rise. Senegal’s football team has experienced significant success in recent years. They reached the final of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in 2019, narrowly losing to Algeria, but have since rejigged and soaring very high now, in all age categories of football.
In youth football, what matters is not which fruits you reaped but what you’ve sown,” coach Salio Dia said. “You can win today and fail tomorrow, that’s not what matters most. The important thing is to train the players who tomorrow will represent the Under-20s, Under-23s, and senior national teams. I think that focus is the secret behind Senegal’s success.”
Recently, Senegal was on Saturday, May 20, 2023, crowned the champions of the U-17 AFCON in Algeria. In less than a year and a half Senegalese National teams have completely dominated Africa, winning every footballing competition it participated in AFCON 2022, CHAN 2023, Beach soccer AFCON, AFCON U-20, and are currently the leading team in Africa and 18th in the world while Nigeria occupies the 6th position in Africa and 40th in the world. What a disappointing reversal of fortune.
The reason for this succession of failures is not far-fetched. Despite having a large pool of talent, Nigerian football has struggled to harness and develop young players effectively. The grassroots development system is often underfunded and lacks proper structures, coaching, and talent identification programs. As a result, promising players may not receive adequate support or opportunities to progress.
Also, the country has experienced a shortage of qualified coaches and technical expertise. While Nigeria has produced talented players, the coaching infrastructure and development programs have not been able to keep up. The absence of consistent, high-quality coaching may hinder player development and tactical understanding at all levels.
Funding is a significant issue in Nigerian football. Limited financial resources, lack of sponsorship, and mismanagement of funds have contributed to the struggles faced by clubs and national teams. Insufficient investment in infrastructure, training, and player welfare has impeded the round leather game.
However, addressing the challenges mentioned above and implementing reforms in governance, infrastructure, youth development, coaching, and financial management will be crucial for Nigerian football to thrive and achieve sustained success in the future.
And this is where the incoming administration comes into the picture.
It is important to note that when selecting a Sports Minister in Nigeria, the experience of such a personality is crucial. Such an individuals’ expertise in sports administration, their understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the sports industry, and their ability to foster collaboration and cooperation among various stakeholders is of great essence.
A Sports Minister should possess strong leadership qualities and be capable of formulating and implementing effective policies that promote the growth of sports at all levels.
In addition to selecting a capable Sports Minister, it is imperative to prioritize the proper sanitization of sports facilities and events. Maintaining a clean and hygienic environment in sports venues is essential to safeguard the health and well-being of athletes, officials, and spectators. Adequate measures should be implemented to ensure regular sanitization of facilities, provision of handwashing stations, and adherence to proper hygiene protocols.
This includes frequent cleaning of equipment, enforcing social distancing guidelines, and promoting the use of personal protective equipment as necessary.
Since we are talking more particularly about football, funding for the National Football Federation (NFF) is another critical aspect that needs the attention of the incoming administration.
Adequate financial resources are essential to support the development of football and ensure its success at all levels. The NFF plays a crucial role in promoting the sport, nurturing talent, organizing competitions, and representing the country internationally.
To ensure proper funding of the NFF, it is necessary to explore various avenues such as government allocations, corporate sponsorships, and revenue generated through ticket sales and broadcasting rights. The Sports Minister should work closely with relevant stakeholders, including the NFF itself, to establish transparent and sustainable funding mechanisms. This involves setting clear financial goals, implementing sound financial management practices, and exploring partnerships with private entities to secure long-term investments in the development of football.
Furthermore, it is essential to prioritize accountability and transparency in the allocation and utilization of funds. Robust systems should be in place to ensure that funding is utilized efficiently and effectively, with regular audits and reporting mechanisms to track the flow of resources. This helps build trust among stakeholders and ensures that funds are directed toward initiatives that promote the growth and success of football in the country.
Without running afoul of FIFA rules as far as the independence of the NFF is concerned, the government and other stakeholders must be concerned about the personality and experience of whoever is to be elected to superintend over Nigeria’s football agency. The constant stories of misappropriation of funds and lack-lustre attitude of the football house towards player’s welfares and development plans must be checked. The NFF must be funded by the government, as that is the case at the moment, and must be accountable to the government.
In summary, the choice of a competent Sports Minister, the proper sanitization of sports facilities, and adequate funding for the NFF are all crucial elements in developing a thriving sports sector. By making informed decisions, implementing effective policies, and ensuring proper resource allocation, countries can foster the growth of sports, provide opportunities for athletes, and create an environment that promotes health, excellence, and fair competition.