Developing Nigeria’s Next Star
Posted: Sep 27, 2012
I HAVE BEEN invited to serve as moderator at one of the sessions of the Soccerex Seminar holding in Lagos this week 27-28 September, 2012 at Oriental Hotel in Victoria Island. The topic for my session is “Developing Africa’s Next Star” (Complete Sports, by the way, is a proud official media partner to the Soccerex Seminar, Lagos 2012).
As regular readers of this column will testify, developing our youths is one subject I’m very passionate about. Obviously, my focus has always been on how to find “Nigeria’s Next Star.” But what affects Nigeria affects Africa and vice versa, so, my previous articles are still relevant to the Soccerex discourse, I hope.
One article which I consider very poignant on the subject was originally published in this column in February 2011 and it was addressed to the chairman of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) technical committee, Barrister Chris Green. I have decided to recall relevant portions of it today as a reminder to the current NFF on the football development agenda that I set out for them on their assumption of office.
The question is how far have they implemented the recommendations or, if they found them unworthy, what alternatives have they put in place?
Coincidentally, the Under-17 national team, the Golden Eaglets, who should be the foundation of our development programmes recently began their campaign to qualify for the 2013 African Under-17 Championship to be held in Morocco. The Eaglets overwhelmed Niger Republic 10-1 on aggregate (4-1 away, 6-0 at home in Calabar last weekend) to advance to the next qualifying round where they will face Guinea.
I have previously declared in this column that I will not “celebrate” any achievement by our age-grade teams again until the glaring scourge of age-cheating was curbed by the NFF. I therefore sought to check the credibility of the new Eaglets from the team’s media officer, Morakinyo Abodunrin.
“Moraks” forwarded to me a piece written by veteran journalist and CAF general coordinator Paul Bassey and that is the second article I’ve decided to run in Soccertalk today as we continue the search for Nigeria’s next real superstars. Paul watched the Eaglets beat Niger in the first leg in Niamey and he says these are genuine Under-17 boys from whom we can expect great things in future.
I was a member of a Nigeria Football Association investigation panel in 1999 that recommended, amongst others, the banning of Professional League players from our Golden Eaglets. It’s gratifying to note that after 13 years, that recommendation has finally been adopted.
Paul’s article (slightly edited for space by me) comes after this reminder to NFF technical committee chairman, Chris Green...
Development Agenda for NFF nDear Barrister Green,
WHAT IS YOUR AGENDA?
Football is primarily a technical game. Therefore, the technical committee is arguably the most important sub-committee of the NFF. It should set the agenda for the main executive committee as well as the other sub-committees. It’s the agenda set for football development, promotion and participation by the technical committee that the NFF secretariat and other sub-committee will administer, market or publicise as the case may be.
So, Mr. Green, what is your agenda for encouraging grassroots development; training and setting of criteria for the appointment of national team coaches; developing a synergy amongst the national football teams; participating in international competitions; standardising and monitoring of football academies; curbing the scourge of age cheats; developing a basic pattern of play or football philosophy for Nigeria that is easily comprehensible by coaches and players at grassroots, academies, clubsides and national team levels. In a nutshell, what is the vision and mission of your tenure as chairman of the technical committee? I have a few ideas...
Football is both a science and an art. The artistic side is expressed spontaneously in the natural skills and talent of the individual players. The scientific side, however, is a deliberate plan on how to use those skills and talent to achieve clearly defined team objectives.
For example, world champions Spain now play a passing game based on technique heavily influenced by Barcelona; England are direct and use the wings more; Brazil have added solidity to their natural flair. How do we define the Nigerian philosophy? What should the football academies and grassroot coaches teach our young footballers so that they would imbibe the basic elements of the “Nigerian football philosophy” as they grow up?
We will need a seminar of Nigerian coaches to design and adopt this philosophy. It will take into account the peculiarities of our footballers, emphasise their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. The football philosophy will be like the nursery school curriculum. Whichever school you attend in Nigeria, they will start teaching English language with the alphabets A-B-C. Our young footballers must be taught in a common language at their formative stages. The technical committee must tell us what language that will be.
The talk about a football curriculum naturally leads us to the “Football Academies” that have mushroomed in Nigeria in recent years. I have spoken and written repeatedly about the child exploitation, abuse and trafficking currently going on in that “industry.” I am surprised that the NFF has not thought it fit to act up till now.
A lot of Nigerian youths are currently at the mercy of rouge football academies who paint them rosy pictures of international careers abroad. I know because I receive a lot of text messages from impressionable kids asking for my advise or requesting me to be their manager. I refuse their offer but advise them to be careful. But many end up with so-called “managers” who fleece them of huge funds raised sometimes from property sold by their parents. The poor kids are later abandoned in foreign lands where many of them become beggars and labourers.
I am repeating my appeal to the technical committee to immediately set up a panel to stipulate conditions for setting up football academies in Nigeria. The rules will set minimum standards for facilities, players’ welfare and qualifications for the coaches that will teach at such academies. It will also design a standard curriculum for the academies so that if any academy player gets called up to the national team in future, he would have imbibed the A-B-C of Nigerian football.
This proposal may sound rather academic for an artistic game such as football. But the extra effort to properly “teach” our youth how to play football, in addition to their natural talents, will definitely make a big difference to their performance.
A current example for me is Ahmed Musa who played for the Super Eagles against Sierra Leone last week. Musa’s talent and speed are quite evident, but his effectiveness as a right winger in that game was close to zero. He kept making the wrong choices at crucial moments, hardly made a good cross and often overran with the ball. He might have created a lot of excitement for the fans with his speed and dribbles, but he obviously had not been taught early on in his career how to adapt those talents to become an effective attacking threat and regular goalscorer. Let’s hope that the coaches at his modest Dutch club VVV Venlo have spotted Musa’s weakness and are helping him to improve. Otherwise, he may never fulfil his potentials.
Back to the key point: Mr. Green, it’s time to regulate the establishment and operations of our soccer academies. Those who do not meet the set criteria should be shut down to allow the genuine ones to flourish. There should also be stringent punishments including outright proscription for academies found guilty of exploiting young footballers. The NFF should wake up to its responsibility.
TRAINING & APPOINTMENT OF COACHES
NOT too long ago, the former technical committee led by Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi graded all Nigerian coaches and set minimum qualifications for appointment into national team jobs. That grading system should be sustained so that appointments can follow a set pattern that is credible and verifiable. The performance of the coaches so appointed should then determine their continued stay on the job.
Rather than sack coaches for assumed incompetence, the NFF should actually help the coaches to improve.
Regular seminars and workshops, at least on a quarterly basis, should be organized for all coaches at grassroots, academies, clubsides and national level. Our own CAF/FIFA technical instructor, Chief Adegboyega Onigbinde should coordinate these quarterly seminars since he is also a member of the NFF technical committee. It is cheaper and more productive to host these seminars/workshops in Nigeria and invite resource persons from abroad so that more coaches can benefit . The impact will be felt at all levels of our football.
Talking about making a strong Vision and Mission Statement of intent, I thought one of the first things the new NFF technical committee would have done on inauguration was to invite 2009 Golden Eaglets captain, Fortune Chukwudi to authenticate his true age. If Chukwudi couldn’t disprove the weighty photographic evidence provided by Adokie Amiesimaka during the FIFA Under-17 World Cup hosted by Nigeria, the player would have been quietly excluded from graduating to the Under-20 team now preparing for the African Youth Championship in Libya. The message would have been sent to everybdy that the new NFF was no longer going to condone age cheats.
The technical committee needs to make such hard decisions if they want us to take them seriously. Chief Onigbinde, Austin Okocha, Victor Ikpeba and others on the committee are vocal critics and regular analysts of Nigerian football issues. If they can’t control anything else, they should at least be able to control matters that fall under their purview in the technical committee.
I am still expecting the committee to propose a policy statement to the executive committee (words backed with definite action) on how to curb age cheating in our football. If they don’t do anything about it, all the talk about developing the game for the future is a bloody waste of time. We will continue to produce grand-papa Eaglets who retire at their prime!
NATIONAL TEAMS SYNERGY
COACH of the Switzerland team that won the 2009 Under-17 World Cup in Abuja told World Soccer magazine after the tournament that their major secret weapon was the synergy that was strategically created amongst the youth teams of all the clubsides in the Swiss League.
The Swiss FA technical department developed a pattern of play and wrote a training manual that was distributed to all the youth team coaches to implement. By the time the selected players arrived from their various clubs for their very first training in the national team, they were already speaking the same language.
Not many Nigerian clubsides can pay their first team players regularly, much less maintain a youth team. Rather than force youth teams on our clubsides, the NFF should regulate the football academies instead, and use them to, and implement the “Swiss Strategy” or at least, an adaptation.
The synergy created at the academies will successively be carried on to the Under-17, Under-20, Under-23 and the senior team as the selected players graduate from one level to another. Over time, a strong system will emerge that will become a conveyor belt continuously producing for Nigeria talented footballers who have been properly schooled on how to play the game. It is only then that we can say that we are back in business as a football nation.
The NFF technical committee must be at the vanguard of the revolution.
These Eaglets Are Real
By Paul Bassey
NOT since the China ‘85 Golden Eaglets set captained by Nduka Ugbade have I seen such an entertaining and hope raising bunch (as the current 2012 Eaglets). It was during the team’s warm up session a day to the match (against Niger) that I had my first glimpse of the U-17 team.
I happen to be on the mailing list of Morankiyo Abodunrin the team’s media officer and I remember telling him that I was not impressed by the scandalous results they were reaping (in warm-up matches) and that it was only after the victory over Rwanda (in a friendly) that I started paying attention to them.
During training, I was impressed. When you see coaches leading by example, then expect success. Garba Manu, Emmanuel Amuneke, Nduka Ugbade and Emeka Amadi are by far the best assemblage of coaches presently.
They are role models. They bond together and instil discipline. Not one day, did I see any of the players loitering around the hotel (in Niamey) despite the discomfort of their rooms.
It was on Brila Radio that I said I was tempted to reel out the names of the players to their listeners but that it may not come to much since they cannot be traced to any league club as was hitherto the case.
Adeyinka Adewale (Kwara Academy) goalkeeper of the team that won the Shell Cup and stopped three penalties in the final against Delta.
Musa Mohammed (Sardauna Academy, Kano) Captain of the side, commands authority among his colleagues on and off the pitch.
Izu Omego (Standard Academy, Abuja) Left full back, rock of Gibraltar.
Akinjide Idowu (Nigeria Soccer Academy, Calabar) very mobile and intelligent midfielder whose vision is exemplary.
Wilfred Ndidi (Nath FC, Lagos) Central Defender. Deputy captain who had to stand in on match day no thanks to the reading of the FIFA Fair Play declaration. You have to kill him to get to Adewale and he does not die.
Emmanuel Asadu (Amuneke Academy) With Idowu, a midfield partnership that is fluid and cohesive.
Bernard Bulbwa (Amuneke Academy) winger, whose control of the ball is inborn.
Alhassan Ibrahim (Sardauna Academy) A revelation. Packs shots in both legs, good dribbling skills.
Success Issac (Messab Academy Benin) can contest for Man Of the Match award. Natural footballer this one. Does not struggle to exhibit talent.
Kelechi Iheanacho ( NFF U-13,U-15) A product of the NFF Academies. Belonged to a team that was considered too good to be disbanded.
Ifeanyi Mathew (Sardauna Academy, Kano) utility player, nightmare to defenders, intelligent and focused.
Musa Yahaya ( Mutinci Academy, Kaduna ) Heavens, if Musa should start on the bench then talent abound here. Gifted.
Umar Ahmed (G-Lec Academy, Jos) was a natural replacement for Bernard. Flowed easily with the rest.
Chidera Eze (NFF) Another NFF Academy graduate whose potentials are limitless.
Subs not used.
Ezekiel Emmanuel(Sachim Academy, Jos)
Zaharadeen Bello (Dabo Babies Academy, Kano ) He was adjudged the best defender of the Airtel Rising Stars academy.
Adamu Abubakar (GK, Airtel Rising Stars)
Oluwaseun Jegede ( Airtel –Aspire Academy)
That completes the roll call of the glory boys waiting to bloom, boys whose crude phones reflect their innocence, who when asked by the air hostess “ Tea or Coffee?,” replied “ Yes”. Boys whose greatest asset is perhaps their near perfect understanding of each other. A TEAM this one.
It will be very unrealistic to say here that they will win the African Championship and qualify for the World Cup without kicking a ball. No. What I am saying here is that if these boys are kept together, tracked and provided the best of training, they will go places to the glory of our football.
They will become Nigeria’s next superstars!
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