These are not the best of times for Nigerian football and for those in the business in Nigeria.
Since the end of the last World Cup in Brazil the football industry has been in famine. The reason is simple – the fledgling Nigerian sports industry is driven by the success of the Super Eagles, Nigeria’s most successful international brand.
Everything was fine and promising, until the team lost disastrously at home to South Africa a few weeks ago and the future has turned uncertain.
Nigeria cannot afford not to be at both the African Cup of Nations in 2019 and the World Cup in 2018.
Every time the Super Eagles qualify for either championship, the Nigerian economy receives a boost of financial stimulant from the unprecedented followership and patronage of the two events.
It is still unclear what the financial losses from not going to a World Cup or an African Cup of Nations in a particular year are but a conservative estimate to the Nigerian economy is between 4 to 5 Billion Naira, for an industry that is still in its infancy! It is simply mind boggling.
That’s why for Nigerians, the two next matches within the space of one week, against Cameroon, between August 31 and September 4, are a matter of do-or-die, putting at risk the survival of an entire industry that sustains millions amongst the largest number and concentration of Black people on earth across the spectra of hospitality, travels, media, endorsements, marketing, advertising, television, sponsorships and more.
You can start to imagine, therefore, what not qualifying for the next African Cup of Nations and the World Cup would mean.
That’s why everyone can understand the ‘silence’ that has enveloped preparations for the two critical matches against the Indomitable Lions. There is apprehension in the air. Discussions on the matches have been muted… by fear.
That totally unexpected defeat of the Super Eaglesby South Africa is a humbler. The news of goalkeeper Carl Ikeme’s unavailability due to health reasons is another heart breaker. The uncertainty about the spirit and physical conditions of most of the players, including the team’s more experienced and ageing players that are not getting enough match-playing time, or high quality matches in the countries and clubs where they are playing, is worrisome.
The Nigerian national team has never been this vulnerable, physically and psychologically.
For the first time in a long while, Nigerians are not so sure what to make, or expect, of their national team when they line up against the Indomitable Lions in a few weeks’ time. The two matches follow each other in quick succession and that is bad news for either team that fails at the first hurdle in Uyo.
Nigeria needs the oxygen of a victory over Cameroon.
The good news is that somehow in the recent past, the Super Eagles appear to have found the code to unlock the Indomitable Lions. Check the result of the last few matches between them. Nigeria has won their last three meetings! That is what is giving Nigerians some faint hope.
The Ghost Of Hayatou Resurrects In Rabat!
Issa Hayatou has resurrected in Morocco at the CAF Executive Committee meeting taking place in the city of Rabat.
This time around, instead of haunting all his opponents as was the case for the many decades of his endless, autocratic reign, Issa’s ghost is being haunted by his past.
The anti-Hayatou sentiments in African football are so high and pungent that everything he ever touched is likely to be altered one way or the other if the present CAF executives, led by Ahmad Ahmad, were to have their way.
Issa Hayatou has become bad news in CAF.
It is the hand writing of the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, that seems now to be all over CAF. Ahmad must be reading a page from Infantino’s book on his vision for football.
The first major decision of CAF under Ahmad is to adopt Gianni’s expansion formula – increasing the number of participating countries at the African showpiece championship, AFCON, to 24.
CAF is even going a step further by implementing the new format immediately. Unlike FIFA’s decision to start implementation of the new 48-nation format after the next two World Cups that had been awarded already to Russia and Qatar. AFCON 2019, slated for Cameroon, will be used to test the new format.
Many people see this as Ahmad’s way of paying back Issa Hayatou in his own coins.
When the hosting rights of the last Africa Under-17 championships was first awarded to Madagascar and later moved at the last minute to Gabon by CAF under Issa Hayatou, many people believed it was because Ahmad had dared to announce he was going to run against Hayatou for the Presidency of CAF in the last elections. The official reason given was that Madagascar were not ready. The truth is that no one dared Hayatou and got away with it.
Now the tables are turned. Cameroon, with Hayatouas President of CAF for almost three decades, were awarded the hosting right of the 2019 African Cup of Nations, only for the second time in their history, despite being one of the foremost contributors, in terms of achievements at international level, to Africa’s place in World football. The 2019 version was designed as Hayatou’s parting gift to his country.
With one ‘innocuous’ stroke, by simply taking the decision to start implementing the expansion formula of increasing the number of participants to 24 with immediate effect from the next edition of AFCON, the 2019 championship has been inadvertently and effectively taken away from Cameroon.
In the two years to the championship from now, it is simply too short for the central African country to put together the resources and the facilities to host an expanded Afcon! For many decades the country could only boast of one truly standard, world class stadium in Yaounde. The other two in Douala and Garoua were sub-standard and were to undergo total renovation for the 2019 AFCON. Two new stadia were on the drawing board. Now this!
To host 24 national teams would now require more of everything – funds, personnel, infrastructure, facilities, and so on.
In the summer of 2019, Africa should prepare to go to probably Egypt or Morocco for the AFCON!
Beyond the new format for AFCON, CAF is also considering adopting the summer period in the northern hemisphere, June/July, for the organization of the African Nations Cup championship to fit into Europe’s programmes that have been in conflict with it throughout Hayatou’s time as president.
Hayatou refused to change the timetable and many European clubs ‘suffered’ from loss of their African players during the peak periods of their league as a result of AFCON holding in January/February.
At last, Ahmad has agreed with Infantino for a harmonization of the schedules.
My take on these two decisions are these: any change that will impact African football positively is welcome. These two major ones hopefully will.
However, I would have thought that a study would have been conducted first to understand the full implications of these decisions. Why not borrow a leaf from FIFA’s example and start implementation after the present awarded championship is concluded?
Of course, who does not know that there will be serious implications for this expansion. Hosting by several already impoverished African countries is likely to become more of a burden than a blessing.
There is the argument that meeting the new challenge will help accelerate massive infrastructural developments in the African countries, but following previous experiences, such lofty thoughts never become reality.
Only very few African countries will be able to host a proper championship with this new format. Unless of course, my 2003-prophetic proposal for a multi-nation hosting of the World Cup (and the African Cup of Nations under this new format) is quickly revisited.
My concept for a 5-nation West African World Cup (Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Cote d' Ivoire and Togo) was shot down then by those that did not see into the future. Now, it is inevitable that even the World Cup would have to go that way. I am very happy Gianni Infantino is singing that new tune and the rest of the world will soon join the chorus.