Last weekend, the Nigerian sports scene was very busy. The Super Eagles played their first match since Stephen Keshi was re-hired as coach of the national team a few weeks ago.
The Flying Eagles were in action and lost their last match against Germany at the FIFA Under-20 World Youth championship.
The Falcons lost their last group match and exited the ongoing FIFA Women’s World Cup championship!
Finally, I visited Ilorin, Kwara State, to watch a few games in the now concluded Zenith Bank national female basketball league for phase two of a three-part tournament, to determine the champion club of the 2015 season!
There Are Several Matters Arising From All Four Events
First, the Super Eagles. They played against Chad Republic and won 2-0. The match was played at the famous Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna,I watched it on television.
Those who know me would not be surprised that I am surprised that the match was taken to Kaduna in the first place, and that since then, the NFF have announced that the stadium would host future matches because of the fans who trooped out to support the team to win!
It has also since been reported that one of the key players in the Nigerian team, goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, was issued a written query (which he reportedly tore up in anger) because he dared to question the rationale for taking the match to Kaduna!
I love the city of Kaduna. I love the idea of taking such high profile matches to venues around the country, to enable the fans of the game to experience and interact with their beloved national team.
My only concern with this noble venture is that, in selecting a suitable venue, the NFF must consider the small details that could make or mar the team’s chances of winning or losing. In football, as in most sports, the difference between winning and losing lies in the attention paid to the small but critical details.
Since the declaration by the NFF that Kaduna would continue to host national team matches, I have only read one reaction that resonates with me as representing the voice of caution and knowledge.
Sone Aluko, a Super Eagle who did not play the match but watched from the bench, declared that the team did not play to its full ability because of the poor state of the Ahmadu Bello Stadium turf! He could have been talking to the deaf.
Unfortunately, his observation is absolutely right even if only a few would appreciate it. It is also unlikely that the football administrators would do anything about it!
There should be some rules that must never be breached in the selection of a suitable venue for the senior national team, in particular. The first rule should be that the team must never play on artificial turf. The second is that the team must never play on a poorly grassed field, one that is sandy or undulating!
Unfortunately, the Ahmadu Bello Stadium turf falls into the second category. It is just not good enough, and adversely affected how the Eagles played last Saturday! To better appreciate this view, watch any Barclays Premier league match, or any match played anywhere in Europe for that matter, and compare with what we saw in Kaduna!
The undulating nature of the Kaduna turf affected the efficiency of the players and reduced the quality of their performance significantly. They were lucky this time because Chad Republic do not belong in the same league as the Super Eagles. With a better team, the effect of the bad turf would be enhanced. Nigeria had once lost a last critical World Cup qualifying match for not taking such small details into consideration, in selecting a venue for national team matches.
It was also reported that Coach Stephen Keshi was happy with the performance of the new Eagles and promised that the team would take Nigeria once again to the top of African football. Beyond the poor turf, with what I saw of his new look Super Eagles, I am still very reluctant to share his optimism!
The Flying Eagles
Going to Venezuela for the FIFA Under-20 World Youth championship, Nigeria went with the bulk of the all-conquering FIFA Under-17 World Champions of 2013.
The team played with supreme confidence but exited the championship in the first round. Why? The administrators failed to appreciate that playing at a higher age grade level is a totally different ball game.
Using the same coach that succeeded at Under-17 at this higher level is a wrong strategy. Coaching at both levels is completely different and requires a totally different set of dynamics. Whereas players grow and mature through age grades, coaches learn and eventually master a specific area or age-grade.
As a result of not adhering to this basic understanding, Nigeria did not win a single match!
Nigeria’s Falcons, the women's national team, went to the ongoing FIFA Women’s World Cup as a respected and difficult opponent.
They did not disappoint – they were difficult to play against, stronger, faster and fitter than all the opponents they met. Unfortunately, they lacked the technical competence at the highest level to enable them deal with opponents that are organized in their tactics and strategy.
Technical deficiency is the bane of Nigerian football. It is the absence of this small ingredient that holds Nigeria back from breaking into the topmost level of global football.
The results from Kaduna, Venezuela, and Canada are all pointers to what is wrong and what needs to be done to take Nigeria to the highest levels in football.
Zenith Basketball League
I visited Ilorin last week. I like the town, it holds great memories for me of my football playing days.
The last time I visited was several years ago when I went to look at the great work going on then with the Kwara State Football Academy project inside the Ilorin Township stadium, a first-class sports complex with an environment and facilities reputed to be some of the best in the country.
When I arrived the city, I drove straight to the stadium complex where the Zenith national female basketball league championship was going on.
The entire stadium complex is now a shadow of its old self, unkempt, under-utilized and ugly. You could almost hear the groaning of the stadium everywhere you turned – in the walls, on the fields, around the courts, the environment, everywhere. Everything was in an advanced stage of decay! In pain, I drove to the Indoor Sports Hall situated next to the football arena.
It is simply unbelievable that anybody, particularly any government, would watch this architectural masterpiece degrade and degenerate and do nothing about it. What I saw is an embarrassment and a monumental disgrace.
I remember my friend Tunde Fagbenle’s now famous words: ‘visit and shed your own tears’. That’s exactly what I did last week,I visited and I wept!
I am sorry, but someone must be held responsible for this heinous ‘crime’. Some persons deserve to be shot, for turning what used to be the most beautiful sports complex with a superb indoor sports hall in Nigeria, into an eyesore reeking with the stench of urine and disinfectant.
The Indoor hall, many decades ago, served as a temporary venue for legislative sessions by the Kwara State House of Assembly (the legislative assembly building was not ready yet). Yes, that’s how good the place was – beautiful, convenient and comfortable. The hall used to be fully air-conditioned with the terraces on both sides of the huge venue adorned with very comfortable velvet covered seats!
Now, believe me, even animals cannot stay in that hall for more than a few minutes at a time without suffocating from the dirt and stench of the place. I do not know what could have happened to allow such a facility deteriorate so badly. The sponsors of the league had to arrange for fumigation of the hall and its environs, before people could manage to go in there and do anything.
I do not know how the basketball players from different clubs around the country have managed to play their matches. I am also not surprised that there were no fans of basketball anywhere to be found!
Ilorin reminded me once again, of the state of sports in virtually every State in Nigeria (except very few), with a total lack of appreciation of how to harness sports’ full potentials!