7 Minutes with China: The name of Nigerian football is Ichabod

While Nigerian football enjoyed some magic moments in the league on Sunday, it also had a moment that proved, at least to the doubters that we still had a long way to go.

In the Nigeria Premier Football League, we watched how Remo Stars beat Sporting Lagos 2-1 in a colourful display of good football and fan experience. In Eket, some Shooting Stars supporters had boasted that they would not lose to Akwa United and they came out unscathed, drawing 0-0; while in Kano, we saw Rivers United lose 1-0 to Kano Pillars, in a game they will have nothing to complain about, nothing, whatsoever. The league is getting some engagement as a small community of interested people, mostly journalists stream and discuss the games as they go on in the various centers.

It was a good weekend for the Nigerian League and we waited patiently for the Africa Football League game between Enyimba and WYDAD Casablanca, later on Sunday night.

Enyimba are vagabonds

Enyimba Stadium in Aba, deemed not good enough

As a secondary school student, I thought the word ‘vagabond’ was a curse or insult. In school, we say things like, “You are a bloody vagabond,” and then anger, then we fight, but later in life I simply found out that Enyimba Football Club as much as a host of Nigerian football clubs are vagabonds.

A vagabond is simply a person who wanders from place to place without a home or job.

Do you know that a club as big as Enyimba do not have a home? That is why on the continent, they have played games in Port Harcourt, and now in Uyo. And this is not about Enyimba, but about Nigerian football clubs. How many of them have homes? Not Nigerian standard homes, but African and world standard homes? Rivers United cannot play their games on the continent at home, because their Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium home is not good enough for African football They will play at the Godswill Akpabio stadium in Uyo, just like they did last season. In 2020, Kano Pillars qualified to play on the continent but picked Kaduna because they had no decent home ground. In 2019, Lobi Stars were on the continent and they thought they had a Stadium, until the Confederation of African Football, CAF told them they just had a concrete structure with grass in the middle. They had to play their games in Enugu. In 2018, Plateau United was worse off as they played one game in Kano, then another in Lagos, yet they had a newly built stadium, known as the New Jos Township Stadium. Shame on us. I can go on and on as in 2019, Niger Tornadoes qualified to play on the continent, but there was nothing in the whole of Minna that looked like a stadium, so off to Kaduna, they went. Remember, Enyimba have also played their games in Calabar too? Talk about a real vagabond- Aba, Calabar, Uyo, and Port Harcourt, in seven years.

So, every state governor in Nigeria wants to run a football club, but the second thing the club needs to operate, after getting players does not exist. This is not about Enyimba, but about Nigerian football clubs.

Why can’t Enyimba organise themselves?

There were two things I noticed while watching that game. One was that the Enyimba players could not control the ball. Their first touches were heavy and it seemed like they were having problems with the ball. Even my fourteen-year-old son can kill the ball when it comes at him. Then again I saw them shooting aimlessly at the goal. This was how they ended up with twenty shots at goal and only one on target. That is profligacy at its very best. Was this poor coaching? Poor basic technique foundation, or was there something we needed to know about Enyimba’s display on the day?

I am aware that high-tech speedballs were used for the game, but did Enyimba have those balls? Whose duty was it to get the balls on time for the team to train with?

An Enyimba player said they only had access to the match balls 2 days before the game. How many training sessions does this equate to?

I am also aware that even after the NFF people on the ground had been able to ensure that Enyimba got the balls, the club had no ball pressure gauge to check the required pressure as approved by FIFA.

Enyimba did not have a ball pressure gauge? Or did my source lie to me? Unbelievable!

The away team knew the balls to be used for the tournament and came with theirs. Enyimba, the club playing at home, by far the best football club in Nigeria did not have match balls, and when they did get them, did not have a ball pressure gauge.

I also got to know that the pressure required of the balls was written on the side of the balls, but the Enyimba people did not know this.

How did Enyimba not send IT personnel to assist Dauoda Ibrahim with accreditation? How did Enyimba not give the local Football Association money for logistics, something they do in the league? The Local FA only got money for logistics on Sunday morning, the day of the game. How come there was no office for accreditation, and they had to use one of the security posts as an accreditation center?

Did the Enyimba people understand that the game they were playing fetched them more than one billion naira, win or lose? Did they know that by winning that match, they stood to make another eight hundred and forty million naira? Who toys with this?

But most of all, that handwritten name and number on a jersey? Again, this is not about Enyimba, but about our Nigerian football clubs. Are we ready for the organisation that football has turned to in the outside world, or are we stuck in a time warp?

Kanu and Ekwueme as club administrators

Now, seven minutes is too short a time for mudslinging, so this is not the plan for mudslinging anyone. But I have often wondered how our former national team players compare themselves with their colleagues in Europe about how they can actually run football in Nigeria.

Now, not to make a blanket statement to cover all ex-internationals, I can only say that Nwankwo Kanu and Ifeanyi Ekwueme have not covered themselves in glory, because you have to be prepared for a role you want to play.

Now, for you to get a clear picture, Kanu played top-quality football for Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Ajax Amsterdam, Inter Milan, Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth. He also played for Nigeria’s U17 team and won the FIFA World Cup. He played for Nigeria’s U20 team, Nigeria’s U23 team and won the Olympic Games. He also played in two World Cups. At club level, he won the Nigerian league with Iwuanyanawu Nationale, the European Champions League, and three Dutch League titles with Ajax. Also at Ajax, he won the European Super Cup. At Inter Milan he won the UEFA Cup, and at Arsenal, he won the EPL title twice and two FA Cups. He also got one FA Cup title at Portsmouth. Kanu has been there, done that, won it and seen it all.

As chairman of Nigeria’s biggest football club, he should not be out of his league, but it is shocking that we are yet to see his footprint on the club. In fact, going to his X profile, Kanu tweets more of Arsenal, and Sporty Bet than Enyimba, the club he runs. Kanu also did not turn up in Uyo until Friday night and was seen on Saturday morning, the eve of the game. But maybe there is nothing wrong with this if he has a capable hand holding forth for him, right?

As a footballer, Ifeanyi Ekwueme may not have played for the best of clubs, as his career was NEPA and Jasper United, both in Nigeria, Polonia Warsaw, Widzew Łódź, Wisła Płock, Aris Saloniki, and many others, but at least he played for the Super Eagles, and at the AFCON in 2004.

The truth is that Kanu and Ekwueme, have seen it all in football and should be able to lead Enyimba to whatever level is available. Could they have rebranded Enyimba to be able to compete in Africa in four months? Certainly not. But in the short time they have been at the helm, they have not given Nigerians any hope that things can get better. Can they do better? Time will tell.

A waste of 1 billion? Will CAF come again?

One million dollars is what Enyimba gets for playing this game

It looks like Enyimba was more interested in the $1, 000, 000.00 (more than one billion naira) they stood to make from this game, rather than putting up a display worthy of a competition like the Africa Football League.

If they qualify for the semi-final, they stand to get another $700, 000.00 (about eight hundred and forty million naira). Losing in the final, ensures they get $3m while winning the trophy would give $4m.

Do these Enyimba people know the kind of money they are playing with? Knowing what was ahead, did they recruit right? Plan right? Organise right? Or did they just look at a million dollars and think, this will be enough for us?

After the shambles of our preparations, will we get another bite at the cherry? Are we even ready for this level?

Lessons learnt

A lot of times, I see the overused expression on Social media when talking about Nigeria- We are not ready! And I get irritated by it.

But the truth is that as a nation, we are not ready for this level of football. We are stuck in our old ways and really do not want to get out of it. Football has moved way beyond fighting for three points, which is where our football administrators are stuck. Former chairman of the league, Shehu Dikko once started a short-lived campaign, “Beyond the three points” and our clubs need to learn this.

Aside from the football on the pitch, there must first be a good pitch, great branding for the venue, merchandising, fan experience, and comfort at the stadium. Going to the stadium to watch a game, any game should be like going to a carnival. How many stadia in Nigeria provide this? But all this will come to nothing if the players do not play decent football.

Nigerian football club owners really need to talk to each other. They need to ask themselves sincere questions. What are we really doing? What is a football club? Do we run football clubs? Why are their clubs not run like what we see in North Africa and even in Southern and East Africa? Let us leave Europe out of this for now. Is it the money? Don’t they get enough? Why can’t we do the basic things? There are loads of questions, begging for loads of answers. There was a time in Africa when the clubs in the South and East were not in the equation. Now these clubs compete with those in the north. Nigerian football clubs are now the lowest of the low. In ten years, we can be back where we should be, but do we want to be?

I will not write off Enyimba, because I know that in football, anything can happen. Still, in the most unlikely event that Enyimba wins away from home and qualifies, it will be nothing short of an accidental and pyrrhic victory. Pyrrhic because it will be a victory that comes at a greater loss to us than a win, because we will think we are getting it right, forgetting that it was what it was, an accidental victory.

My 7 minutes have long been exceeded. Ichabod! The glory has left us!

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