Football experts across the country are addressing significant problems plaguing Nigerian football that need to be resolved in order to break the cycle of stagnation following Nigeria's loss in the 2022 World Cup. ODIMEGWU ONWUMERE highlights in this report that experts are focusing on regulations and framework, while others believe it is time to remove the "lackluster officials" from the country's football board and give the game the fresh air it needs to flourish
After their defeat in the 2022 World Cup, the Nigerian national men's football team faced inquiries about the future of Nigerian football.
Sunday Akin Dare, a Nigerian journalist who, as the then Nigerian Minister of Youth and Sports from 2019 to 2023, was among the football enthusiasts who raised concerns to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) regarding Nigeria's failure to qualify for the 2022 Qatar tournament.
Authorities believe that those inquiries were significant because it was only the second time since their notable participation in 1994 that the Super Eagles had failed to qualify.
Counselor Churchill Oliseh, leader of FC Ebedei, expressed his belief that there were various obstacles hindering the progress of football in Nigeria and that the NFF alone could not address them.
Oliseh emphasized the need for the implementation of a regulatory framework and system to facilitate improvements. He also noted that the absence of a proper structure in Nigerian teams and the management of football clubs impeded their ability to meet international standards.
Rev. Matthew Ma, S.J., a Jesuit Catholic priest and doctoral candidate in public and social policy at St. Louis University in Missouri, USA, argues that expertise and practical knowledge are vital in football administration. He highlights that the majority of footballing nations worldwide have leaders with backgrounds in professional football or successful careers in the football industry.
“Nigeria's history in the World Cup has been tarnished by unfavorable publicity. Various controversies, including biased player selection, fraudulent payment practices, and nonpayment of officials' salaries, have enveloped the nation,” said Rev. Matthew Ma.
However, Oliseh’s conviction was based on the observation that not all European teams compete for trophies and generate income, unlike in Nigeria, where most teams strive to win the league. But Nigeria appears to deviate from this pattern, often appointing individuals with minimal to zero experience to key positions in the NFF.
Rev. Ma asserts that it is high time for Nigerians to oust these ineffective officials from the NFF board and introduce new leadership to foster the growth of the game. He stresses that those who fail to contribute to the development of football should no longer impede Nigeria's progress.
But former Super Eagles forward Daniel Amokachi echoes this emotion, stating that unless the major flaws in Nigeria's football system are addressed by administrators, the team's glory days will not return.
He said this after the team's failure to qualify for Qatar 2022, where Augustine Eguavoen, the interim technical adviser, and his assistants were dismissed by the NFF. Oliseh expressed his dissatisfaction with the relatively low amount of money that the winners of the league in Nigeria receive, which is not enough to cover their expenses for the season.
He raised concerns about the lack of return on investment and profit, stating that until this issue is resolved, clubs will continue to face difficulties.
After their exit from the 2022 World Cup, the NFF introduced new assistant coaches for the team, although the position of head coach was unfilled. Amokachi, on the other hand, believes that solely appointing new coaches will not address the team's issues, emphasizing the need to address broader structural problems in Nigerian football.
Isiaka Oladele Oladipo, a sports researcher and FIFA physical health specialist, explained why the team failed to qualify and how they can qualify for the 2026 World Cup. He mentioned that Nigeria had a 0-0 draw with Ghana in the first leg and expected to win in Nigeria, but unfortunately lost.
“Due to the way goal rules work, Nigeria was eliminated,” Oladipo emphasized the importance of understanding and following these rules, stating that if the players were not aware of such regulations, Nigeria should not expect to qualify for future World Cups.
But Amokachi stated that focusing too much on coaching is equivalent to constructing a house starting from the roof instead of establishing a strong foundation. He questioned if there is a well-established developmental program for young footballers, a comprehensive long-term plan for national teams, or a distinct football identity for the country.
Amokachi acknowledged being a product of the Nigerian league but raised concerns about unresolved issues in domestic football, such as player welfare, a lack of television rights, and organizational chaos.
In the Nigerian context, where sports federations, including the NFF, are still under the supervision of the ministry of sport, football analyst Onochie Anibeze contends that Dare's actions are considered appropriate. However, in other countries where football organizations have complete independence, Dare may not possess the authority to take such actions.
“The federation is obligated to respond to the inquiry from the sports minister, but the minister himself is also partly accountable and should share in the responsibility,” Anibeze said.
Amokachi’s main point was that consistently depending on players developed and trained by other countries signifies a failure to build future stars. He emphasized that there are significant problems plaguing Nigerian football that need to be addressed in order to break the cycle of stagnation.
Hashim Kolawole, a sports journalist, asserts that in the pursuit of qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, Nigeria's Super Eagles must demonstrate fortitude, strategic acumen, and collaboration to effectively maneuver through a demanding group."
"With formidable adversaries and well-known rivals on the horizon, the path to the 2026 World Cup promises an intense and captivating struggle for Nigerian football," Kolawole declares.
Onwumere writes from Rivers state and can be reached via: [email protected]