Football Is Not Played On Roads

by Okey Egboluche

I can imagine the bewilderment and astonishment on the faces of Emmanuel Maradas, a media consultant to the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) to Nigeria and Jack Warner, FIFA Vice President and head of inspection team when they were showed the newly built roads in Enugu, one of the cities bidding to host the FIFA Under-17 World Cup.

‘’Football is not played on roads’’ Emmanuel Maradas who is also the editor of African Sports magazine replied. He went ahead to berate the image makers of the host venue by saying that with or without the world cup, it is Government’s duty to build roads for the populace.

I do not have anything against the dynamic Governor of Enugu State whom, I have reliably gathered is doing a lot to render the dividends of democracy to the electorate in the State but I am irked by the manner most things are carried out in my country Nigeria. Infrastructural development is a duty of Government and the people should have it as a right, but in our self professed giant of Africa, building of roads, schools, hospitals, erecting pipe borne water and other infrastructural development is blown out of proportion. Using the media power to communicate the progress of governance in all ramifications is a good thing, but blowing it out of proportion even to the extent of almost spending huge sums of money by doing so is alarming.

In the 21st century, we are still celebrating, building roads, pipe borne water, rural electrification etc. I wonder how backward and mediocre in thinking the FIFA delegation must have thought us to be, when instead of talking about the needed specifics and showing what is on ground, the officials were talking about the roads that have been built. The FIFA team, could have as well been shown the new markets built, the unemployed youths who have been given ‘’okada purchasing soft loan’’, the new and diverse okada helmet wearing that is being enforced may be to ensure the safety of our visitors at the football fiesta, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that may monitor the modus operandi of the Local Organizing Committee and even the controversial Independent Power Project (IPP)that may give 24 hours nonstop supply of electric power during the event.

About ten years ago Nigeria hosted the world in what I will term a successful staging of the then FIFA Under- 20 World Youth Soccer Championship with state of the art facilities. The level of transformation that Jack Warner saw in one of the stadia after he had seen what could be described as scrap some months earlier made him describe it as the Eighth wonder of the world. The facilities in place enabled Nigeria to co-host the Nigeria–Ghana 2000 African Nations Cup. It is ten years after and we seem to be back to square one, re-erecting the same structures we had on ground. The turf, electric power generator, video sonic board, plastic seats, furniture, ceilings, lights to mention a few. Let it be known that the cost of maintaining such facilities is a lot less when compared to putting new ones in place. It is a pity that despite repeated caution and warnings by the media and concerned Nigerians, the authorities still allowed the facilities to waste. I just wonder and have decided to ask, is this synonymous with our way of life as Nigerians? This time around nobody can put the blame of this level of degradation on the military. Civilian administrations have been in place for the past ten years and things went awry as regards maintaining the stadia. Why do our leaders allow such monuments to waste?

A lot of soccer enthusiasts have raised their voices after the elimination of the home based Super Eagles en-route the African Nations Championship to be hosted in Cote d’Ivoire describing the performance of the Okey Emordi tutored team as a reflection of our Football league. Let it be known that the condition of our stadia even further reflects our football league.

We are still moaning the abysmal performance of most of our national football teams in 2008, a year that could be described as one of the worst, in recent times as regards our football prowess. Thank goodness for Samson Siasia’s boys of the Dream team IV and the Super Eagles coached by Shuiabu Amodu who woke up from their slumber after a rueful Nations cup performance in Ghana; they gave us some cause to smile. 2009 started and our darling Flying Eagles who are mostly lads from the World conquering Golden Eaglets of 2007 set an unimpressive record in Nigerian football history by being the first national team to lose to a South Africa national side in a competitive game.

Even as we bite our lips and fold our arms wondering if Coach Ladan Bosso can truly churn out the maximum potentials of the Under 20 boys and render technical and tactical discipline to the style of play of the Flying Eaglets who are under his tutelage; the lambasting that Nigeria received from Mr Jack Warner as regards Nigeria’s level of preparation for the cadet World cup calls for serious concern.

No doubt, some folk may see us as miracle workers based on fire brigade approach to issues which does lead to success at times. In Nollywood, films are made after shooting for about two to three weeks. Most of our national teams have gone to major tournaments and championships in shambles and still gave a good account of themselves. Jack Warner witnessed the fire brigade miracle working ability of Nigeria when he tagged one of the host venues for Nigeria ‘99 World Youth Soccer Championship the eighth wonder of the world. However, this view point of Nigerians as miracle workers can be likened to intellectual myopia.

Let it be known that it is the same fire brigade approach that has made the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) suddenly remember that there is something called a retreat for coaches after most of the coaches of National teams did badly. It is still the same fire brigade approaches that have made our authorities leave our sporting infrastructure to waste away because of a poor maintenance culture. It has also made Jack Warner to be out rightly disappointed at the level of work going on in some venues jostling to host the FIFA Nigeria 2009 Under -17 soccer fiesta after all the promises that were made to his delegation, a year earlier were not kept. It is this same fire brigade approach that may make us loose the opportunity to host the FIFA Nigeria 2009 Under- 17 World Cup if we do not put our acts right.

Mr Warner who declared that it is only Abuja stadium and Ijebu-Ode stadium that had what it takes to host the soccer World cup and was full of praise for the level of work going on the Warri stadium had this to say,

“We are not happy with what we saw. I have always been with Nigeria. I wanted Nigeria to win against Italy in USA in 1994.

I was there in 1996 when Nigeria won the Olympics gold. I was with Nigeria in Korea when the Eaglets lifted the Under-17 Cup.

I love Nigeria. I want to go back to FIFA and say Nigeria can do it a second time,”

He added, “Nigeria is not ready because plenty still has to be done. I have faith in Nigeria but Nigeria has not given me enough courage to express this faith. I want to be a believer that Nigeria can deliver because the future of football in Africa belongs to Nigeria. I want to see the miracle in March, when we return, that Nigeria is ready to host a hitch-free championship.”

A birthday bash and encomiums for Jack Warner may have soothed his nerves and helped to make him present a strong case for Nigeria in FIFA but it will not win us a right to host the soccer event if his team comes back in March to meet things in a shabby state.

The die is cast. Are we ready to host the Nigeria 2009 FIFA Under-17 World Cup or not? This is a question we must have to answer by speeding up the level of work at the various centres. The Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan declared that the final choices will be based on mer

it. It is a true fact that the gains of the event if well managed cannot be over emphasized. Let us not throw away this opportunity. Concerted efforts should also be made in all sectors; security, health, infrastructure, media reports, amongst others. Let us not allow the dead spirits that haunted us to falter in our quest to hold the FIFA Under -20 World Youth Championship in 1995 and the Miss World beauty pageant in 2002 to resurrect and deal a decisive blow on us.

The quest to host the event will do well to our Football as most of our stadia will be upgraded. This will definitely affect our local league’s quality of Football for good. As we wait for FIFA’s announcement of the chosen venues, the official’s of the Lagos, Calabar, Kano, Kaduna, Enugu and Bauchi centres should speed up work. By doing this ,they do not only position themselves to host the event but they will in many ways help to develop sports, one of the best means of generating employment for youths in their states.

I trust the ability of the Mainasara Ilo, Vice chairman/CEO of the Local Organising Committee of the project tagged Nigeria 2009, who is currently at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich to explain any area that may be doubtful in the Jack Warner report; to manage the affairs of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) . The intimidating High Definition broadcast equipment of Africa independent Television (AIT) also gives hope to soccer loving Nigerians.

Nigerians are soccer crazy. Soccer has indeed become a means of our national identity. It is one of Nigeria’s greatest unifying factors. Once again, we have another opportunity in our hands to re-invent our soccer prowess. With up to date facilities and infrastructure in place, an abundance of talents which the world knows we have, quality technocrats, good strategy and planning, a departure from fire brigade approach in future, merit and putting round pegs in the round hole; our journey to excellence in soccer is not far away.

Football is not played on roads, neither is it just played in the pitch or stadium. It is played in the boardroom where those with the best plans, implementation, management style and strategy excel. It is also played in the mind where a real hunger for success will spur passion, doggedness, pragmatism, creativity and dynamism.

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