Maybe, Keshi should walk away

Stephen Okechukwu Keshi has been a player, captain, and coach of the Super Eagles. And that’s quite a feat! He was in the squad that won Nigeria’s first Africa Cup of Nations trophy in 1994, but was absent in the Team Nigeria that won gold in football at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. He coached the team that won Nigeria’s second AFCON trophy in South Africa in 2013, but later degenerated to a lacklustre performance at the 2014 Brazil FIFA World Cup competition. He is yet leading, as defending champions, the same “wobbling and fumbling” team in the qualifiers for the 2015 AFCON tournament in Morocco.

Nigeria is third in Group A of the 2015 Morocco qualifiers, after losing to Congo Brazzaville and Sudan, drawing with South Africa, later beating Sudan. But to make it to Morocco, the Super Eagles must win their away match with Congo, and the home match against South Africa – to chalk up the required 10 points, to emerge either first runner-up or second runner-up in Group A. Those happy, contented, housewives singing, “the sun is shining,” in that television commercial certainly do not have Keshi and his team in mind. For now, it looks like an eclipse is looming.

Keshi, who was fired by the Nigeria Football Federation for the Super Eagles poor play on the road to Morocco 2015, may not smile if anyone were to call him “Shine, Shine Bobo,” these days. It took President Goodluck Jonathan’s intervention to get back his job penultimate week. The President had also prevailed upon him to withdraw the resignation he sent in immediately after the Super Eagles won the 2013 AFCON trophy. That was a Command Performance that must be obeyed. That Keshi brags about jobs waiting for him elsewhere, but remains with the Super Eagles, gives the impression of a man in a dilemma of balancing the triad of patriotism, ambition, and self-interest.

In spite of their inconsistencies, the Super Eagles once won the award of the Most Entertaining Team at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the US. It is in sync with the verdict of another group that voted Nigerians as the happiest people on earth. There are three theories to the Super Eagles’ recent blues. The first blames it all on the coach, an indigenous coach. Indeed, the NFF Chairman, Amaju Pinnick, who first commended Keshi, says “I very much support us having a local coach,” but then adds, “…if it happens that (Keshi) can’t continue (as coach), we may get a foreigner.” The vulture is a patient bird.

The second theory blames the whole slew on Nigeria’s football administrators. From the Minister of Sports, Tammy Danagogo Jack, to the lowest executive that has any input in running Nigeria’s football. Many Nigerian ministers of sports know next to nothing about football – or any sport for that matter. It looks like the current minister has yet to find his groove. The NFF is a muddle of confusion. It took a FIFA threat, to suspend Nigeria, before the Chris Giwa-led faction was persuaded by President Jonathan to withdraw its law suit against the NFF. Management experts will tell you that a lack of cohesion and measurable objectives run an organisation aground; it will never be productive. At best, it will perform like a yo-yo, the same way the Super Eagles are floundering.

There is allegation, guess, rumour, or whatever, that government funding of sports is generally low, and that money allocated is pilfered anyway. Currently, there is a back and forth between sports stakeholders about whether the 2014 federal budget allocation to sports is N1.7bn or N1.8bn (plus another N500m for essentially high performance sports, among which football should be one.)

Someone suggests that there is a sharing of sporting funds as it cascades from one gatekeeper, to a lower gatekeeper, in the sporting mill: From the Ministry of Finance that advises the Ministry of Sports of its allocation, to the Central Bank of Nigeria, that acts on the ministry’s Authority to Incur Expenditure, and pays to the sports federations, which eventually apply very little to gears, equipment, logistics, sportsmen, and employees. This individual suggests that the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission needs to peer into the books of these federations to see the money trail.

Football, even at FIFA level, is reeking in corruption. You remember the scam that involved some top brass of FIFA a few years back. A sting operation revealed a few of them negotiating hosting rights with spooks posing as agents of interested nations. In the end, the culprits only got a slap on the wrist. The other day, the CNN interviewed a match-fixer who confessed to fixing football matches, both at club and international levels. Regrettably, he blew up all his pay-offs on gambling, and is now roaming the streets like a bum.

The administrative snafus and paucity of funds dovetail into the third theory, namely, that there is a dearth of high quality footballers in Nigeria. None, among the lot, including the internationals, match the “Mathematical Odegbamis,” “Chairman Christian Chukwus,” and legendary “Thunder Balogun,” and ace goalkeeper, Inuwa Rigogo. They don’t even match latter-day pros like Keshi, Dan Amokachi, Samson Siasia, and Sunday Oliseh. And that is pitiable. The League Management Company, that manages the elite local league, needs a shot in the arm.

This beautiful game, football, or soccer to Americans, now comes in variants – as soccer played on the grass pitch; the corrupted American version, where the use of hands and legs is fair game; rugby; probably cricket; beach soccer, played on sandy beach sides; and street soccer, probably derived from “tenne” that kids used to play in poor neighbourhoods.

An old book on the origin of football claims that football developed on dirt roads, as pastime of the bucolic in a rustic English village. In that case, it really is not a metaphor to say that football made grown up men to kick up dust. Everyone, and any number of people, could play. And there were no rules: All you needed to do was to wrest the ball from whoever had it, and you went away with it to whatever direction your whim directs.

Over time, somebody thought they could form opposing teams, ban the use of hands, erect goalposts, and record shots that went into the posts against the team that conceded the goals. Then, club sides grew, and the game became better organised. After the game went global, thanks to colonialism and Christianity, FIFA that nearly runs like a sovereign nation, sprung out of it. Football buff, Jules Rimet, a rich French man, donated the first World Cup.

Be that as it may, as the President has asked that he be reinstated, Keshi must ensure the success of the Super Eagles at Morocco 2015. But if the cacophony in the House of Football, his poor remuneration, and dearth of good footballers, will cause him to disappoint the President, he may have to do what losing folk do on the TV show, “Who Wants to be A Millionaire.” Walk away! The ovation may not be as loud as it could have been, had he quit after the 2013 AFCON victory. The braying lot at the NFF will definitely let him go – in disgrace – if he fails. And a third request for reinstatement may be a hat trick that Mr. President can’t pull off. He would then be imposing.