The annual Confederation of African Football (CAF) Awards entered its 27th edition this year and the Awards Gala took place for the first time in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. It is now 20 years since a Nigerian player was last crowned the King of Africa and that was Kanu Nwakwo in 1999. With the rate of football talents in Nigeria and the participation of Nigerian players in major football leagues across the world, one would begin to wonder why no Nigerian player has been crowned the best African player since then.
The failure of Nigerian players to win big in recent CAF awards in sharp contrast to when Nigerian players yearly featured prominently when the Confederation of African Football, CAF, took over the organisation of the event beginning in 1992 has made a lot of football fans to begin to wonder if the country lacks talent, administration or the wit by players to go all out for their country and club and by doing write their names in the history books of African football top performers.
It will be recalled that apart from when Ghana’s football legend, who Abedi Pele won the inaugural CAF best player in 1992 and in 1995 when the present President of Liberia, George Opong Weah won the award in 1995, the same year he won FIFA Best Player of the year award, Nigerians dominated the event in the ’90s. Scorer of Nigeria’s first ever senior World Cup goal, late Rashidi Yekini was voted the best African player in 1993, the hero of the 1994 AFCON in Tunisia, Emmanuel Amunike replaced Yekini in 1994, the captain of the victorious 1996 Atlanta Olympics Dream Team 1, Kanu Nwankwo won the award in 1996, the Prince of Monaco as Victor Ikpeba was popularly called was the winner in 1997 and Kanu after a scary heart surgery returned to win his second prize in 1999. Unfortunately, beginning from 1999, no Nigerian male player has won the award again.
In 1994 when Amunike won the award, Rashidi came second, Amunike and Daniel Amokachi were second and third respectively when Weah won in 1995, Amokachi was again third when Kanu won in 1996, Taribo West came third when Ikpeba won in 1997 just as Jay-Jay Okocha of PSG and Sunday Oliseh of Ajax took second and third behind Mustapha Hadji of Morocco who won the award in 1998. However, Nigeria’s complete drought began in 2000 when no Super Eagles player came close to winning the award until 2003 when Jay-Jay Okocha came third behind Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o Fils of Cameroon who won the award. The same scenario involving the two Nigerian players played out in 2004.
Another dearth for Nigeria started in 2005 and lasted till 2013 when Mikel Obi managed to come second behind Yaya Toure who won his first award. In 2014, the then Super Eagles captain and goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama came third when Yaya Toure won his second award. Unfortunately, that appears to be the end of the story for the Super Eagles and their enthusiastic fans as from 2014, no Nigerian player has made the last three nominees for the prestigious award.
EX-PLAYERS’ THOUGHTS ON THE MATTER
Tanzania coach and ex-Nigerian international, Emmanuel Amuneke says Nigerians must tell themselves the truth, if they are to end the country’s poor performances in recent Confederation of Africa Football Awards.
“Other countries and players are moving up and it’s up to our players to step up too. We can’t question other countries for winning the awards, when we were winning, nobody questioned us. We can’t be among the best when we don’t tell ourselves the truth. We are four Nigerians who have won the CAF Player of the Year award but only three of us were in Dakar to witness the event.
“Football is always changing, it’s dynamic. We the older generation can no longer return to the pitch to reposition our football. The young players should know that hard work is the only way forward. But are we doing the right thing to move our football forward? I realise that we dwell so much on glamour in Nigeria but forget to do what would bring glamour to our football. Our performance showed that our players have not sustained their good forms for a long time at their clubs. When the players maintain their forms for more than a season, big clubs will come for them and that will further improve the country’s image on the continent. Whatever grudges fans have with some of the awards, if we have our players performing excellently, it will be difficult for them to be sidelined. Nigeria used to have the best players on the continent and if we can return to that time, we will win more CAF awards.”
Former Super Eagles Goalkeeper, Ike Shorunmu, believes Nigerian players failed to make the five-man shortlist for the 2015 Glo CAF Awards because of the high level of competition among African players in Europe. He also feels that the Super Eagles’ failure to qualify for the 2017 African Nations Cup is also a factor that ensured the players were not in the final shortlist for the awards.
He, however, believes that the present crop of Nigerian players comprising Victor Moses, Kelechi Iheanacho, Ahmed Musa and Alex Iwobi, among others, will change the trend, even as early as the 2016 edition if they continued with their sterling performances for club and national team.
He said, “Being out of the final shortlist for the CAF awards does not mean Nigerian players are not good enough. Other African players are hungry to excel…the competition is very high and Nigerian players need to realize that being a champion deserves much creativity and commitment. I am happy the present crop of players is ready to make their mark and in the next edition of the awards, we shall see some of them in the top list. All they need to do is to focus on giving their best all the time to club and country.’’
But alas, Ike Shorunmu was wrong. Nigerian players have gone beyond 2016 and the story is still the same. The truth remains that despite the change in the football dynamics, Nigerian players are not taking the advantages of these dynamics to favour the national team and return the glory days back to Nigerian football.
A former Super Eagles coach, late Adegboye Onigbinde said the country’s poor showing was a reflection of the game at home. He said, “The awards were a reflection of what has been happening in our football in the last decade. We have failed to plan properly for the development of the game and we are seeing the results. When we don’t make a conscious effort to develop the sport, the products will always not meet up with the others from other parts of the world. We need to ensure that we start developing our football so that we can achieve our full potential.”
THE NFF CRISIS
The poor performances of the Super Eagles of Nigeria can be traced to the crisis that rocked the administrative arm of the Nigeria’s football, The Nigeria Football Federation, NFF.
THE WAY FORWARD
The interference in our football will end the day Decree 101 that places NFF under the sports ministry as a parastatal is finally repealed. Many sports ministers would always want to control football. They are so swayed by the spoils of office that they disregard the rules of the game and given in to self interests. Over the years, a Nigerian sports minister who supervises the country’s teams to the Olympics, World Cup, Commonwealth Games and possibly the Nations Cup would be so buoyant that he can run for the Presidency or governorship of his state. The problem didn’t start now and may not end now until the law is amended. Ministers would always want to influence elections into the NFF or coerce the board to do his bidding. FIFA abhors taking administrative matters to conventional courts. And it is because of interference that affects smooth running of the game especially in Africa that informed the enactment of these rules by them. Their affiliates are expected to abide to belong to the organisation. They have not said rule of law should be disregarded.
AGE CHEAT IN AGE-GRADE COMPETITIONS
One should begin to wonder why we have won so many age-grade competitions and those have not literally translated into success for the senior national team as it did in the past. For example, Kanu Nwankwo was a part of the team that won the under 17 world cup in Japan ’93, he went ahead to win the Atlanta ’96 Olympic gold medal and several other accolades for club and country. Nigeria has won the FIFA U-17 world cup five times, the most in the history of that competition but players with such exposure don’t seem to grow into the national team and when they do, they only fade away after few appearances. For example, one would have thought that the team which one the U-17 world cup in UAE in 2013 would by now have regulars in the Super Eagles squad but it is not so. Only Dele Alampasu, Isaac Success and Kelechi Iheanacho have made the Super Eagles team and they are not even regular in the senior national team yet.
The NPFL, LMC Factor
Another aspect of the Nigerian football we need to look into properly is the structure is the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) and the League Management Company, LMC.
LACK OF PROPER STRUCTURE
Lack of facilities, cup matches, awards and the pre-season tour has brought down the reputation of the league. LMC needs to work on players’ welfare, endorsements, and good salary structure. Nigerians go to countries like South Africa, Angola, Egypt, Morocco, and Sudan because their leagues have these structures in place. There should be an order enforcing clubs to honour the contracts of their players. Players should not be owed salaries, who plays football on an empty stomach? These have only reduced the passion of our players which also trickled down to our poor outings both at the continental and intercontinental levels.
POOR COACHING AND MANAGEMENT
The NPFL is a poor quality competition. I think it’s a slap on all the indigenous coaches when NFF President said he made a vow to get a foreign coach for the Super falcons and he did. What happened to the Nigerian coaches? All the coaches that help with the qualifications for the World Cup are probably not good enough but instead of getting foreign coaches, we also need to train the coaches.
Our coaches needs some form of capacity building. If they cannot go out to improve themselves, NFF and LMC should look for ways of developing coaches by bringing experienced coaches to train our home grown coaches. Another thing worthy of mentioning is that NFF and LMC should not politicize the issue, training coaches who are only in the good book.
We can see the difference between Gernot Rohr who is not even a high ranked coach and other indigenous coaches that have handled the Super Eagles. Training the trainers will also help our league look more attractive.