By Arinze Ude.
It’s becoming a culture nowadays to support Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, AC Milan or Juventus and I’ve been pondering if we could ever have the same passion for our local clubsides.
Our poor domestic league is a drawback to the Nigerian Football team. I’m not clamouring for all our Nigerian top players to ply their trade in Nigeria but the league should be good enough to retain players rather than see them rushing to countries with no football pedigree for money.
I have been involved in heated arguments with people who believe the NPL will never be good enough for us to attend their matches and cheer our local teams but I think we can do this.
The Egyptian, South African, Moroccan, Tunisian, Mexican and Japanese leagues are leagues we should use as stereotypes. Let’s use the Egyptian league for example, it is so organized and exciting that their top players leave Europe and return home. For instance, Amir Zaki was an instant hit at Wigan Athletic when he was on loan at the club (2008/2009 English premier league season) and had the opportunity to make the deal permanent but he declined the offer and opted to return back to Egypt where he’s been representing Zamalek. The Egyptian league is so exciting to watch because of their style of play and the atmosphere in the stadia. The fans come out in mass, wearing the colours of their favourite teams and singing at the top of their voices.
In Nigeria, the reverse is the case; the pitches are nothing to write home about, terrible officiating, poor crowd turn out and indiscipline on the part of players and club officials.
These are ways I believe we can transform our league:
– With all due respect, a lot of credible men have held the top position at The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) Glass House without achieving anything and I think it’s time for them to move aside and allow a capable ex-footballer, who has seen it all and knows what the league needs, to lead us to El Dorado. Kalusha Bwalya, an ex-footballer has turned the fortunes of Zambian football since he took reigns of their Football Administration a few years ago and I believe that’s our first step to redemption.
– Co-operation and Unity: NFF and The Sports Ministry led by Bolaji Abdullahi have to work in sync to make this dream a reality. This is sine qua non. The days of in-house fighting that have rocked the NFF over the years should be left in the past and NFF should also try and act as a bridge between the clubs and their players, working towards settling the problem of unpaid royalties and salaries by these clubs. We need to be able to pay these local players enough to keep them comfortable and happy to stay rather than see them leave for obscure footballing countries like Cyprus, Malta, India, Thailand etc. Moving to one of the top European leagues is understandable.
– Non-Governmental Interference: The State Governments need to relinquish the management of these clubs thus enabling corporate bodies or individuals to purchase these clubs out rightly; providing them with start up funds to be able to sign players and manage the wage bill.
– Media and Promotion: SuperSports have been televising our league for some years now but that can be improved upon. The fact that it is shown on TV does not mean people will watch it. The Public Relations and Marketing committees should be inaugurated to make some buzz about these games. Ex footballers like the Okochas, Finidis, Olisehs, Kanus should also be carried along. We can pick a leaf from SuperSports, I love the way they hype their league (Super Diski). Also capable hands for match day analysis and commentary should also be employed. The stadium quality also has to be enhanced and the refereeing situation sorted out ‘cos we sabi fix match gaan.’ All these minor issues affect the way the game is perceived. You can’t promote a game the commentator knows nothing about the history of the clubs nor the names of the players.
– The NFF and Prospective club owners should try and make the match tickets available at an affordable price to ensure the stadia are always filled with fans, with gate proceedings going to the club hosting the match.
– The “home” advantage issue is something that has to be dealt with. The home team is always favoured one way or the other and the referees are often bribed to swing matches in their favour. Referee’s salaries should be reviewed and security officials employed on match days to avert any crowd trouble.
Generally, the Government would gain a great deal from an efficient and exciting football league. Look at England, the EPL rakes in more revenue than most of the sectors over there and the same success can be recorded here in Nigeria if we all support it.