President Gianni Infantino
FIFA Should Please Save African Football
I just finished watching the finals of the AFCON between Algeria and Senegal, but I am very displeased with the quality of African football in 2019. I am writing you with great pleasure because FIFA has finally decided to collaborate with the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to save African Football from corruption, mismanagement, and inefficiency.
African Football is dying a fast death from inadequate football administration by CAF and national administrators that has led to low game attendance at stadiums; underrated referees for global tournaments; neglect of our local leagues; disregard for local coaches; mediocre performances of our national teams; and inadequate pipelines or academies to breed younger players for the future.
I am an American of Nigerian descent and I was in Egypt vacationing with my wife and two children early July from the USA, but did not want to pay $100 for my family to watch any of the Quarterfinal matches. On TV, the stadiums were empty and the matches were boring. I always watched Nigeria play in the second half and was sad to see Nigeria struggling to score a single goal even against Burundi. I was in a hotel in Luxor, Egypt the day Nigeria played Cameroon (hot contest back in the 80s-2000s) when my wife woke me up to see the second-half and I could not believe that Nigeria was up 3-2. The same Nigeria that once beat Bulgaria 3-0 in the 1994 World Cup and ranked 5th place in the FIFA rankings, can no longer beat any African team in 2019 AFCON by more than a goal difference and have to rely on set pieces or defensive errors to get a goal. What happened to our speed and creative attacking?
If the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) and the Super Eagles are a yardstick to measure the effectiveness of CAF and African Football, then these are the four things you should pay attention to:
1) Inept Administrators: In 1994 and 1998 World Cups, Nigeria began the tradition of not just qualifying for the second round, but also winning their group, even when it was considered the “group of death” both times. When it was time for World Cup 2002, everyone expected Nigeria to get to the Quarterfinals or even Semifinals for the first time and begin a new tradition. Instead, the Nigerian administrators with the help of Coach Festus Onigbinde disbanded the Super Eagles, which was filled with top professional players in the top European teams about 2 months to the World Cup. Nigeria is yet to recover from this blunder because we went from having almost every player in our national team in a top UEFA championship team to having our key players playing in China, Turkey, or lower divisions. The 2002 Super Eagles was disbanded because the administrators refused to pay the salaries and bonuses of Coaches Amodu & Keshi as well as the players during the 2002 AFCON Semifinal, which they lost, so the players revolted when Onigbinde, who was just a mere FIFA instructor in Trinidad & Tobago, was hired to lead the team to the 2002 World Cup. The players only demanded a more sophisticated coach that could meet their expectations at the World Cup. Under Onibginde, Nigeria began the culture of not qualifying for the second round by not winning a single game, which then led to Nigeria not qualifying for World Cup 2006. What a shame!!!
2) Regular Mandatory Budgeting & Logistics Training: How many times have we read in the news that in the middle of the World Cup that Nigeria, Ghana, or Cameroon players want to quit the games because of compensation issues? In 2014 World Cup in Brazil, one Nigerian administrator said he was returning to Nigeria to go bring the team’s compensation. How many times have FIFA warned Nigeria administrators that their hotel for the World Cup is not the recommended 5-star and was too far from our venues? A past administrator soon revealed that FIFA pays ALL DEBTS and CONTRACTS after the World Cup before giving each country their pay. This means African administrators are cheating the coaches & players. The administrators sign low rated hotels contracts for 5-star price for the entire duration of the games, then move to 5-star hotels just before the World Cup after players complain. After FIFA settles all debts, administrators go back to the low rated hotels to get their kick-back. Administrators make their profits before the World Cup and have nothing for the coaches and player during and after the World Cup. The Nigerian U-17 team that won the 1985 tournament in China just got their compensation in 2016 (over 30 years later and about 4 of the players have died) and during the 2002 World Cup, some of the players had not been compensated for their Gold Medal win in the 1996 Olympic Games, despite beating Brazil and Argentina to get it. Lack of motivation for our players and coaches from our inadequate administrators is the genesis of our poor performance at global tournaments.
3) Mandatory Pipeline for Referees, Coaches, & Players: Nigerian and African football has been colonized by UEFA and top leagues of Europe unintentionally. People would rather watch the EPL, La Liga, or Ligue 1 on TV than go to the local stadiums. They would rather buy expensive souvenirs from those leagues than learn the names of their local players. Inadequate African administrators would rather pay unqualified foreign coaches 10 times what they would pay local coaches who qualified their nation for the World Cup. Coach Amodu qualified Nigeria for the World Cup in both 2002 and 2010, but was not allowed to take Nigeria to the World Cup. In 2010 World Cup, he was supposed to be the ONLY African coach in the FIRST African World Cup in South Africa and was the lowest paid coach ($800,000 annually), but was replaced by a White coach who could not qualify Sweden to the event and got a salary of about $2 million for just 3 months (till end of event). When Amodu died in 2016, Nigerian administrators were still owing him past compensation from 2010 and was unable to pay for his medical bills. There are hardly any African referees or coaches at big football events or in Europe, but we see unqualified White coaches all over Africa. All coaches should coach a local team for at least 2 years and succeed before heading a national team in order to know the football culture and breed younger local players for the national team. I believe Amodu would have been successful at those two World Cups and changed the way Africans viewed their coaches as well as have faith in themselves. Our administrators have no VISION on how to create a consumer base for their football.
4) African Should Maintain Its Football Style & Culture: I hear of South Americans leaving Europe to go play in their local league. I see them playing in Europe, but still know how to play their style in their national teams. I saw Brazil in 2019 score five goals in the Semifinal and final of COPA AMERICA and beat their opponents in both games by a two goal difference. Many of their goals came from creative attacking and not set pieces or defensive error to score the ONLY goal. In 2019 AFCON, the goals in our Semifinals and finals were set pieces and defensive or goalie error; not creative attacking. Many of our players think Africa style of play is inferior because we do not win World Cups; our key players do not play in the local leagues; many do not know the names of the local players; local coaches are not allowed to go to the World Cup or are the least paid; and they hardly see their countryman or African as a referee in big games that they watch. African players try to play European style in Africa by seeking set pieces, but it does not work because our style is “Speed and Accuracy”. Set pieces may work when surrounded by European players who are good with technical kicks and short quick passes, but it is boring and unproductive with a group of Africans. Nigeria vs Bulgaria in World Cup 1994, Nigeria vs Argentina in 1996 Olympics final, or Nigeria vs Spain in World Cup 1998 are three classic matches that displays African football of speed with powerful attack at goal, which has been lost.
Recommended Solution: FIFA may want to try some of these recommendations in order to save African Football from inept African football administrators:
1) All football administrators NEED to be former footballers in their national or local teams the last 30 years because they know exactly what is needed to increase the performance of the players. They are to resign if they NEVER played the game at top level or retired more than 30 years ago. They are to have a 5-year term and leave office for a new set of unrelated administrators to bring in fresh ideas.
2) There should be a set or minimum salary scale for administrators, coaches, referees and players so that they do not have to worry about money or take bribes. FIFA should control the salaries and pay bonuses based on performance in a timely fashion. They should be regular training for administrators, referees, and coaches especially in the areas of budgeting, logistics, marketing for local game attendance, and sales of football souvenirs for the local team and players.
3) Administrators are to focus on marketing campaigns to fill the stadiums during local games; media broadcasting; recruitment of young talents for the local leagues; creating soccer academies and soccer parks; and community outreach to generate the revenue for football through attendance and sales of souvenirs.
4) There should be at least 20% quota for international referees, coaches, and players in all local leagues in the world and in all divisions, so that no football is seen as inferior and everyone can play their style.
5) Coaches should live in the local country for 2-5 years before becoming the national coach. They are to help administrators with community outreach to bring attendance to their local games. Their jobs is to win games and maximize attendance to help generate the revenue that FIFA needs to pay the administrators, referees, coaches, and players.