Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Super Eagles of England!

THE LONG RUNNING debate about the composition of the Super Eagles is back on the front burner, following the events at the national team camp last weekend in London, England.

Gernot Rohr's fully foreign-based selection held the Teranga Lions of Senegal to a 1-1 draw in the first of two planned friendly games, but the second game had to be called off because Burkina Faso could not secure travel visas for several players. That prompted Rohr to throw the Eagles camp door wide open to virtually any England-based player with Nigerian parentage as he (presumably) sought to widen his pool of selectables. By the time the camp closed after a practice match between Team 'A' and Team 'B' which ended in another 1-1 draw, the Super Eagles of Nigeria were looking more like the Super Eagles of England!

Naturally, soccer fans and journalists who had been upset that Rohr didn't call up any home-based player in his original 23-man squad are now even more livid that he allowed every Tom, Dick and Harry (read Ola Aina, Chuba Akpom and Nathan Oseni) into the London camp simply because they were born, live or play in England. Where is the fairness to the home boys like league top scorer, Stephen Odey, they ask?

Last week, I expressed my support for Rohr's decision to call up an entirely foreign-based squad if he felt they would perform better that the home boys. He is not the first Eagles coach to behave in this manner and he won't be the last for a number of reasons that should be quite obvious to everyone by now. But even I was flabbergasted when I heard about Nigerian fathers gate-crashing the Eagles camp in London to announce that their sons were ready to play for our senior national team. Just like that?

It is wrong to admit players (foreign or local-based) to camp, hand them jerseys and cap them just because they happened to be living next door to the Eagles camp or because they had their fathers in tow. Players should be allowed in camp only on the invitation of the coach who must have seen them play prior or got reports about them from his scouts. Foreign-born players desirous of representing Nigeria should only inform the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) about their availability in writing, then leave the coach to take a decision on their invitation devoid of any external pressures. NFF president Amaju Pinnick, please take note!

That said, I'm not in the mood for the endless argument on the home-based versus foreign-based brouhaha. Let whoever is our coach at any given time have the final say on player selection and swim or sink with his choices. All I care about is that proper procedures should be adhered to.

Finally, I hope the Senegal friendly and the bonding session that followed would benefit the Eagles when they face South Africa in their opening 2019 AFCON qualifier in June. In the final analysis, that is all that matters.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bazee And Company

BAZEE & COMPANY is the title of the latest edition of Complete Football magazine available online for free subscription. (Go to www.yumpu.com/kiosk/completefootball). The title reminds me of Basi and Company, the popular sitcom (situation comedy) that aired on Nigerian television during the 1980s (I think) to wide public acclaim. But this article is not about that television drama.

The Bazee and Company that Complete Football editor Kayode Ogundare has written about are the new kids on the bloc that Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr has lined up for his double-header friendlies against Senegal and Burkina Faso this week and next in London. Rohr wants to look at these players to find out which of them can fit into his plans when the Eagles return to competitive action in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers later this year.

The leader of the group is 20-year-old attacking midfielder Noah Bazee who plays for Bundesliga 2 side Hannover 96 in Germany. In his “company” are 21-year-old right full back Tyrone Ebuehi (ADO Den Haag of Holland), 20-year-old Chidozie Collins Awaziem (FC Porto, Portugal), 23-year-old Olanrewaju Kayode (FK Austria Wien, Austria) and 22-year-old Uche Agbo of Spanish club, Granada FC.

All five players are featured extensively in Complete Football’s “Bazee & Company.” But the two that will attract the most scrutiny when they make their debuts are Bazee and Ebuehi who were born abroad.

Rohr has been after these two boys for some time. During my conversation with him in January, he spoke extensively about them and how far he had gone trying to convince them to play for Nigeria. Now, they are on the verge of doing so.

Rohr’s attractions to these players apart from their young ages, are the structured, professional upbringing that being born abroad had afforded them. He expects they would bring that to help shore up the Eagles defence in particular. He points to Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong who have a similar background of growing up abroad to justify his conviction that the environment plays a huge part in the development of a player, his understanding of the game and his interpretation of tactics. I am in full agreement with the German on this.

Unfortunately, not everyone is on the same page with Rohr. I have heard his critics complain about his refusal to include home-based players in his squad for these friendlies. The talent of our home boys is not in doubt and that is why many of them excel when they get to clubsides abroad. But before making the transition, most of them truly are lacking the exposure and tactical discipline to play at the highest level. Their concentration level is also low. The fault for that lies in the poor quality of football education that they get within our environment during their formative years. Until that is improved in all ramifications, home-based players will continue to play the second fiddle or get over-looked completely.
I hope Bazee and Company will prove Rohr right in the choices he has made. And I hope that overall, the Eagles performances against Senegal and Burkina Faso will give us more confidence for our upcoming AFCON and World Cup qualifiers.

A New Dawn For CAF

THERE’S NO NEED kicking a man that is down already. So I will only say to former Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou who was dethroned last week by Ahmad Ahmad of Madagascar in Addis Ababa: “Thank you for all that you did for African football, Issa. Now, you can have your deserved rest.”

Just before the vote which Ahmad won in landslide fashion (34-20), I read Hayatou’s interview with Colin Udoh’s Kwese Sports online. Hayatou claimed he had planned to step down, but he was recontesting only because African FA president had begged him to stay. Well, it turned out that they deceived him or, to be more precise, he allowed himself to be deceived. 34 votes to 20 was a whitewash, a pummeling (using Nkechi Obi’s qualifier) in an election that was predicted to be close. It was not close at all.

That said, the ball now is fully in Ahmad’s court and we shall be watching how soon and how well he will implement his electoral promises to rejig the administration of African football and make it more transparent.
What can I say to Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick? First is to congratulate him for becoming the third Nigerian ever to seat on the executive committee of CAF. That is a remarkable achievement by the young man.
Second is to salute his courage to confront the much feared Hayatou Dynasty and, in concert with Ahmad and others, to defeat it.

Third is to commend Pinnick’s political sagacity which he used to overwhelm all local Nigerian obstacles, especially that posed by Minister of Sports Solomon Dalung who was a confused man throughout the process, speaking from both sides of his mouth.

Fourth, I salute Pinnick for carrying out my "instruction" in this column to shut Moucharafou’s Big Mouth! Now that “small boy Pinnick” has unseated him from his treasured CAF seat, the Benin Republic man will learn not to underrate his opponents and that pride and arrogance are precursors to a big fall!

Finally, I want Pinnick not to lose focus of his primary task. He must ensure that his victory songs at CAF also continue to play in the Super Eagles. A successful national team is the major reward that millions of Nigerian soccer fans expect from him whether or not he’s on the CAF executive committee.  In the short term, that means qualifying the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the 2019 AFCON.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

CAF Elections: How Winners Will Emerge

THE DIE IS CAST! On Thursday this week, March 16, the much-awaited 2017 Confederation of African Football (CAF) elections will hold in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The main contest for the CAF presidency is between incumbent Issa Hayatou of Cameroun and Madagascar FA president Ahmad. But there will be other contests for eight seats on the CAF executive committee as well.
The CAF vote was the topic of discussion last week at The Sports Parliament, the brand new discussion programme on the NTA network where I sit along with Speaker, Chief Segun Odegbami and other Parliamentarians to dissect issues concerning Nigerian sports (11pm – 12midnight every Thursday on NTA network. Don’t miss it). The unanimous verdict of the Parliament was a resounding support for Ahmad to end Hayatou’s long reign. But achieving that objective is easier said than done. Despite Hayatou’s loss of popularity amongst most African football fans, he still is the favourite to win among those who will actually cast the votes.
CAF has 56 member associations. Two of them, Reunion Island and Zanzibar, are associate members with no voting powers.  The 54 voting members are divided into six zones in the following order:
Zone 1 (Northern): Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia (5 members, 2 executive committee seats, 1 vacancy).
Zone 2 (West A): Guinea, Gambia, Mauritania, Liberia, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Lone, Cape Verde (8 members, 2 executive committee seats, 1 vacancy).
Zone 3 (West B): Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Benin, Niger, Ghana, Mali, Togo, Burkina Faso (8 members, 2 executive committee seats, 1 vacancy).
Zone 4 (Central): Cameroun, RD Congo, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome & Principe, Central Africa Republic, Chad, (8 members, 2 executive committee seats, 1 vacancy).
Zone 5 (East): Burundi, Rwanda, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Tanzania (11 members, 2 executive committee seats, 1 vacancy).
Zone 6 (Southern): Mozambique, Namibia, Madagascar, Seychelles, Lesotho, South Africa, Zambia, Mauritius, Malawi, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Angola, Comoros (14 members, 3 executive committee seats, 2 vacancies).
Female Member: (1 executive committee member, 1 vacancy).
Zones 1 to 5 have two members each in the CAF executive committee, while zone 6 has three members. There’s a special seat reserved for a female member and one for the CAF President, bringing the total membership to 15 (Article 22 of the CAF Statutes).
This year, elections will be contested for the sole female seat, one seat each in Zones 1 to 5, and two seats in Zone 6, bringing the total to eight. One of those contests is between Nigeria’s FA president Amaju Pinnick and Moucharafou Anjorin of Benin Republic in Zone 3 (West B). The tenure is four years, 2017-2021.
The tenures of the other executive committee members whose seats are not being contested this year began in 2015 and will expire in 2019 when another election will be held. CAF arranged the tenures in this overlapping manner so that in case all the incumbents in a tenure lose their seats at an election, there will be others on the executive committee with the experience to give orientation and direction to the new in-coming members.
Apart from the six CAF zones that I have listed, there are also three linguistic blocks among the 54 members. Eighteen are Francophone, 19 are Anglophone while the remaining 17 are grouped together as Arabic/Portuguese/Spanish speaking. If two of the language blocks vote en mass for one candidate in the presidential elections, it would result in a landslide victory for that candidate. The elections are by SECRET BALLOT and winners will be decided by ABSOLUTE MAJORITY. If there’s a tie in the first round of voting, a second ballot will be held to break the tie (Article 18 of the CAF Statutes).
There will also be an election to pick the African representatives to the FIFA Council in Zurich. Each CAF linguistic block has one seat on the FIFA Council and three other seats are free to “open applications,” bringing the total to six for Africa, apart from Hayatou who is a senior vice president of FIFA.
Kalusha Bwalya of Zambia (Anglophone), Danny Jordan of South Africa (open applicant) and a member from South Sudan (open applicant) were forced to withdraw from the FIFA Council contest after failing FIFA’s integrity test. That leaves Tunisia (Arab/Portuguese/Spanish), Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote d’Ivoire (Francophone), Ghana and Tanzania (Anglophone) in the race for the FIFA Council in addition to candidates from Guinea, Egypt and Burundi who are vying as “open applicants.” The Tunisia candidate and all three “open candidates” will be elected unopposed while the four Francophone and Anglophone candidates will slug it out for two seats. But the big battle is for the CAF presidency and membership of the CAF executive committee.
According to the CAF General Assembly procedure (Article 17), the first election that will be contested is for the presidency, the outcome of which usually impacts on the other elections. Therefore, if Hayatou defeats Ahmad, the likelihood is that Moucharafou who is in Hayatou’s camp will also emerge victorious against Pinnick and so on.

Hayatou is counting on the loyalty of members who have benefited from his presidency during the close-to-30-years of his reign. He expects to win majority of the votes in Zones 1, 4 and 5 while splitting the votes in Zones 2, 3 and 6. That would hand him a comfortable victory.
On the other hand, Ahmad is hoping that enough members will be disillusioned with Hayatou’s long reign and finally break ranks with the Camerounian. He is hoping also that the influence of FIFA president Gianni Infantino who has not hidden his dislike for Hayatou will tip the scale in his favour.
Hayatou fell out with Infantino during the 2016 FIFA presidential elections when he reportedly directed CAF members to vote en bloc for pre-vote favourite Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim al Khalifa of Bahrain, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Many CAF members however broke ranks to vote for Infantino who subsequently won the election on a second ballot by 115 to 88 votes. Ahmad is hoping that those same countries that broke ranks in Zurich will vote for him in Addis Ababa, but nothing is guaranteed in politics.
I will conclude this pre-election analysis by returning to the home front. Two weeks ago when I last wrote about the CAF elections, it was uncertain at the time whether Nigeria’s minister of sport, Solomon Dalung would back Pinnick’s decision to support Ahmad. However, I was surprised when the minister not only endorsed Pinnick’s candidacy for an executive committee seat, but also approved his public backing for Ahmad in the presidential race. I wondered about how Pinnick pulled off the “double coup,” but now two theories have emerged.
One is that the minister was pressurized by top government officials of the All Progressive Congress (APC) to rubber stamp Pinnick’s position. One former governor reportedly spoke to another former governor who then spoke to Dalung and that was it.

The second theory is that Pinnick “convinced” the minister with some direct benefits that Ahmad has promised to Nigeria. These include, among others, the appointment of Nigerians into top CAF administrative positions such as the office of the secretary general and director of media. We will have to wait to see how true this is if Ahmad wins.
Meanwhile, more information has come to light about why the Nigerians presently serving in CAF committees are not in support of Pinnick’s agenda to oust Hayatou. Soon after his inauguration as president of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) in 2015, Pinnick started making moves to recall some of the Nigerian CAF Committee members so that he could replace them with his own loyalists. Hayatou blocked the changes from taking place, so the affected Nigerian members feel indebted to the Camerounian. It is therefore natural that they would remain loyal to the CAF president.
The good thing about the division in the Nigerian camp over the CAF elections is that, whoever wins the presidency between Hayatou and Ahmad, Nigeria’s interest will be protected somewhat. If Ahmad wins, Pinnick will be there to ensure that we get the reward for supporting the Madagascan. And if Hayatou retains his seat, the Nigerians in CAF committees will plead with him not to punish us!
I am rooting for Ahmad. But, in the interest of African football, may the best candidate win.  
PS: Following wide-spread criticism that has dogged Hayatou’s long stay in office since 1988, CAF at its Extraordinary General Assembly in Cairo on September 9, 2016 adopted “term Limits” for the president and members of the executive committee. They can no longer be elected for more than three terms of four years each (whether consecutive or not), totaling 12 years. But the previous mandates already served before the 2016 resolution will not be counted. (Article 22:9b). So, if Hayatou wins on Thursday to secure the presidency for 2017–2021, he still will be eligible for two more tenures (2021-2025 and 2025-2029) after that! Term limit indeed!!!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Olatunbosun’s Television Goal

THE Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) received a brand and public relations boost last week when a goal scored by Sikiru Olatunbosun of MFM Football Club against Enugu Rangers penultimate weekend was voted as the Cable News Network (CNN) Goal of the Week.

The match was a matchday 10 league encounter played under floodlights at the 5,000-capacity Agege Stadium in Lagos. MFM won the match 2-1 and the result would have been recorded as just another statistic but for Olatunbosun’s magnificent opening strike which catapulted the game in terms of significance.

I watched the game live on DSTV, so I saw the goal first hand. In the 30th minute, a quick exchange of passes amongst three MFM players in blue shirts ended with Olatunbosun flicking the ball over his marker’s head and blasting an unstoppable left-foot volley into the roof of the Rangers net. I knew immediately that I had just witnessed something special.

The adulation that has followed the goal since then is no surprise. Several videos on YouTube have tagged it with various superlatives ranging from “Super Volley,” “Miracle Goal,” “Excellent Blaster” to “Super Screamer.” But the icing on the cake was the CNN award which helped bring the goal into global consciousness and reckoning. Put up against three other goals by Radja Nainggolan of Roma, Y. Tielemans of Anderlecht and Joey Jones of Working FC, Olatunbosun’s “wonder goal” emerged the undisputed best with 82% of the votes.

This happy episode for our football league has again underscored the importance of having the games shown on television. For many years, we couldn’t make a headway despite calling ourselves a football-loving nation. But since the League Management Company (LMC) managed to remove all previous encumbrances to the television rights and brought in DSTV as the broadcast partners, there has been incremental improvement in the coverage and followership of the league.

The world would have missed Olatunbosun’s wonder goal had the game not been on television. Therefore, no effort should be spared by the LMC to ensure that more NPFL games get on TV. It may take some time, but the Nigeria league is on the right track to reclaiming more of its lost glories if we continue to see more “television goals” like this on television.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

CAF Elections: Hayatou Should Step Down

I AM WRITING this on Monday, February the 27th, 2017. For anyone reading this article to have a good background to my perspective on the Confederation of African Football (CAF) elections, they would have to read my column of last week titled, “Pinnick Must Shut Moucharafu’s Big Mouth” @ www.soccertalknigeria.com.
But for those who have read it already, let’s continue the conversation…

Let me resume by saying that I did not speak to Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick before writing last week’s article. This clarification is important because, about the time I was writing that Pinnick was likely to support Ahmad Ahmad of Malagasy against incumbent Issa Hayatou in the up-coming CAF Presidency elections, Pinnick was actually granting the BBC an interview confirming that he would indeed be supporting Ahmad. The local Nigerian media reported the BBC story the same day that my article was published in Complete Sports and on my blog, thereby creating an impression that I knew about the BBC story. No, I did not. It was pure coincidence.

So, how did I know that Pinnick would be backing Ahmad when the BBC interview was the first time he would speak publicly about his position? My answer: Simple, logical reasoning!
However, since my speculative article and Pinninck’s confirmatory interview were published, events have unfolded in dramatic fashion concerning Nigeria’s expected role at the CAF elections.
First was a press statement by the NFF executive committee endorsing Pinnick’s position. The executive committee members reportedly decided to give Pinnick a “free hand” to decide who to vote for between Hayatou and Ahmad purportedly because, as NFF president, he (Pinnick) supposedly understood the politics of CAF better than other members and they trusted him to vote wisely in Nigeria’s interest.

Hardly had the ink dried on that press statement when Minister of Sport Solomon Dalung released a counter press statement over-ruling the NFF and declaring that “Nigeria as a country” had not endorsed any candidate for the CAF Presidency and that Pinnick’s announcement had no official approval from the Federal Government.
The third statement on the matter came from a group of Nigerian members of CAF committees who have rejected Pinnick’s support for Ahmad on the grounds that he didn’t have the mandate of the NFF executive committee and the ministry of sport to do so. The group also listed Hayatou’s ”contributions” to Nigerian football as basis for their own support for the Camerounian to continue in office as CAF president.

Now, I have to thread very carefully here in order to not be misunderstood. The group of Nigerian CAF members parades highly respected and eminent personalities who have made tremendous contributions to Nigerian football. The group includes former NFF presidents General Dominic Oneya, Alhaji Sani Lulu and Alhaji Aminu Maigari; former FIFA/CAF executive committee member Dr. Amos Adamu; former NFF member Amanze Uchegbulam; former NFF Secretary General Bolaji Ojo-Oba; eminent journalists Paul Bassey and Aisha Falode; and current NFF member Chris Green.

Personally, I have worked with and continue to relate cordially with many of these distinguished individuals and I do not want to offend them. But on this issue of the CAF Presidency, I beg to disagree with their collective position for the following reasons…
First, had Pinnick ”unilaterally” decided to support Hayatou rather than Ahmad, would the Nigerian members of CAF have objected to his decision? If the probable answer is no, then his purported “unilateral” decision to support Ahmad cannot be accepted as the real reason for rejecting his choice. Pinnick has been accused of ignoring “due process,” but it appears his real offense is choosing the “wrong” candidate.

Second, the group concedes Pinnick’s right “as an individual to declare support for whoever he pleases,” but then cautions him against “doing it in the name of Nigeria.” I find that contradictory because Pinnick has no other personal vote in CAF except the Nigeria vote. He is either voting on Nigeria’s behalf or he is not.
Thirdly, talking about following “due process,” I recall that Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima and Aminu Maigari both contested the CAF executive committee election in recent years and both of them lost despite presenting their candidatures as a “Nigerian Project.” Campaign committees were formed, lobby groups established, campaign budgets were raised and money spent on shuttle diplomacy but, in the end, nothing was achieved. If following due process has failed Nigeria twice before, I personally have no objection to Pinnick contesting “without following due process” this time around. The worst that can happen to him is that he and his candidate will lose the election also.

The truth of the matter is that Hayatou, NOT Pinnick, is the problem with the up-coming CAF elections. No one, in all fairness, can deny Hayatou’s massive contributions to African football during the close to three decades that he’s been at the helm because the facts are there to show. 
Last week, I also gave him credit for making Africa proud and coming out “unscathed” from the FIFA corruption scandals that consumed former president Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini and other world soccer heavyweights last year. But when Hayatou used his power of incumbency to manipulate the CAF constitution (which stipulated 70 years as the retirement age for executive committee members) just in order to perpetuate himself in office, the now 71-year-old lost my respect and the respect of many neutral observers in African football. So, we cannot but salute the courage of Pinnick and others who are willing now to stand up to Hayatou’s ”sit-tight” agenda. The 2017 CAF elections are not about Hayatou’s past achievements; they are about the future of African football.

Furthermore, the media in any democratic society has a social responsibility to put government officials and public administrators in check. Anywhere in the world, leaders who use every trick in the book to hang on to power are never popular with the Libertarian free press, no matter those leaders’ so-called achievements and good intentions. The free press just naturally detests such “leaders.” I belong to the school of free press and the only way dictatorial leaders can escape our sting is to bow out gracefully.

Hayatou has been CAF president since 1988 which is 29 years ago. The sports media are simply are tired of him and nothing he will do now or next year or the year after that will make him acceptable to the generality anymore. In fact, he stands the risk of rubbishing his own legacy in the same manner that it happened to Sepp Blatter who over-stayed his welcome at FIFA. My candid view is that Hayatou should have been advised to step down from these elections.

Having said that, I understand the trepidation of the Nigerian group of CAF members about the repercussions of a Pinnick adventure going wrong. In their press statement, the group refers to the “political colouration of CAF elections” which they are “well grounded and versed in.” I interpret that to mean the heavy price Nigeria will be made to pay for Pinnick’s ”infantile radicalism” when the elections are over.

Well, for me that is another problem with Hayatou. Why should Nigeria be punished if our FA president contests for an election or supports another candidate and they both lose? Doesn’t the CAF constitution allow for a free and fair contest? If everybody is afraid of losing, who will contest against Hayatou then? Elections should not be a zero-sum game. CAF as an institution should have effective checks and balances to protect the loser from being persecuted by the winner. But it would appear that is not the case in Hayatou’s CAF.

In any case, Pinnick has said that he will still support Hayatou if Hayatou defeats Ahmad. But my response to a failed Pinnick or Ahmad bid is that Nigeria’s group of CAF members should also prepare to clean up any resultant mess! By cautioning Pinnick now, they have prepared a strong alibi already. Afterwards, they would simply tell Hayatou that Pinnick was a reckless, over-ambitious young man who refused to listen to advice. At that stage, I will also join in begging Emperor Hayatou for forgiveness so that our 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification is not jeopardized by questionable officiating!
But if Pinnick and Ahmad’s ambitious gamble pays off, Nigeria loses nothing! And that will put the mouthy Moucharafu Anjorin of Benin Republic in his rightful place.

What Will Dalung Do?
AT THE TIME of writing this, minister of sport Solomon Dalung had reportedly summoned an emergency meeting of the NFF to reappraise Nigeria’s position ahead of the CAF elections.
Last December, Dalung originally expressed reservation about Pinnick’s candidacy for the CAF executive committee elections at the NFF Annual General Assembly in Lagos. But he was beaten back by the assembly delegates who proceeded to “unanimously” endorse the NFF president. Dalung did not mention the matter again until last week when Pinnick disclosed that he was also backing Ahmad for the CAF presidency.
What will Dalung do now? Will he report Pinnick to the acting president Yemi Osibajo, cut off funding for the NFF or instigate some NFF executive committee members to impeach Pinnick? Or, will he support Pinnick and the NFF executive committee in their bold decision to confront Hayatou.
You probably know the answer by the time you’re reading this. In which case, I will pick up the conversation again from there next week. See you then, insha Allah…

Welcome to The Sports Parliament 
I HAVE been invited to be a part of a new television programme titled The Sports Parliament which will start showing live on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) network every Thursday at 11.00pm starting from Thursday, March 2nd, 2017. The programme is a creation of former Green Eagles (now Super Eagles) captain Segun Odegbami who ironically pioneered privately produced sports programming on Nigerian television with Saturday Sports Special close to three decades ago.
The Sports Parliament promises to be quite engaging, controversial and in-depth going by the quality of Parliamentarians that The Speaker, Odegbami, has put together. I’m looking forward to enjoying myself thoroughly on the programme and I invite you to come along for the ride. Don’t miss it.


RE: Pinnick Must Shut Moucharafu’s Big Mouth
• Maoucharafu probably mistook the word Pinnick for “pikin” hence his allusion to Amaju as a small boy! But, like the saying goes, “Warri no dey carry last.” I pray that Pinnick wins.   – Dan Nwokenye, Benin-City.
• Mumini, the question is “whom would African countries side with - Gianni Infantino (for FIFA largesse) or Issa Hayatou (for fear of vendetta)? The answer will determine Amaju Pinnick’s fate. Too complicated to call. – Howard Odigie, Lagos.
• Oga Mumini. We are your fans, I support Pinnick to win against Moucharafu. – Tunde Oresanya, Ijebu.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Pinnick Must Shut Moucharafu’s Big Mouth

NIGERIA FOOTBALL FEDERATION (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick got a public dressing down last week when his opponent in next month’s Confederation of African Football (CAF) executive committee elections, Moucharafu Anjorin of Benin Republic, described him (Pinnick) as a “small boy.”

Moucharafu was talking to Brila FM’s Babafemi Raji in an exclusive interview for which I commend the “Topmost Striker” as Raji calls himself by the way. The interview was a great piece of journalism and this was attested to by the speed at which it went viral on the internet and on social media.
A couple of weeks back in this column, I wrote about Pinnick’s CAF aspirations and suggested that Nigerians shouldn’t be too bothered if he won or lost because these CAF positions are of primary benefit only to the individuals holding them rather than their countries of origin. Moucharafu Anjorin is the latest “parasite” to validate my theory.

For crying out loud, someone should tell or show me what Benin Republic has benefitted from Moucharafu’s membership of the CAF executive committee in the last four years that he’s been there. The last time I checked, tiny Benin had never made any remarkable impression on African football and neither CAF nor FIFA had given them any special grant to develop football in that country by virtue of Moucharafu’s personal influence. What they have got are just the statutory interventions accruing to all member countries whether or not they were represented on the executive committee. Therefore, I stand by my theory (until I’m shown something different) that all the hue and cry about CAF and FIFA membership are for personal aggrandizement rather than national advancement.
Just as Moucharafu’s presence in CAF has not lifted Benin football from the doldrums, let no one try to fool me that Pinnick’s aspiration is a “Nigerian Project” that will facilitate our winning the FIFA World Cup. No, it will not!

Having said that, however, I find Moucharafu’s arrogance in describing Pinnick as “my small boy” detestable. He was correct to call Pinnick a new comer in CAF politics having only served two years as president of the NFF. But the best man for a job is not necessarily the oldest or longest serving. The best man for a job is the man with the best ideas.
If all that Moucharafu can boast of to justify another four-year term is his longetivity in CAF politics; and that he’s originally “a Yoruba man from Abeokuta in Nigeria,” then it’s time for him to go. Pinnick must do all he can to unseat Moucharafu when the CAF elections hold in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on March 16, 2017. Pinnick must shut Moucharafu’s big mouth for daring to call him a “small boy.”
…But, Can He Do It?

IT IS HARD to tell off-hand whether Pinnick will be able to unseat Moucharafu. What is certain is that it will be a tough battle. The Benin FA boss has already likened it to “a war.”
Moucharafu is relying on his closeness to CAF president Issa Hayatou to retain his seat. Four years ago in Morocco when he defeated former Nigeria FA boss Aminu Maigari for the same seat, Moucharafu was assisted a great deal by the Hayatou camp.

At that time, Nigeria’s Dr. Amos Adamu was serving a 3-year suspension from the FIFA and CAF executive committee after he was implicated in a sting operation by the Sunday Times of London to expose corruption in FIFA. Maigari (and Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima before him) had wanted to replace Adamu at CAF. But Adamu, who belongs to Hayatou’s camp was alleged to have blocked both Nigerians from succeeding him and instead anointed Moucharafu. The Benin FA boss hopes that the Hayatou–Adamu connection will play out in his favour yet again.

For Pinnick, the strategy must be to use his strong FIFA connections to his advantage. Pinnick has a warm relationship with FIFA secretary general Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura and FIFA president Gianni
Infantino both of whom have visited Nigeria in recent months on Pinnick’s invitation. Pinnick was also recently appointed into the FIFA Organizing Committee on a 4-year tenure while Chris Giwaa who had been contesting the NFF leadership with Pinnick was banned by FIFA for five years from all football-related activities.
If Samoura and Infantino pull their weight behind Pinnick successfully, Moucharafu will be in trouble.

However, the Hayatou situation could also be decisive. The long-serving CAF President himself is being challenged for his own office by Madagascar FA president, Ahman Ahmad. The grapevine suggests that Infantino prefers Ahmad as the new FIFA boss looks to clear out the old brigade in the Confederations and in FIFA to make way for a new breed. But Hayatou is so well entrenched in CAF that he may have become immovable.

To his credit, the Camerounian came out unscathed throughout the FIFA investigations that consumed former president Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini and a host of heavyweights in world football. In fact, Hayatou served for several months as interim president following Blatter’s removal and he supervised the process that led to Infatino’s emergence as FIFA president.
If Hayatou succeeds in rallying his troops together to defeat Ahmad, Moucharafu will benefit from the bandwagon effect to also defeat Pinnick.
From where I stand, I want Pinnick to come out victorious in this personal battle with the mouthy Moucharafu. But if he loses, it’s not necessarily a disaster for Nigeria.

For Chris Giwa, It’s All Over!

AT LAST, self-acclaimed factional chairman of the NFF has reached the end of the road in his inglorious journey to derail the administration of Nigerian football.
Coming soon after the five-year worldwide ban clamped on him and his co-travelers by FIFA, the Nigerian Supreme Court on Monday this week threw out his case as well.
Sometime in 2015 at the height of Giwa’s rebellion, I advised him in this column to sheath his sword, spare Nigeria the pain of another ban being threatened by FIFA on account of his going to a civil court, and wait for the next election to stake his claim for the NFF leadership.

The dog that will get lost does not listen to the hunter’s whistle, so Giwa continued on his path to perdition. Now, he can’t even contest when the term of the current NFF executive committee expires in 2018 unless he gets a reprieve from the same FIFA that he has continuously defied.
The only regret that I have in the whole Giwa saga is the disbandment of his football club following their technical relegation from the league last season. It is another unfortunate commentary for private football club ownership in Nigeria, but the recalcitrant club proprietor left thee than to enforce the regulations. I hope Giwa returns to Nigerian football in the future as a changed man. Otherwise, it’s good riddance…

Nigerian Clubs Pay The Penalty!
• TWO Nigerian club sides, FC IfeanyiUbah and Wikki Tourists were knocked out in the first round of the CAF Confederations Cup over the weekend.

Join Kunle Solaja at the Sports Village Square to read up how these clubs paid the penalty for not being able to convert their penalty kicks!
Click on www.sportvillagesquare.com. It’s a masterpiece from Nigeria’s football encyclopedia. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

With Cameroun, Nothing Has Changed

The only possibility that I don’t want to even contemplate at all is to see Cameroun in the final. So, I will not even speculate on them getting there. No, I don’t want even to think about it. That’s the true meaning of rivalry! – Culled from Soccertalk, February 1st, 2017.

MY WORST FEARS were confirmed last Sunday when Cameroun defeated Egypt 2-1 in the Final of the 2017 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Gabon to emerge the new champions of the continent.

Last week in this column, I didn’t hide my bias when I wished the Indomitable Lions all the bad luck anyone could wish their sporting rival.

I wanted Cameroun to be eliminated at the group stages so that they could depart the tourney in disarray like our other 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying group rival Algeria who have sacked their coach yet again on account of a poor outing in Gabon and are lost for direction.

When Cameroun somehow survived the group stage, I wished they would lose their quarter-final against Senegal; then their semi-final against Ghana; then I even wished that the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) would simply send them home! Trust the Indomitable Lions to live up to their cognomen and rub my face in the mud. They crushed each of my wishes at every stage with some lion-heart performances and emerged victorious.

If a team can beat powerhouses Senegal, Ghana and Egypt en route to winning the AFCON, that team deserves respect and admiration. In spite of myself, I hereby salute the gallantry of the Indomitable Lions in winning their fifth African title. It was fully deserved. Congratulations to Cameroun.

Naturally, Nigerians have been talking about the implication of Cameroun’s new status as African Champions for our own 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying chances. All of a sudden, people are concerned about how the Super Eagles would cope with a resurgent Cameroun side when both countries meet in their crucial double-header in August. Although the Eagles currently hold a four-point lead over the Lions in the group which also has Algeria and Zambia, some pundits now posit that Cameroun have become the favourites to win the group’s sole ticket because they’re African champions. I tend to disagree.

As far as I am concerned, nothing has changed about Nigeria’s chances of getting to Russia 2018. Before the start of the qualifiers, I set in this column a target of 13 points for the Eagles and stressed that netting the full nine points from their first three games was non-negotiable to reaching the 13 points mark. Whether Cameroun were African champions or not, we needed to beat them in the first leg or our double header in Uyo to complete the nine points from our first three games. That has NOT changed. And whether Cameroun were African champions or not, they were always going to give us a hell of a fight for those three points. That has NOT changed either.

The three points in Uyo will be decisive for Nigeria because it will open up a seven-point gap between us and Cameroun with three rounds of games to play. Honestly, I can’t see them closing that gap in subsequent games. But we don’t need to even think too far ahead yet. Let us focus on the Uyo game, WIN IT, thereafter we can talk about what happens next.

So, the big question is, can Nigeria beat Cameroun in Uyo? The answer has to be a resounding Yes! I repeat that, African champions or not, we always needed to beat Cameroun in that game to qualify for the World Cup. Nothing has changed in that respect.
Perhaps the only thing that has changed slightly (and I emphasize the word “slightly”) is that Cameroun now have even more confidence to face the Eagles because they are African champions. Having spent a couple of weeks together preparing for the AFCON and another month or so at the tournament proper during which they played six competitive games, the Lions have bonded into a more solid unit with great belief in their own ability to win. That psychological edge is what I didn’t want them to achieve when I was wishing for their early elimination in Gabon.

By contrast, while the Eagles did not even qualify for the AFCON, some of our key players like Kelechi Iheanacho have been relegated to the bench recently at Manchester City; captain Mikel Obi and striker Odian Ighalo have been forced out of the English Premier League to pursue their careers in the less competitive Chinese Super League while Ahmed Musa and Wilfred Ndidi are battling against relegation with Leicester City. The comparison in fortunes definitely is not in Nigeria’s favour at this time. But just like Cameroun surprised everyone at the Nations Cup, the Eagles are condemned to surprise them when they come visiting in August.

What will give Nigeria victory over Cameroun are (1) the tactical acumen of Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr; (2) the technical skills and determination of our players; (3) strict officiating by the centre referee selected for the game; (4) massive home support.

Since his appointment as Eagles coach, Rohr has demonstrated an uncanny ability to decode the strength and weaknesses of our opponents and to device strategies to defeat them. He did it successfully against Zambia and Algeria and made those wins look so easy. Having watched Cameroun extensively at the AFCON, I have a strong feeling of confidence in his ability (from my personal encounter with him) that he will tame the Lions, too.

As for our players, we always knew that we would be relying on the attacking skills of Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi and Iheanacho as well as the strength of Mikel Obi, and Oghenekaro Etebo to challenge the physical approach of the Camerounians. If we play to our strength and we get a referee that is strict on rough play, the Eagles will get enough opportunities to score either from open play or from several free-kicks won around the Cameroun 18-yard box. We could even grab a penalty kick if we goad them enough into committing their harsh fouls. Then, of course, our defence must be ready for some hard battering as well. Cameroun are a physical force, they have always been, but they are definitely not unbeatable.

Finally, Nigerian fans must descend on Uyo to support the Eagles and not allow Camerounians from across our south-east border to take over the stadium. One major contribution to the Lions’ AFCON success which has been ignored by most analysts is the huge presence of their supporters because Gabon is just across the southern Cameroun border and it was easy for the fans to make the trip in their thousands.
I suspect the Cameroun fans will be planning a similar invasion on Uyo. Nigerians must resist them in order to make the Eagles feel truly at home.

Matches between Nigeria and Cameroun have always been a big battle especially when a lot is at stake. Playing at home, the Eagles remain the favourites to win the first leg in Uyo. I reckon that, in the final analysis, that first leg win will be enough to get Nigeria to Russia 2018.
Cameroun have won the Nations Cup, but Nigeria is poised to beat them to the World Cup.

·         Oga Mumini. Up Indomitable Lions of Cameroun. Against all odds and predictions, they won the cup for the fifth time. Hurray, the Lions. – Franklin, Npf.
    Mumini, it was obvious that you predicted the AFCON 2017 semi-final winners with your heart rather than your head. You insinuated same in your article which was very unlike “OCTOPUS MUMINI”. Your worst fear is here, Cameroun is in the Final and could beat Egypt! For me, it does not matter which of the two finalists goes on to win the cup as both of them would end up putting the “daylight” between themselves and Nigeria with an additional win. Painful but congrats to the eventual winner. Egypt turned out to be worthy qualifiers in place of Nigeria at the AFCON 2017. – Howard Odigie, Lagos.
         Hajj Alao, I share your thoughts completely on AFCON. But wishes are no horses for beggers to ride. The results will put Super Eagles on their toes. – Alh. Aminu I.B., Ilorin.
         Oga Mumini, the Octopus of Africa.  Your tips for the final of AFCON 2017 failed! What happened to your power of prediction! Please work on it for the future. – Akeem Lawal.
         Oga Mumini, once again you have expressed my mind on the last four teams in this AFCON 2017. This is my own take, also with a Nigerian bias. I will prefer a Burkina Faso win to prevent the other three from extending their number of title wins over Nigeria. But as I write this, Burkina Faso and Ghana are out. So I would prefer Egypt to further extend their wins rather than Cameroun. – Lanre Oredein, Benin City.
         Point of correction sir, Paul Putt was Burkina Faso coach when we beat them in South Africa. – 081547****

* My response: Hi, Franklin and Hakeem, I didn’t make any prediction about Cameroun. As Howard and Lanre pointed out, I never hid my bias that I just didn’t want to see them in the final! However, I agree completely with Aminu that Cameroun’s eventual victory will put Super Eagles on their toes when the 2018 World Cup qualifiers resume.