Wednesday, April 3, 2013

NFF, Our Football Pitches Are Killing Us

A MORE poetic headline for this article would have been “Nigeria’s Killer Pitches.” My focus is how bad football pitches are killing Nigerian football and Nigerian footballers and how the pitches are affecting the performance of our national team, resulting in bad results

It is not a new subject. Former national team captain, Segun Odegbami has been writing about it for several years. He still did in his most recent article last week. But probably because Odegbami is “unpopular” with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) hierachy, nobody seems to be paying attention to his warning.

I have titled this article in the dramatic manner that you see it in the hope that the NFF, when they see their name(!),  will pay some attention to it. I would like to think that I am not as “unpopular” as Odegbami in the corridors of the Glass House. Yet, this is not about Segun Odegbami; it is about getting good results for Nigerian football and protecting the health of our footballers.

I have brought up the subject in response to the prompting by two respondents to my last week’s article, “A Timely Warning By Kenya.” A certain Alhaji Ali and Asuzu Eche correctly pointed out how the “bumpy” Calabar pitch may have contributed to Nigeria’s poor showing in the 1-1 draw with Kenya. I deliberately did not mention the pitch in my analysis of the game because the Eagles could still have won regardless, and I didn’t want to sound like I was making excuses for their lapses. But, truth be told, the Calabar pitch did not permit the Eagles to express themselves. Here are excerpts from the reactions posted on my blog, www.soccertalknigeria.blogspot.com. My comment follows thereafter.

“Alhaji Ali: Let me start by congratulating the Super Eagles for not losing the match. It is the sheer fighting spirit and never say die attitude of Nigerians in general that finally prevailed, and that was why the Kenyans were downcast when the final whistle went. They knew they had lost a life time opportunity to inflict a defeat on Nigeria. As noted by Alh. Mumini several big teams suffered the same fate and that is football for you. Spain bounced back yesterday (against France on March 26), Nigeria will bounce back in June. Two things bother my mind though. One, that a whole footballing country like Nigeria cannot boast of one standard playing pitch (natural turf). The type of football our Super Eagles play require a good turf to flourish and we all saw that in South Africa. The Calabar pitch is 'a bit too hard,' our lone goal scorer, Nnamdi Oduamadi said philosophically.”

“Asuzu Eche: Apart from over confidence and lack of grits-guts on the part of our players, Alhaji Ali touched on the most salient factor for our near defeat against Kenya - Bad Pitch. Like most playing surfaces in Nigeria, the Calabar pitch was hard, surreptitiously bumpy and hostile to the kind of free flowing football that our Super Eagles thrives on. Instead of focusing on improving sporting facilities in the country especially with regards to natural, well kept and smooth playing turfs, the Federal and State Governments are more interested in scoring cheap political mileage from our accidental discharge in South Africa. It is a national disgrace that right before our very eyes Abuja National Stadium pitch was allowed to turn into a forest. The difference in the results we got from the bad Nelspruit stadium pitch and better pitches elsewhere in South Africa should have opened our eyes to the imperative of good playing surfaces to Nigeria's brand of football. Now, that the Kenyan mob has pulled a pause on our DJ, we must now put a full stop to the party and go back to business. The first business must be top priority to playing surfaces all over Nigeria. Our artificial pitches, to my mind, has outlived their usefulness and would only accelerate the demise of flair football in Nigeria.”

I don’t need to repeat the salient points that Ali and Eche have marshalled in their contributions. I just need to add that even Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi has been complaining about our bumpy pitches while Segun Odegbami has been writing about the dangerous implications of artificial pitches for the long term health of our footballers. Keshi says that it is a big shame that a so-called soccer giant like Nigeria cannot boast of a single well-laid and well-maintained natural grass pitch in the whole country. I agree with him. It is a big shame indeed.

Last week, the NFF responded admirably to an article by my colleague, Kunle Solaja, warning about the risk to Nigeria’s 2014 World Cup qualification if the changes made by FIFA to our congested match schedule in June 2013 (in view of the Confederations Cup) were allowed to stand. A letter was quickly despatched by NFF to Zurich and we are now awaiting a response. Excellent.

Will the NFF react  in a similar manner to the “Killer Pitches” of Nigerian football or continue to ignore the calls for an urgent intervention?

To start with, the NFF may wish to impress on it’s supervising ministry of sports the need to plant good natural grass on the National Stadium Abuja pitch which is currently being rehabilitated, since the Super Eagles may subsequently move their remaining World Cup qualifiers there.

Second, the Federation may also wish to consider restricting the installation of new artificial pitches in the country in order to encourage the planting of natural grass. We should put a stop to corner-cutting methodologies that only provide terrific gains for contractors, while leaving everlasting pains on our football and footballers.

12 comments:

  1. Early this year, BBC interviewed a former coach of the indomitable lions of Cameroon - German Winfried Schafer who led them to AFCON triumph in 2002. When he was asked what a team can do to win the tournament from his experience, he came up with some very useful advice one of which is that you don't complain about facilities. See his quote below.

    "Our training camp in Mali was very bad, the pitches weren't good, the beds weren't good and all the players from our squad were with clubs in Europe at that time, they were used to great facilities at the likes of Parma, Real Madrid and Manchester City. But nobody had a bad word to say about the camp. Everybody was happy to fight for his country, for their mothers and fathers and their families.

    "When you're a coach from Europe you can't go to Africa and complain that the training fields are bad, that the pitches are bad. That is wrong. You have to remember that you're not at Wembley or in Munich, this is Africa. You have to think like a coach from Africa, not like you're a coach from Europe."

    I completely understand the need for good pitches but any solution would only work in a long term and I hope NFF works hard toward dealing with it. CAF also needs to step in and ensure every national team game is played on the best pitches all across Africa. Apparently, CAF position toward this leaves much to be desire. If a team wants to compete for a place in AFCON and WC, then its not too high a criteria that they must present a good pitch.

    Nonetheless, our motto now should be like those of the boy's scout - be prepared. Burkina Faso team composition was not completely different from ours, but they were able to adjust to the bad pitch in South Africa and fought their way to the final.

    All our boys have played on worse ground before their sojourn to Europe and some still do (i.e the home based) so if they truly wants to lay claim to their champion tag, they have to prove it from the smoothest playing turf to the most notorious sandy pitch in Africa.

    There is no guarantee what kind of pitch would be played on in our next 2 away matches but if our opponents are convinced that would be our Achilles heel, then we should expect the worst.

    I also hope NFF/media can spy the grounds to be used in Kenya and Malawi well ahead of time. The team should then be trained under the closest similar condition - ground wise and weather wise - so our boys can be ready mentally and physically.

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  2. NFF should go to IITA in Ibadan and seek advice.

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  3. This is a timely SOS for our football pitches and hope those in authorities take an URGENT step to address this abnormally now. Meanwhile am still awaiting your comments on the Yobo-Keshi saga but me thinks if Keshi is sincere and doesn’t have a hidden agenda (of not wanting Yobo to become the first Nigerian to hit 100 caps), It will NOT do the team any harm to have Yobo around for cameo 10-15 minutes appearances in friendlies and games at the Confederations cup. Notwithstanding the near perfect partnership between Obiobona & Omeruo, who says Yobo (who played the Europa League yesterday) is not good enough to play in the current Super Eagles? I repeat, A Yobo (coincidentally at the same 32 years of age with Keshi) is better & still relevant than Keshi was to Eagles in 1994

    By the way, I expect to see players like Anichebe, Eneramo, Nsofor, Ogbuke, etc. also given chances to stake their claim in the team.

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  4. All the points raised by Ayekooto are valid but then we should not allow events that took place in 2002 dictate our reasoning and becloud our judgement, this is 2013. Provision of one standard playing pitch is not beyond any African country let alone Nigeria otherwise people like Winfred Schafer will continue to make mockery of our football and lives as a whole.

    On Yobo and co, i have two things to say. One, we should all thank Keshi for bringing back some measure of glamour, respect and prestige to our national team. We all remember how some players in the past select tournaments/matches to play.Keshi himself, Okocha and many others were guilty here. Presently, players from Germany to USA scramble to wear the green white green at all cost, including changing nationalities. That is the bottom line of all the rantings by Yobo and co. In Africa, we have established procedures for conflict resolution and crisis management in our culture and belief systems, that is the wise option rather than running to the media(social or otherwise). Problem is Keshi is equally guilty of the same offense when he tendered his resignation on air on a foreign media. Even in Europe where they are all based, can any one say such things against Ferguson or Wenger and get away with it? even if he is a Beckam or Walcot? Secondly, there is more to the Yobo saga than we think we know because in his defence, Keshi said he avoided calling Yobo so as not have a repeat of his experience at AFCON when he kept Yobo on the bench. His fault because you don't solve a problem by running away from it, as it will come back to haunt you. Looking back at our AFCON success, one can see how destiny played a part because we might not have won it if we had continued with our line up against Burkina Faso(first match).Even at his best, Yobo is prone to elementary mistakes than can cost a team dearly. Ask Evertonians, we also saw a sample at AFCON(first match.This is not taking anything away from his illustrious carrier. The players that came in for Yobo, Ogude and Nosa in our subsequent matches struck a near perfect chemistry with the team and every football person knows that you don't change a winning team.. That was why Keshi made only two changes(forced) to our first eleven in Calabar(Martins and Kwambe for Emenike and Ambrose respectively).
    Finally, the mention of Martins brings to my mind the role played by the media in his recall to the national team. Our own Mumini Alao is equally, if not more guilty knowing how unsettled martins is. Days before the Kenya match Martins became a nomadic Fulani footballer, shuttling between continents and spending more time on planes than on the football field. look at the damage he has done to his eagles carrier now, i hope Kalu Uche does not suffer same fate. The big lesson is let the coach do his job please.

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  5. One of football's unsolved mysteries is the inverse relationship between Nigeria's playing prowess and Nigeria's football administration.
    Nigeria's success on the pitch is ever accompanied by Nigeria's failure in the boardroom.
    One of Africa's respected football writers, Mark Gleeson, once mused that Nigeria's successes in football must be lauded in the context of Nigeria's "banana football administration".
    Yet, it is incredible that Nigeria lacks a standard playing pitch.
    That this situation has persisted for so long must surely evoke some form of shame in our football administrators.
    That we lack an arena means we lack "a home ground".
    Without a home ground, our football lacks a soul.
    Don't our administrators realize that a home ground as the traditional base, is the cradle of a nation's football?
    A home ground is the history that separates the football powerhouse from the minnow.
    Let the records show the role of Surulere in determining the fate of visiting teams. Once upon a time, Surulere gave Nigeria a 12-year unbeaten record.
    Abuja was beginning to acquire some of the history of Surulere, but the 20,000-capacity arena of Calabar has the ambience of an interim; it lacks tradition, and consequently lacks atmosphere.
    Calabar presents little fear to the visitor, and thus holds little advantage as a home ground.
    Any more excuses why we currently struggle at our home matches?

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  6. i quite agree with ada orile,that "spiritual aura" a home ground brings, ask the english and the spaniards what wembly and nou camp means to them, but truth be told serving & ex-footballers need to think outside the box, they can set up a national trust to have ntional stadium concessioned to them, and enter into mutual venture with great clubs like mufc to own and manage national stadium surulere and abuja. that will surely restore pride again to these stadia

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  7. Thanks to the sage himself, Mumini Alao, for giving vent to our tiny voices in his follow up on our comments on the contribution of bad pitch to our last dismal outing against Kenya. Mumuni has capitalized all the points; the question is what next steps must soccer loving Nigerian fans take to make our politicians and sports administrators accountable to the Nigerian people? I feel that we must not allow opportunists masquerading as sports administrators who have no idea of generating funds outside of government to run football and worse still politicians who would rather chop the little budget meant for sports and hope for a type of AFCON 2012 miracle to shove down our faces as another dividend of democracy. If Quatar and other high temperature Middle East countries can maintain lush green natural pitches, I dont see any reason why our government cannot provide us with good natural pitches. When a government does give a damn about the only thing that unites every Nigerian and gives us joy and pride amidst our plethora of woe tales, then we must begin to ask ourselves "what is the use of our votes?" For the NFF cabal, your incompetence only survives another day as long as the system that brings you to office does not show any regards to merit, patriotism and capacity for leadership - all fallouts of our dysfunctional political system. Finally, Nigerian fans must wake up to the fact that the state of our football pitches and sports administration today is a political decision which no amount of whining on social media can change. The sorry state of our sports and particularly football pitches can only be reversed by a commensurate will of the people to use their votes and vote protection to say "enough is enough"

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  8. KATSINA STATE ULTRA MODERN NEW STATDIUM 100% ORGANIC PITCH IS THE ONLY ASTRO TURF PITCH IN NIGERIA WHERE NIGERIAN SUPER EAGLES CAN PLAY COMFORTABLY WITHOUT ANY COMPLAINS, Spartac moscow,(EMMANUEL EMENIKES CLUB) AC Milan, INTER MILAN, AC SESENA ( italia seria A TEAM) AJAX Amsterdam and host of other top club sides have all settled for this innovative surface because OF ITS SIMILAR CHARACTERISTICS with natural turf pitches and its non toxic with reduced temperature unlike the conventional rubber granules infilled pitches that gets extreamly hot on a sunny day and produces casogenic fumes from the rubber infill.

    After receiving the FIFA 2 Star Certification for four years in a row, the management of the Astana Arena decided to renew the football turf inside the stadium, choosing once again the quality and reliability of Limonta Sport.

    The new surface, a Max S with Geo natural infill, hosted the last match between Kazakhstan and Germany valid for the World Cup – Brazil 2014- Qualifying Stage, Katsina State Goverment in Nigeria is installing the same Geo natural infill pitch with lead free synthetic turf with reduced temperature at the New kakanda 35000 seat stadium through Limonta African representative Monimichelle Sports.
    http://www.limontasport.com/WIP/eng/news.php?id_news=81

    LIMONTA - SPORT
    www.limontasport.com

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  9. The first thing to start off with is to mark out the area for construction. Security of the chosen site should also be checked. A very essential point to be considered is the pitch drainage system. After the confirmation of these things, the rest of the work is performed smoothly.

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  10. Nigerian team has proved that they are best in African continent - http://www.ngr24.com/

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