Wednesday, May 1, 2013

League Reforms: A Question of Trust

Last week in this column, I gave my “support in principle” to the reforms being carried out by the League Management Committee (LMC) headed by Nduka Irabor. I also encouraged the sports minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, to do whatever it took to ensure that the League clubs and their managers fell in line and do not succeed in derailing the reforms.

Since then, I have been challenged by some interested parties. They wonder why I am encouraging the LMC to “trample on the rights” of the club managers who are legitimate representatives of their owner-state governments and so can rightly claim to be “club owners” even if by proxy. My challengers suggest that I belittled the club managers  as common thieves feeding fat on the clubsides whereas many of them are men of means and accomplished professionals in various fields of endeavour. My challengers suggest that I am treating Irabor and Abdullahi with kid gloves probably because they are both from my constituency (journalism), whereas they may not be the “saints” that they “pretend” to be ! The verdict of my challengers is that no matter how laudable the intentions of the LMC reforms, the clubsides are still the beneficial “owners” of the league and nothing should be done on their behalf without their consent since they are no minors. Strong arguments. Following are the replies I gave my challengers...

One, it’s true that the club managers are legitimate representatives of the owner-state governments. But because the state governments have neglected to supervise the club managers properly to the detriment of the league, the reforms being introduced by the LMC will partly solve that problem. The clubsides will be forced to clean up their acts because they now have to meet standards set by the LMC at the centre especially in terms of accountability and players welfare. Clubs that fail to meet those standards will ultimately be exposed and their state government will have no option than to ask questions from the club managers. The era of club managers treating the clubs like their personal fiefdom will come to an end.

Two, I did not belittle the club managers by exposing some of the corruption that goes on in the clubsides. I only stated a few facts that everyone in the league is familiar with. Just recently, it was reported how a player’s transfer fee was paid into the personal account of a club manager. Didn’t the clubside have a bank account where such fees should have been paid? I agree that some of the club managers are accomplished professionals and respectable people. But the truth is that most of them are parasitic dictators in their clubs and they continue to appropriate to themselves huge club resources while their players suffer in penury. This “monkey-dey-work-banboon-dey-chop” scenario must stop. The LMC will see to that.

Three, I take the criticism that I trust Irabor and Abdullahi probably too much in good faith. But it’s not because they are journalists. There are some journalists within our sports management set-up today whose integrity I will not vouch for even for One Billion Naira. And there are many non-journalists that I know that are above board.

Watch my language very closely: “I want to think I can trust” Irabor and Abdullahi with the league because of their individual  antecedents. Particularly in Irabor’s case, I’ve also had personal encounters with him which form the basis of my trust. But, of course, men do change and the antecedents of both men may be totally different from their present attitude to life and material things. As we saw in the case of “Mr. Integrity” Farouk Lawan at the House of Representatives during the fuel subsidy probe, perhaps every man has a price.

It is on that basis that I will concede to my challengers that Irabor’s holding of 20 million shares on behalf of the clubsides in the League Management Company Limited be exhaustively explained to the club managers in order to remove any fears or suspicions. Apart from copies of the League Management Company Limited CAC registration which listed Nduka Irabor, Aminu Maigari (on behalf of the Nigeria Football Association), Sabo Babayaro and Seyi Akinwunmi as members, I have also seen a copy of the “Declaration of Trust” that Irabor reportedly signed committing himself to handing over the  shares to the “Beneficial Owners” (i.e. the League Management Company, for and on behalf of the NFA and Representatives of the Professional Footballers Premier League). But if in spite of that, the clubsides are not convinced about the security of their shareholding, Irabor’s  holding-in-trust should be reviewed forthwith.

Having responded to the three main questions thrown at me, I want to restate my support for a full autonomy for the League Management Company in the running of the league. The rules of engagement should not be as determined by the clubsides anymore because, as we have seen for more than two decades now, that approach has led us nowhere. Once the controversy over “ownership” and company registration particulars are resolved in favour of the clubsides, we must insist that the day-to-day running of the league should be left entirely in the hands of the LMC who will reward and sanction the clubsides without fear or favour. Club managers should be excluded from the league management team.

Last week, I watched Toyin Ibitoye and his guests on Sports Tonight on Channels Television struggling to analyse the league ownership controversy as objectively as they could without “offending” the LMC or the club managers.

Toyin and his guests cited copious examples from the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, the Bundesliga, the Serie A and the French Championnat and concluded that these successful leagues that we are trying to copy are “owned” largely by the clubsides and so Nigeria’s case should not be different. Indeed, that is true. The key difference, however, is that while all the clubsides in the mentioned leagues are themselves owned by private individuals, investors, shareholders and club supporters who are expecting commercial returns and thus permit the clubs to be run like a business, most Nigerian clubsides are run like government ministries and departments with little or no consideration for business orientations.

After much discussions though, Toyin concluded fairly enough that even though the LMC reforms were most welcome to cleanse the domestic league, the LMC should carry the club managers along in the process. I can’t quarrel with Toyin’s conclusion. But I will add a caveat: the club managers must realize that the time for change is here and they should not stand in the way.

PS: At the time of writing this, the Nigeria Football Federation was reportedly trying to resolve the differences between the LMC and the club managers. I hope the interest of the league itself will be paramount in the considerations.

Gallant Eaglets

I AM PLEASED to notice that despite the Golden Eaglets’ 5-4 penalty shootout loss to Cote d’Ivoire in the final of the CAF Under-17 Championship last Saturday in Morocco, most football experts have been praising the lads as a “team for the future.” That has been my view from the start and I hope that the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) will now take a cue and draw up a plan to nurture the boys for the future.

I watched the final and I’m of the view that the “Baby Elephants” that beat our Eaglets were also a very good team. But it would be a big shame if some of them become  another Didier Drogba or Yaya Toure in the near future, while our own Eaglets wither away without direction.

Meanwhile, one word about Chidiebere Nwakali whose penalty miss cost the Eaglets the title during the shoot-out. Even the best players in the world miss from the spot, so it’s no big deal. But Nwakali’s penalty-taking technique, standing right next to the ball and kicking it with just one swing of the leg, rather than stepping back a few yards and running to gain some momentum, calls for serious questioning.

Were the coaches aware that was Nwakali’s penalty-taking style? Even if the boy had been scoring with that technique in practice, the coaches should have dissuaded him because it is prone to error as we saw.

A short run to the ball will definitely give a penalty taker greater momentum to hit the ball harder and faster than someone who just stands by the ball like Nwakali did, no matter how talented he is. I am not blaming Nwakali for the cup defeat, but coach Manu Garba should retrain him on how to take a “proper” penalty  kick in future. That should be one of the lessons learned from Morocco.

Odegbami’s Book Launch

I SHALL be attending “Mathematical” Segun Odegbami’s latest book launch on Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 in Lagos. I said “latest’ because that will be his third or fourth book, I think.

This one is titled “Me, Football and More,” and it is a collection of some of Odegbami’s writings in the past three decades and more. As a columnist myself who sometimes has to struggle to keep this particular column going, I have always admired Odegbami who is very, very prolific. Look,  I can tell you this without fear of contradiction: Segun Odegbami is a gem of a writer. More about the book launch next week.


  1. This current bickering between the LMC and club-owners only highlights the level of ineptitude that has prevented us from harnessing the socio-economic riches football portends in Nigeria.
    I dream of the day the Nigeria league becomes a true product: a self-perpetuating business and an entertainment:
    Families attending a league game as a weekend outing...
    Couples on a date decked in branded kits attending a game...
    Loads and loads of ancillary businesses spawned, from fast-food vendors to creators of clubs' memorabilia; from commuter-businesses to hospitality-businesses...

  2. Nigerian Football team has finest players in the world -