Monday, January 18, 2010

Amodu is not the problem. Seriously...

It is tragic that, yet again, Nigerian football finds itself between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea before the World Cup finals.

If Shaibu Amodu (with his current attitude) is kept on as the Super Chickens (sorry, Eagles) manager, they are damned and if Nigeria sack Amodu, they are also damned...

Sacking a coach with less than five months (and only one FIFA friendly match day) before the World Cup is suicide!

Nigeria's poor performance at the ongoing Nations Cup in Angola has, justifiably, infuriated those who expect and have the right to demand that the team plays a lot better.

Their 3-1 loss to Egypt (not necessarily the defeat in itself but the manner in which they lost) and the 1-0 penalty kick win over Benin have done nothing to assuage the frayed nerves of fans, after the emotionally rocky path to qualifying for South Africa 2010.

But Nigeria has been down this "dismissal and replacement" road twice - before France '98 and Korea/Japan 2002 and nothing good came out of this.

Having first hand knowledge of the intrigues surrounding the appointment of coaches before both tournaments, I can guarantee that, barring a miracle, nothing good will come out of doing the same now.

But keeping on a coach that lacks the requisite tools to change the work rate and attitude of the players (since he has, so far, refused to get a first-rate assistant with tactical acumen) is not acceptable either!

It is, well and truly, a royal mess which is entirely of the making of the clowns that run Nigerian football.

What the country is going through is the appropriate price to be paid for not appointing the right coach from the get-go in 2008, after the Nations Cup debacle of that year.

There were two windows, over the last year, within which to fire Amodu - after he had completed the first stage of WC qualifiers (before we started the final round of group matches) and, as brutal as it sounds, after the team had qualified for the World Cup.

The second window would have allowed the new coach to use the Nations Cup to have a proper feel of the team and devise a World Cup strategy.

The NFF refused to take either option and now they want to do, in conjunction with the Presidential Task Force, another "Bora" or "Onigbinde" on us all.

When will the passionate - but often unknowing - fans and watchers of Nigerian football learn that that the problems of the national team and the game in general go way beyond who is appointed as the Super Eagles manager and is really about the calibre of people that are in charge at NFF HQ?

Visionless NFF officials cannot make visionary coaching appointments or devise visionary strategies for the development of Nigerian football.

They appointed Herr Berti Vogts and subsequently appointed Amodu, even though NFF vice-president, Amanze Uchegbulam  (pictured above), publicly confessed that Amodu was not, by their own interview parameters, the best candidate for the job.

As the old Latin saying goes, "Nemo dat quod non habet"...

I wait for more developments in the comedic diary that is Nigerian football.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

What manner of Nations Cup is Angola?

For those of you that have been readers of this blog, you will recall that I asked  "Will Angola be a disaster?" on the 16th of October.

Even though I always knew that the challenges of the 2010 Nations Cup in Angola were going, as a result of their infrastructural limitations, to be immense, I am shocked and stunned by the terrorist attack on Togo's national team by the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC).

The team were in the thick of gunfire for 30 minutes, as they drove into the country for the Nations Cup campaign from DR Congo.

The driver of the team's bus, as well as the assistant coach and the team's media officer, were killed and defender Serge Akakpo and reserve goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale have been taken to hospital after being hit by bullets. They are very lucky that they were not all killed.

In a statement FLEC released, it said that " This operation is only the beginning of a series of targeted attacks that will continue in all the territory of Cabinda."

There are no two ways about this - this incident has made a complete mess of the new, improved image that Angola is trying to portray. It is a horrible prelude to the start of the tournament.

The African Cup of Nations has had to deal with many challenges in its 53-year history but never has it had to cope with the scourge of terrorism.

How were the Togolese players supposed to have shaken off such a tragedy and remained in Angola to start their Nations Cup campaign against Ghana's Black Stars on Monday?

And how safe will the travelling fans, who may not have the same level of security as the teams, be in their makeshift camp grounds or one or two-star hotels in Cabinda?  

With due respect to the overwhelming majority of warm, peace-loving Angolans and officials of the Confederation of African Football, it was a MONUMENTAL MISTAKE to have sited the group stages in an area that has been the hotbed of a separatist movement for several years.

What happens should the terrorists decide to launch attacks at the hotel of the teams or at the stadium itself? Have CAF's security officers thought long and hard about this?

Suleiman Habuba, CAF's communication director, says the show must go on, regardless, pointing out that the teams had been instructed to travel by air only.

But this is not the point. Is it right to stage a tournament in a region of the country where travelling on the roads is potentially fatal? 

What happens when the players, fans and officials are going from their hotels to the training ground or the stadium? Are they going to fly to these places as well?

Should they insist on holding matches in this zone, CAF and the Angolan authorities should be prepared for a whirlwind of stinging criticism should anything should happen again. They are obviously prepared to take responsibility for that, it appears...

But Togo, who have withdrawn from the tournament, understandably have no wish to believe such 'promises', as they return to Lome to mourn and bury their dead.

I had contemplated being in the country just before the start of the quarter-finals. Now, there is absolutely no chance... This is certainly not a good way to start the year of African football.

Caf officials have a lot to think about and to answer for. But will the continent's football community hold them to account? I very much doubt it.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Read African Football!

After the prolonged absence of a magazine to cover the sport of choice for the continent's 750 million people, we herald the birth of "African Football", which is coming out of the stable of IC Publications (the publishers of New African, African Business, The Middle East, New African Woman and the African Banker).

Edited by myself, we hope to take the market by storm and become a regular part of the African football landscape.

For the moment, it will be a pull-out or supplement in New African magazine (, with the fervent hope that it shall become - should the true lovers of African football and key advertisers support us with their wallets - a full-fledged magazine in the latter part of 2010.

Get your copy throughtout Africa as from next Monday (which will be within New African, so buy that and you'll get this...) and enjoy the essence of the African game! If you're unable to lay your hands on one, please get in touch through this page and I'll point you in the right direction!

PS - For anyone who has a critical eye like myself, you'll notice that the cover is not exactly finished yet. But I felt that I should give you all a good taste of what to expect!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's time to stop cheating...

It is disheartening that Baron Pierre De Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics, would have been laughed to scorn in today’s ultra-competitive world of sport, where the unimaginable wealth and fame that comes with success has, sadly, pushed several sportsmen and sports administrators over the moral edge.

The Frenchman’s view that “the important thing in life is not the victory but the contest”, comes from a purist’s perspective, from one who is acutely aware that triumphs in sports contests are pyrrhic, if they are not achieved upon the fundamental building blocks of integrity and diligence.

Whether members of the African football fraternity care to admit it openly or not, it is an indisputable fact the continent’s victories at the Under-17 and Under-20 World Championships, over the last quarter of a century, have always been under a cloud of suspicion from other countries and continents, who believe Africa’s results were achieved with overage players.

But the corridor sniggers and whispers, hitherto inconvenient but harmless, turned into serious complaints this time when Adokiye Amiesimaka, a 1980 African Cup of Nations winner with Nigeria, who went on to have a successful career as a Barrister and Attorney-General of Rivers State, blew the whistle on Fortune Chukwudi.

Chukwudi, the captain of the Nigeria team that won silver at the 2009 U-17 World Championship (he wears the band in the picture above) and whose official date of birth is November 18th 1992, has been “outed” by Amiesimaka as being 25 years old.

“In the 2002/2003 season, I was chairman of Sharks Football Club of Port Harcourt (in Rivers State, in Nigeria's Niger Delta). I decided to have a feeder team of fresh school leavers not older than 20 years of age. One of my key players then is the current captain of our so-called Under 17 Golden Eaglets,” Amiesimaka revealed in his newspaper column in the Punch, one of Nigeria’s oldest newspapers.

“By his own admission at that time, that is seven years ago, he was 18 years old… If we are not utterly irresponsible, how can he be eligible for this tournament when he is not less than 25 years old now?,” Amiesimaka asked.

His revelation, made whilst the U-17 World Championship was on, stirred the proverbial hornet’s nest, as stung officials of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), unleashed their attack dogs on Amiesimaka.

"How can a sane person be writing something like that at this time?” asked NFF board member Taiwo Ogunjobi.

“[He is] just surprised that the team is doing well and [he is] looking for a way to discredit Nigerian football."

But no one has been able to disprove the claim of the former Nigeria international turned whistleblower.

The reliability of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans, approved by FIFA, football’s governing body, as an “accurate way”, with “a certainty of up to 99%”, of medically ascertaining whether a player is below the age of 17 - by ensuring the player’s wrist bone is unfused and therefore within the age limit – has been thrown into obvious doubt.

Sani Ndanusa, Nigeria’s sports minister, insisted, curiously, during a 14th November press conference in Abuja – in the company of FIFA president Sepp Blatter - that Chukwudi passed two MRI tests.

It is a claim that flies rudely in the face of Amiesimaka’s concrete evidence and goes to the roots of a problem that knowledgeable people in the African football community agree has been condoned by an unspoken conspiracy of silence.

“Look Osasu, we all know that African teams have been cheating at U-17 and U-20 tournaments,” a former Ghana international casually admitted to me recently.

“Our victory at the U-20 World Cup in Egypt was also tainted by the presence of overage players in our team.”

“But why did the person making the Nigerian revelation have to speak now? What was the rationale behind that? He should have waited until the tournament had finished before talking. What matters to me is that Africa wins all the FIFA youth tournaments this year. ”

Truth can be inconvenient, and its pursuit, in an atmosphere that does little to promote it, is certainly perilous. But it is the truth nonetheless.

Four years ago, I had documentary evidence, derived from two different passports that Obinna Nsofor, who plays for Malaga in Spain’s Primera Liga, falsified his age whilst playing for Nigeria at the 2005 African World Youth Championship in Benin.

Confronting Ibrahim Galadima, the erstwhile Nigeria FA chairman, with the evidence, he ordered that the player be dropped from the team that went on to win a silver medal at the World Youth Championship in the Netherlands.

Rather than engage in hard graft and create teams from the depth of talent available in Africa’s secondary schools - the only place where you can find players truly within the age bracket - national coaches have picked 'teenagers' playing league football, even when they know that it is a rarity - even in the most advanced football nations - for a 16 year-old to be playing against seasoned pros!

The seducing euphoria - and the spoils - of victory, has led many African football administrators to be complicit in this culture of cheating that has stolen the opportunities of genuine teenagers, with the talent to make a successful career out of football.

A hunger for undeserved laurels and lucre - on the part of these fraudulent officials - and a desire, on the part of age cheats, to play on the global stage and earn a professional football contract in Europe -forged this unholy alliance that is doing horrendous damage to the development of the African game at senior level.

FIFA conceived the Under-17 and Under-20 tournaments to help countries unearth talented teenagers that can play top level professional football for 14 or 15 years - or even more, if they have the good fortune of being away from the treatment table.

The culture of silence - or inaudible discontent - on age cheating does African football a terrible disservice and it is time for those who really care about our game to stand up and be counted.

As Rainer Willfeld, the German coach of Burkina Faso at the U-17 tournament rightly pointed out, it is just not good enough to see “prodigious promise” from overage players at these tournaments, only for them to fade into obscurity afterwards.

As Usman Dan Fodio, the 19th century Nigerian Islamic scholar succinctly pointed out, “conscience is an open wound and only truth can heal it.” Never has a truer thing been said.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Much about a few things...

My apologies for such a long absence from these pages... As explained, I was on the FIFA delegation to the U-17 World Cup finals in Nigeria, which saw me working as a football administrator, a world away from my regular journalism work as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican.

Working on the tournament, despite the organisational challenges that hosting the tournament in Nigeria presented, was a truly enriching experience.

I was truly, for two weeks, on the other side of football's divide and my readers, who will now see me write with an added perspective, will only be the better for it. 

Over the ensuing weeks, I will be revealing my thoughts on the tournament, the fast approaching African Cup of Nations, as well as my forthcoming tour of Australia - where I'll be from the 21st to the 29th of November, and South Africa - for Soccerex 2009 in Johannesburg and the 2010 World Cup draw in Cape Town.

In the meantime, watch out for the forthcoming edition of NewAfrican magazine - where we have launched "African Football" a monthly pull-out which I am editing and should, at the end of the 2010 World Cup, be turned into a fully fledged magazine.

In my new monthly column, which will feature in this pullout, I have written a piece titled "A matter of (dis)honour", which reveals my feelings on the age controversy surrounding Fortune Chukwudi, the captain of Nigeria's U-17 team (see picture above). Don't miss it.

Check out our website and take out a subscription to the magazine.

Friday, October 16, 2009


When executive committee members of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) select hosts for the African Cup of Nations, I have always wondered if the needs of the wider fraternity, rather than their own comforts, play any serious role in selecting which nation is best suited to host a tournament that is the jewel in the crown of the African game.

For anyone in the business of football that has plans to be in the Southern African country of Angola next January, the unanswered question is how we’ll be able to spend one month in this maddeningly expensive nation without begging, borrowing, stealing or going bankrupt.

Decent hotels in the capital Luanda, if you can find one now, go for a minimum of $250-$300 per day, a decent meal costs about $50 a pop and if you need to rent a car, you’ll be lucky if you can keep it to $150 per day.

It’s no different with mobile phones or internet connections, which cost an arm, a leg and probably a head as well…

And, as a resident British journalist in Luanda told me “if you have the misfortune not to speak Portuguese (as English or French is hardly spoken here) I wish you the very best of luck!” she said cheekily.

When my former employers, the BBC, have to cut down on their 2010 Cup of Nations team, because they cannot afford to send the normal complement of reporters to Angola, then you know that there is a BIG problem.

Normally, the BBC World Service team at the African Cup of Nations could be up to 20 people, consisting of reporters, producers and studio managers, which does not include the BBC suits keen on finding any excuse to travel to Africa for a good jolly....

The BBC have been, without question, the single biggest reporting team at the Cup of Nations, from any part of the world, for several years now.

But my former colleagues say they plan to send no more than four people to this tournament.

“There is just no way that we can afford to send a big team there. We just do not have the money,” one of them told me.

The decision to select Angola as the host, when they had no facilities in shape, in September 2006, was one that perplexed commentators of the African game.

Nigeria, who were in direct competition with Angola for the 2010 spot – and wanted to use the tournament as a part of its golden jubilee independence anniversary celebrations – made better sense.

They have spent millions of dollars to knock eight venues in shape (even though it has been done at the pain of death and after repeated visits by FIFA officials, exasperated with the snail-slow preparation pace and unserious work attitude of the Nigerians) for the forthcoming FIFA U-17 World Championship.

With all those grounds still in near mint condition after the tournament ends mid-November, the U17 event would have served as a perfect test run for the Nations Cup, which takes place eights weeks later.

Mustapha Fahmy, CAF’s general secretary, said the reason for taking the tournament to Angola was to “develop the game in countries that have not had the chance of hosting the tournament.”

But should the crown jewel of the African game be awarded to countries as a tool for development or is it meant to be given to those with the needed infrastructure to host a first-class tournament?

CAF has made a wrong choice too many in recent times… In 1988, Morocco had to step in to replace Zambia, South Africa became the emergency host when Kenya couldn’t do it in 1996 and Zimbabwe got itself into such a pickle that Nigeria and Ghana were joint emergency hosts in 2000.

And in cases where they decided to allow countries, like Burkina Faso and Mali, host the tournament in 1998 and 2002, it was clear that they had infrastructural challenges that significantly affected the smooth running of both tournaments.

It is a given, unfortunately, that CAF executive members are shielded from the realities of hosting Nations Cup tournaments in countries that lack infrastructure.

They have the chauffeur driven SUVs, fly around in plush business class seats, rest their heads in five star hotel rooms and get the best views at the match venues. And of course, officials of the host country, keen to please them, attend to their every need.

Do CAF executive members bother to think about the comfort of the journalists (who play a key role in making the tournament a serious global event) and the few fans in Africa that can actually afford the expense of travelling thousands of miles to support their national team? The sad answer is an obvious no.

With the thumbs-up the Angolan Local Organising Committee continues to get from CAF inspectors, it is clear that only the second coming of the Lord will stop the Nations Cup from taking place in Angola.

And yes, I suppose the sublime football that will certainly be on display in Luanda, Cabinda, Benguela and Lubango for 21 days will make many forget about the organisational difficulties of being in a country just emerging from three decades of an exceptionally brutal civil war.

But it is time that only countries with the financial and infrastructural muscle are given the privilege to host the tournament.

I shudder to think how Gabon – oil rich but plagued by serious political instability, following the death of dictator Omar Bongo – will successfully co-host the 2012 tournament with Equatorial Guinea, which has its fair share of political problems.

Oh well, I guess we’ll have to console ourselves with the hope that with nearly five years to prepare, Gadhafi’s Libya will give us a great show in 2014, won't they?…

PS – From the 19th of October, I will be on the FIFA team running the U17 World Cup tournament. Blogging, for obvious reasons, will continue after the end of the tournament in November… My lame apology in advance for yet another hiatus... But if it's any consolation, I'll be back!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

South Africa's marriage of (in)convenience…

With just nine months to the start of the 2010 World Cup, it would not be unreasonable to assume that the two people primarily responsible for ensuring South Africa hosts the football fraternity with aplomb are working from the same playbook.

But expecting Irvin “Iron Duke” Khoza and Danny Jordaan, the chairman and CEO of the 2010 World Cup Local Organising Committee (LOC), to sing from the same hymn sheet, when they can barely stand the sight of each other, is a pretty big ask…

With that thought in mind, as I - and other journalists at the World Trade Centre in Zurich - witnessed FIFA president Sepp Blatter announce the winning bid on Saturday, 15th May 2004, I wasted little time in asking, after the rapturous celebration of the joyous South African contingent in the hall had quietened, how Danny saw his post-bid future.

With his frayed relations with Khoza (the president of club side Orlando Pirates, who had been the chairman of the 2010 bid, while Jordaan was its CEO) known to African football insiders, I expressed my fears that it would be hard going for the two to continually co-pilot the 2010 project.

Always the consummate diplomat, Jordaan (pictured above), whom I have known for close to a decade now, cleverly sidestepped the question by choosing to savour the ecstatic moment and deferring his decision on his future for “later on”, as I expected he would.

But what I did not foresee was the reaction of Molefi Oliphant.

Sauntering up to me afterwards, the president of the South African Football Association (SAFA) at the time - who ought to know the state of play - found my question “interesting” and was also looking forward to getting an answer himself!

Five years on, it was an apt reflection of a divided SAFA house that managed to successfully unite for the country’s World Cup cause but has been subsequently hobbled by the fierce personal rivalries amongst its mandarins.

The dramatic turn of events at last Saturday’s SAFA presidential election, where Khoza and Jordaan, the frontrunners, pulled out, does little to change the outside view that FIFA may be compelled to save the South Africans from themselves and commandeer the final round of preparations for the World Cup.

It was a grave error of judgement for Jordaan and Khoza, who ought to concentrate on the huge responsibility of organising the 2010 World Cup, to be sidetracked by a quest to achieve a personal ambition at the expense of achieving a higher goal.

Jordaan had made his desire to be SAFA boss quite clear to me during a one-on-one breakfast meeting we had, whilst in Lagos for this year’s CAF Congress.

The current debacle, which has seen the emergence of Kirsten Nematandani as the compromise choice for president, keeps both men on a collision course that will certainly worsen their poor personal and professional relations.

SAFA, which had been told by FIFA to postpone the presidential election, had the right to reject the request of the world governing body to postpone the election.

Adhering to statutes, even when it is inconvenient, is an admirable act that should be a lesson for other African football associations and federations with sit-tight leaders.

But SAFA’s statutes should have made it impossible for Khoza and Jordaan to seek the top job as long as they were managing the preparations for the World Cup.

Blatter, who in his office, admitted to me  - in December 2006 - that he insisted on Khoza and Jordaan working together, has his hands full to ensure the marriage of (in) convenience does not end up in a bitter divorce.

Only the near-flawless organisation of the World Cup, which should be an unforgettable experience - I hope - will be incontrovertible proof of that.