Monday, December 14, 2009
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 (http://www.africasia.com/), 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
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
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 www.africasia.com/icpubs and take out a subscription to the magazine.
Friday, October 16, 2009
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
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.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
I had predicted, since December 2008, that fans of the national team should prepare their handkerchiefs for a flood of tears in the ensuing year.
But I was just as bitter and shell-shocked as every other Super Eagles supporter when the team snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory on Sunday evening against Tunisia in Abuja.
Even for a supposedly dispassionate football journalist like me, who has witnessed and chronicled a litany of heart breaking moments in 22 years of covering football, Nigeria’s almost-certain absence from the 2010 World Cup leaves a particularly foul taste in the mouth.
When Nigeria performed poorly at the 2002 World Cup finals, I warned, in a piece for BBC Sport Interactive, it could be entering a period of decline from which it would struggle to recover.
The abominable failure to qualify for the following World Cup in Germany proved me right.
Reflecting on that disappointment, this was what I said on October 14th 2005 on BBC Sport Interactive:
“As bitterness fuels the furore that has followed Nigeria's World Cup exit, only an honest and level-headed approach to solving problems will lead them out of the wilderness.
“Stability in coaching - done by competent hands - is a must, Europe-based players must show commitment to the Nigerian cause and the administrators must have the savvy to manage the national game properly.
“The Super Eagles' absence from Germany 2006 will be worth the expensive price, if it finally compels Nigeria to plan for global success.
“Depending on strokes of providence - which have finally run out - is just not good enough.”
To read the full piece go to: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/africa/4342860.stm
All I need to do to make this piece of advice, written four years ago, contemporary is to substitute Germany 2006 with South Africa 2010 – which shows that those in the corridors of power are determined to learn nothing, except how to further mismanage Nigerian football.
As this blog is to cover African and not just Nigerian football, I have vowed to desist from writing frequently about the Super Eagles.
But it is tough to shy away from the fact that Africa’s largest country - in terms of population - will be absent from the African World Cup.
It is pointless to repeat advice on how to reverse this sorry decline, as I will only sound like a broken record.
I can only pray (and see if I can take an active part in ensuring) that the heads of those responsible for this sorry mess – Nigerian Football Federation president Sani Lulu, (pictured above) general secretary Bolaji Ojo’Oba and the executive board – are put on the guillotine block.
Those with the savvy and drive to ensure Nigeria takes its place as one of the world’s top football nations are desperate to be given the chance to serve a country that they dearly love.
But unless they are sought out and given unfettered authority – within the boundaries of FIFA regulations – to clean the filthy stables of Nigerian football administration, there will be more entries made into the diary of disaster.
Of that I am certain.
Friday, September 4, 2009
As the only African team to make five appearances at the World Cup finals, having a historic Italia ’90 quarter-final run, as well as being four-time winners of the Cup of Nations, Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions have, until recently, been worthy of their moniker.
But their stunning failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany and their precarious situation in the 2010 qualifying series, where they find themselves at the bottom of Group One, (with Gabon, yes little Gabon, sitting atop of it) reminds me of a stern warning I heard in Yaoundé two years ago.
Fon Echekiye, one of Cameroon’s leading football commentators on television, told me they were at real risk of “disappearing from the global football stage.”
“Without a complete overhaul of the administrative structure of Cameroonian football, we stand a real risk of not qualifying for the 2010 World Cup,” he said.
During my one-week trip in 2007, to research a feature I was writing
on the state of Cameroonian football for Fifa magazine, it was clear that Echekiye’s comments were far from alarmist and seem to be chillingly prophetic at the moment.
Joseph Antoine Bell, the former Cameroon goalkeeper (pictured above), who graciously let me into his expansive house in Douala when I showed up, unexpectedly, for a conversation on the Lions, was no less critical than Echekiye.
“Cameroonian football, at all levels, is very sick”, he said, noting that his compatriots were steeped in the nostalgia of their 1990 World Cup performance, at the expense of tackling present-day challenges that threaten to undo the image that has earned them the respect of the global football fraternity.
My fact-finding visit to the tattered Reunification Stadium, home of Union Douala, one of the country’s most distinguished clubs, was a sad eye-opener about the state of football facilities in Cameroon – it had a tattered roof, a patchy turf, dilapidated stands, as well as smelly and nasty-looking dressing rooms, which left me deeply shocked and saddened.
And Yaoundé was only slightly better… Players featuring for Canon Sportif and Tonnerre, Roger Milla’s old club, train on grounds that were as hard as granite and would break every bone that had the misfortune of making improper contact with it.
FECAFOOT, Cameroon’s Football Federation, is supposed to exclusively manage the affairs of the Indomitable Lions. But it is no secret that whoever occupies the sports minister’s chair has the ultimate word.
German Otto Pfister, the rolling coaching stone that has gathered Ghanaian, Congolese and Togolese moss, profited from this clash of wills.
The minister appointed him manager of the Lions for the 2008 Nations Cup campaign, even though Mohammed Iya, the FECAFOOT president and his executive board, clearly preferred another candidate.
But like all other European coaches before him, it was not too long before the old man went through the revolving door, despite taking the Lions to the 2008 Nations Cup final – although many of his critics can validly question whether his tactical acumen played any meaningful role in that.
With an enviable record of managing Lyon to three consecutive French championships, but unable to repeat the feat at Paris St Germain or Glasgow Rangers, Paul Le Guen has certainly not opted for a comfortable life by opting to take charge of Cameroon.
With the team in dire need of fresh legs and better administrative support, one wonders how Le Guen, used to working in an environment where clockwork efficiency is the rule rather than the exception, can cope with the maddeningly undulating Cameroonian terrain.
As a close friend, who is a FECAFOOT official, confessed to me, the administration of football in Cameroon is akin to a game of Russian roulette – no one knows when his head could be blown off by an adversary’s unexpected bullet!
Perhaps the unspeakable but stark possibility of missing out on another World Cup tournament may force Cameroon’s clueless sports mandarins to provide Le Guen, who is no shrinking violet, with the tools he requires to pull the qualifying chestnut out of the fire and pilot Cameroon to South Africa.
For readers acutely aware of my Nigerian heritage, and my country’s fierce rivalry with our next door neighbour or adversary, they might be shocked that I am quite concerned about their floundering fortunes.
But, as I told Issa Hayatou, the president of the Confederation of African Football, during a dinner table conversation in February, Africa will find it extremely tough to perform creditably at the 2010 World Cup if Cameroon and Nigeria are absent from it or are unable to present strong teams in South Africa.
So, it is for Africa’s sake that I worry about Cameroon’s precarious state. I sincerely hope they can conjure some sort of qualifying miracle out of the hat before disaster strikes twice…
Postscript - Goals from Achille Emana and Samuel Eto'o ensured a 2-0 win for Cameroon over Gabon in Libreville on Saturday September 6th, giving them their first win in the final round of qualifying.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
It has taken the possibility - I beg your pardon, certainty - of being caught by FIFA for age cheating at the next Under-17 World Championship for Nigeria's football federation, headed by Sani Lulu (pictured above) to conduct an MRI test and medically ascertain the players' true ages.
The results - which have ruled out a whopping 16 players (with subsequent reports indicating that many more may have fallen foul of the machine) - only confirms what football experts have known since Nigeria won the inaugural edition of this tournament in 1985 - we have NEVER won a youth tournament with genuine youngsters.
The hunger for undeserved laurels and filthy lucre - on the part of Nigeria's 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 - has forged an unholy alliance between both parties that has done horrendous damage to the development of the country's football.
A tournament conceived by FIFA 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 - has become a theatre of the absurd for Nigeria.
Rather than engage in hard graft and create Golden Eaglets' teams from the depth of talent available in Nigeria's secondary schools - the only place where you can find players 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!
I have never told this story publicly before now - but I will today, after keeping silent for four years.
Obinna Nsofor, the striker who was supposed to have been a part of the Nigeria team that went to the 2005 World Youth Championship in Holland, did not go to that tournament because I had proof that he was involved in age cheating and I alerted Ibrahim Galadima, then Nigeria FA chairman, who ordered that he be dropped.
After the African Youth Championship in Benin, which took place before the WYC, I discovered Nsofor had two passports that had two different ages.
I was still with the BBC World Service and BBC Sport Interactive when hard documentary evidence of this came to my desk at Bush House and my knee-jerk reaction, at first, was to splash it on our website and run it as a hot news item on air.
But two of my younger colleagues - who knew that publishing the evidence will damage the player's career - pleaded that I keep it to myself, knowing that Nigeria would face a heavy sanction from FIFA if I published what I knew.
I agreed (I know I am going to be slated for this - and I will take the flak) but was determined that I will not let Nigeria go to the WYC with an age cheat, so I called Ibrahim Galadima, revealed what I knew and 'advised' that Nsofor be dropped.
Being an honourable man that was not ready to be complicit in a cheating scam - and probably guessing that I would have no choice but to blow the whistle if he did not heed my 'advice' - he ensured Nsofor's name was removed.
Suleiman David, who was the FA's technical committee chair at the time, confirmed he was aware of what happened and told me Galadima had a huge fight with Samson SiaSia, the manager of the U20 side, who was determined to take Nsofor to Holland but had no choice but to defer to the FA chairman's order.
Argentine Marcelo Houseman, who was Nsofor's preferred agent at the time (Eddie Nwafor, the Holland-based Nigerian agent, also had a contract to represent Nsofor!) emailed me to claim his 'client' was not involved in an age scam but when I presented him with a chance to put his claims to the test, he never contacted me again!
Nsofor could not help being dishonest and was subsequently sanctioned by FIFA for signing contract papers for two clubs, so the cheating chickens came home to roost for the "too-clever-by-half" striker in the end.
This tale is just a tip of the iceberg and I hope that other stories will come to light.
The culture of silence - or inaudible discontent - on age cheating has done Nigeria a terrible disservice and it is time for those who really care about Nigerian football to stand up and be counted. Only the truth will set us free.