Nigeria’s players celebrate after scoring a goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying football match between Nigeria and Cameroon at Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo, southern Nigeria, on September 1, 2017. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP
It is public knowledge that the poor records of Nigerian Football Federation in recent years have been a major source of concern for stakeholders and potential investors. However, with the new breath of fresh air around the Super Eagles, following their performances so far in the 2018 World Cup Qualifier, one might have a clearer picture of NFF’s major struggle prior to now, beyond formation.
Although barraged with several problems ranging from poor administration to corruption, politics and dearth of experienced players, there are indications that financial drought contributed greatly and has been very fundamental to most of the other woes of NFF.
It is more than mere coincidence that just about the time the Nigerian Football Federation got the long-awaited financial commitment and resuscitation it needed, Nigeria is experiencing a turnaround in the fortune of soccer and the national team seem to be gaining more grounds. The Nigerian national team recently put a gag on the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, with a 4:0 home win and a 1:1 tie at Yaounde. For the first time in a long time, the Eagles are living up to their names, after years of failed expectations and blame trading. Not to mention, the frequent emotional trauma they gave every football lover in Nigeria, till they had no choice but to give up on the team.
National soccer teams provide a symbol of national unity in many countries, and same can be said of Nigeria, judging from the emotions that greeted the Eagles, after their home and away matches with Cameroon. While professional football has been experiencing an unprecedented economic boom worldwide, most countries, especially in Africa are finding it so hard to take control of its rapidly changing funding requirements. There is an undeniable connection between a financially stable team and a performing team. Although that is not all there is to good football, other aspects of the game are easy to work through when financing does not constitute a burden.
Sponsorship has always been a major issue with NFF; incessant disappointments of stakeholders who do not live up to their promises, and constant breach of agreements by corporate entities, including some of the country’s finest companies, widely acclaimed for their unrivalled support for sports and entertainment.
Beyond scoring goals and achieving victory on the pitch, financial stability of a team is what guarantees consistent success. This is because what goes on off-pitch is as important as what goes on on-pitch. It is perhaps, much more important. We could celebrate the NFF for the victory on the pitch, but the NFF is not the only champion.
Their major sponsor, Aiteo, has stayed true to its promise and this is beginning to yield very impressive results. Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) was in a mess earlier in the year following its inability to pay salaries, especially of the German manager, Gernot Rohr
for over three months, after their sponsors pulled out of an initial deal. It was a national embarrassment to say the least.
In the midst of the ‘economic recession’ which likely sponsors held on to as a strong escape route, NFF was able to secure a financial boost worth around 2.5billion Naira from Aiteo Group, Nigeria’s leading indigenous energy conglomerate. Aiteo agreed to pay all Nigerian national football teams coaches’ salaries for the next five years with N500 million annually, as a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative.
Since this intervention, the narrative of the Nigerian football team has changed. Aiteo’s stride was more stupendous because fund came from a most unlikely sector, out of nothing but sheer patriotism and a strong faith in the capacity of the NFF.
Super Eagles are steadily rising to occupy the enviable position it was formerly known for in Africa. NFF’s days of glory seem to be around the corner again. In time past, Nigeria was one of the most respected football-playing countries, not just in Africa, but in the world. The Super Eagles once ranked the fifth team in the world, but now, according to FIFA 2017 ranking, it is in the 38th position. Aside winning the African Nations Cup at home in 1980 and away in 1994, Nigeria was the first African country to win the football, gold medal in 1996.
If the Eagle’s will sustain their current shine and not get carried away by the euphoria surrounding their very recent victories, beyond being on their way to the World Cup in Russia, Nigeria might also have a repeat of the kind of luck that came her way in 1996.
Thanks to devoted financiers like Aiteo, the morale of the players is on the increase and the financial woes they have to put up with is gradually coming to an end. The media reports that the players were elated and in high spirits following the announcement that their bonuses to be paid in full, after their match against Cameroon in Yaounde, which ended as a tie. This is quite commendable.
More synergy between NFF and companies like Aiteo will go a long way in improving the national team and placing it on a prestigious position worldwide. NFF can only make Nigeria proud, if Nigeria treats them proudly. The more attractive football becomes in Nigeria, the more our players identify with their country and stop running to other countries that are always ready to embrace them.
Nwafor is a Jos-based sports enthusiast