As Nigeria continues to prepare for Cameroon in her quest for another World Cup outing, we keep tapping knowledge from those whose opinions and experiences in the round leather game cannot be ignored. One of such persons is chief John Mastoroudes, former founder and Chairman of defunct Leventis United that took Nigeria football by storm over two decades ago.
The respected elder statesman, who turned 70 recently, had as far back as 1992, at an event organized by the Sportswriters Association of Nigeria (SWAN), identified major causes of our past World Cup failures. Nothing has changed between that time and now.
According to him; Nigeria’s football structure is very inadequate and loose. He insists that the system has to be over- hauled with a view to making it solid and result-oriented. For instance, the way our so-called professional football teams were being run then/now, leaves much to be desired. Much as the league was expected to stumble in the formative years, it ought to have started firming up by now in his opinion. This unfortunately is not the case.
Professionalism, if clubs were to give true meaning to it, he explained, would mean being economically viable. But our clubs are still groping because the proprietors have not been serious enough about breaking away from the Nigerian mentality; the mentality of haphazard preparations, lack of good planning or no planning at all; a kind of hand-to-mouth way of living.
“Many clubs still distribute free complimentary tickets to their friends and government officials; they cannot man their gates effectively, and, they do not market their teams well. In the end, they complain that they can’t raise enough funds and so, they pay the players poor salaries and bonuses. Sometimes, they can’t even afford to pay at all until subventions come from somewhere. Yet, it is these players that we expect to play well and ultimately represent Nigeria and take us to the World Cup?”
Over the years, Mastoroudes advocated a very strong and well managed football league in Nigeria because he believes that is where to nurture a strong national team from. He maintains that reasons why our national team is dominated by foreign-based players today is because our league is weak. The home based players are competing for places from a disadvantaged positioned. Otherwise, how do we reconcile a situation where an average player leaves the country today and becomes a super-star once he gets abroad? The reason is simple; he is not motivated to achieve his potentials at home.
Frankly, the boardroom guru also identified administration as another sour area hindering the development of the game in Nigeria as he observed, administration has remained more or less at mediocre level for too long. For example; we have continued to run our professional league with amateur mentality that allows a lot of laxity. In his view, a bad football administration must naturally bring forth a bad national side which goes ahead to get bad results. He explained however that the practitioners are not to blame per se, because they have been mostly civil servants who cannot take very crucial decisions without having to contend with the so-called ‘order from above’. But while officials are still struggling with protocol, our football suffers.
In his opinion, football administration should not be left in the hands of civil servants who are constrained by government red-tapism. Disciplined technocrats and professionals with private sector background are the people who run football all over the world.
Closely related to this is the indiscriminate change of the technical crew. He gave example of 1989 World Cup qualifier against Cameroon when Clemens Westerhof was brought to take over from Paul Hamilton barely weeks to a crucial match, describing it as a gross act of misjudgment that had grave consequences. He warned that on no account should any NFF or government official interfere with the technical aspect of the national teams. The Ibadan based technocrat, however expects the coaches to be flexible in their dealings with players irrespective of their off the pitch conduct or where they are based.
Turning to the players, Mastoroudes advised that they must be patriotic, disciplined and committed to the success of the national team. They should not make frivolous requests and excuses or ask for outrageous privileges which can cause disaffection in camp. The players, both home and foreign based must see themselves as one and the same, he remarked. If they can maintain good code of conduct , they will together achieve their ultimate dream of playing at the World Cup again.
John Mastoroudes then released what he calls his vision: That we must establish a BASIS for the national team today. By basis, I mean six or seven players who will be “regular regulars”(please accept my coinage) in the Super Eagles. These six-seven players must be well-tested and proved capable of representing us consistently from now till the World Cup. Age must be on their side. Every game we play, they MUST be there. Even if we play against Togo or Benin, the six-seven are there. They will form the core of the national team and the rest of the team will be built around them. I am always amused when I hear people talk about “blending” the national team. They want the foreign based to arrive weeks before a game so that they can “blend” with the home-based. What is blending? Nothing! There is nothing like blending in football and that is the truth.”
Fellow Nigerians, is anybody listening?
•Till next week, keep attacking.