Veteran sports journalist, Chief Fan Ndubuoke, is one of those popping champagne over the sudden exit of Sunday Oliseh as Super Eagles manager. The former chairman of Heartland FC of Owerri has, however, warned that the problem of Nigerian football is beyond the Oliseh debacle. Ndubuoke in this interview with Paul Erewuba bares his mind on Nigerian football and the way forward. Excerpts…
NIGERIAN football appears to be at the crossroad again, what is your take on this?
Our football is not just at the cross road, to me it has been kidnapped by a few persons. Few individuals are holding our football hostage. They are not doing it in the interest of the game but for selfish reasons.
That is why I said there is a difference between when something is at a crossroad and when a cabal has out rightly kidnapped it.
Is it not unfortunate that at this stage, we are struggling with Niger and Chad, when it comes to football at the senior level. That shows you how bad it is. Thank God Sunday Oliseh has done the honorable thing of taking a bow because he had nothing to offer. What was happening in Eagles under him was eye service on the part of players. You saw the trend… when we score a goal the player runs to hug the coach for doing him the favour of playtrend… when we score a goal ing him. That is for you to know that things have really gone bad. We watch football all over the world and we don’t see where a player will score a goal and he will go ahead to hug the coach. Unfortunately this trend started under Stephen Keshi. What that clearly shows is that we are parading players who didn’t earn their national team shirt on merit.
It also shows that our coaches do not get to where they are on merit. They get there and employ divide and rule tactics to stay on. They employ divide and rule in the selection of players, whatever.
What you are saying is that there are fundamental problems in our football?
Yes. Truth be told, our football is in bondage. Nobody is thinking about the development of the game, nobody is thinking of how to take the game to the next level. The present NFF board cannot concentrate on how to develop the game. To survive, they must play football politics. If they don’t do that, the cabal that has kidnapped the game will not allow them to do second term. All that is happening in our football is about football politics, with little or no attention being paid to the grassroots development of the game. Nobody has time to develop our football, nobody is talking tactics, and nobody is talking about preparation for major competitions.
From all indications, the president of the NFF is taking the back seat. Amaju Pinnick is not fully in charge of Nigerian football. He has been held hostage by the circumstance that brought him into office in the first place.
When you look at how he came into power, he was not in the equation. Maigari was plotting his way back, and what did he (Maigari) do? In South Africa, he took virtually every state FA chairmen to the World Cup in an attempt to plot his return. Nobody was investing the money that was coming from sponsorship on the development of the game, on the development of the coaches, in youth development. The money was being used in the plotting of the election for the return of Maigari. Amaju has no option now but to do the same or they will gang up against him when election comes. I am not surprised that state FA chairmen were recently in London at a time when the soccer federation had no money to pay her coaches.
Do you see the Eagles qualifying for AFCON 2017?
The truth is that we don’t have a team at the moment, but as a patriotic Nigerian, I m praying for our qualification. It will be bad for us not to be in AFCON back to back. If we put our acts together and do the right things before the game against Egypt, we will qualify. We have the players that can get the job done, our problem is harnessing our talents. On the whole, I don’t see Egypt denying us the AFCON 2017 ticket.
What is your take on the changes in Heartland, a club you led to win several trophies in two years?
The new General Manager, Oscar Keke is a fine gentleman. He is a soccer technocrat. I congratulate him. I wish Imo State well. But I also feel strongly that politics should not come into sports. Because, that is the only thing that brings us together. I think that that part of our national life should be isolated from politics. I did my best for Heartland. We won five trophies in two years at a time the state government was only releasing N8m a month to the club. When I left, the club was getting N28m a month without result. You know the circumstances under which I left the club. I was on my sick bed with a broken leg when I was sacked. In spite of all that I wish the club well this term. I hope they do well. I also feel Imo State should float a female football club. When I was there, I had that in mind. I wanted to fund a female team even with the paltry sum I was getting. Today, there is no female club in the country without players from Imo State. So why wont the state have a female club. Charity for the players should begin at home.
As chairman of Heartland did you make effort to sell the club to the private sector?
No doubt about that. Why did I employ a foreign coach for the club? I employed a foreign coach because of the commercial value. I wanted the white man to attract foreign investors to the club.
We were at the verge of doing that when the bureaucracy in the ministry killed it. Those who were benefiting from government money killed the idea. I brought officials of the Nigeria Stock Exchange to Owerri. They held a meeting with the Economics Adviser to the Governor on how to privatize Heartland.
I made effort to take Heartland to the next level. Even with N8m I was maintaining a feeder team. I promoted many of the feeder team players to the senior team. I went from local government to local government to scout for players for the feeder team.
What is the way forward?
The way forward is to take the game to the private sector. government will still have a role to play, but we should try to sell the game to the private sector. Government for now cannot completely hands off, it has to be gradual. But the only way to go is for our sport to be private sector driven. At the national level, the NFF need to put its house in order.