IT is music to the ears that former Super Eagles captain, Nwankwo Kanu, made the elite list of football legends published by the International Federation of Football History (IFFH). The organisation that chronicles the history and records of association football was formed in 1984 and is based in Lausanne, Switzerland. Kanu was listed at No. 38 in a world-best list of 48. Some of the other prominent names on the list topped by Edson Arantes Do Nascimento (aka Pele), include Diego Armando Maradonna, Eusebio, Zarincha, Ferenc Puskas and great shot stoppers such as Lev Yashin and Dino Zoff.
Kanu has brought great honour to himself and Nigeria, and we congratulate him on this global recognition. Kanu’s career saw him achieve almost everything in world football. His personal triumph over a very difficult health challenge earlier in his football career taught the world the power of resilience and determination. There is no doubt that Nigeria has many talented footballers and that more of these footballers could have made the list if footballing conditions in the country were better.
We are, however, heartened by the news that six other Africans made the elite list. Egypt, a continental powerhouse of football, featured two entries – Mahmoud El-Khatib and Mohamed Aboutrika. Others are Roger Milla of Cameroon, George Opong Weah of Liberia, Rabah Madjer of Algeria and Lucas Radebe of South Africa.
Aboutrika’s recognition is particularly heartwarming because he mostly played on the continent, and only had a brief stint abroad in the twilight of his career. Weah, on the other hand, hardly needs any introduction as he remains the only African to have won the World Footballer of the Year Award. That distinct achievement was in 1995.
In the end, what this recognition should confirm to us is that we can excel in football and any other field. Given the right environment, we can hold our own against the best anywhere in the world. This affirmation is good for our psyche and should serve as a tonic to fight our present negative condition. Our sports administrators and political leaders should note this. It is a fact that sports, if properly run as a business, can be a veritable tool for youth empowerment, mass mobilization and economic development.
But, do our leaders realise this? The evidence is to the contrary. The key areas in which we fail the most are visionary policy articulation and faithful execution. Looking at sports and football specifically, we falter on the altar of consistent implementation of the policies that gave us good results over the years. Sports reward early talent spotting and grooming to maturity. The programmes and bodies that helped us in the past to spot these young talents like the All Nigerian Secondary School Sports competitions, the Academicals, and the Youth Sports Federation (YSFON) have been relegated to the background and in some cases, abandoned.
It was under the auspices of these laudable programmes and bodies that world beaters like Isaac Ikhouria, Davidson Andeh and Obisia Nwankpa were at very young ages nurtured in boxing; Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Mary Onyali and Chioma Ajunwa in athletics and Stephen Keshi, Henry Nwosu, Nwankwo Kanu and a host of others too numerous to mention, in football. Experts argue that for sports, the two key components of growth are promotion and development. The talents have to be spotted and nurtured to their full potentials and then, sports have to be marketed for full financial rewards to the participants and promoters.
Nigeria has been on the decline in sports for some time now. The point to note is that there are many more Nwankwo Kanus in the country. What is lacking in the effort to bring them to global stardom is the support structure. Countries in our bracket like Brazil and Argentina which have long realised the total benefits in sports as a tool for national development have used football to shore up their national revenues. The story is not different for many of the developed countries that we constantly look up to, but are unable to copy to achieve the desired results.