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Chaos in Nigerian Camp

Nanama Keita/ Twenty Ten

Location: Durban, South Africa

Associated Features: La Fédération Nigériane de Football (French text feature) Nigeria vs. North Korea (Photo Feature) Incurable Optimism (Text Feature) Power Struggles (Text Feature)

Highs and lows for Nigerian team.

Nigeria arrived in South Africa as one of the six African teams touted to go far in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but after barely one week of action, the Super Eagles camp has descended into chaos both on and off the pitch.

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) have come under intense fire from fanatical Nigerians for President Sani Lulu executive committee's decision to take a group of football officials to South Africa for the month-long showpiece.

The officials are staying at Richards Bay in Durban, a town more than three hours away from the Super Eagles’ Protea Hotel Waterfront camp, north of Durban. Among the group are State FA Chairmen, secretaries, representatives of the players’ union, coaches, referees, football ambassadors and consultative forum elders.

Lulu has strongly defended what many Nigerians described as an unnecessary jaunt to South Africa, saying if they don't take the football stakeholders to the World Cup, then who will they take to the World Cup? Lulu explains that the officials have a role to play in South-Africa, “To learn valuable lessons in football administration, and nothing else”.

Lulu's defence raises more questions as to why the officials are located in tropical Durban, far from the centre of the FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg. The Super Eagles’ abysmal display in their first two group matches has made matters even worse, as disgruntled Nigerians have taken a swipe at the NFF and the national team for letting them down.

NFF officials were not eager to respond, however, Nigerian journalists were critical of the Federation’s dealings in the matter: “The Nigerian football management body has remained, and still remains, an edifice of ineptitude, spinelessness and monumental corruption,” said Kayode Oladele, a Nigerian-born, US-based international human rights lawyer-cum-development journalist. “How can an entire football management body travel to South Africa for the World Cup when it wouldn’t make any difference?”

According to the journalist, “Those in our Sports Ministry and in the football section have no clue about how to manage football in the 21st century. Many of them are not even up to date with the latest ethical and professional rules relating to football management. All they are concerned about is how to they grab money and build mansions and live a good life. This is sad, it is unfortunate”.

Public opinion was divided in Africa’s most populous nation in the run up to the World Cup when it was announced that a foreign coach had been signed to lead the team to South Africa. This was at the expense of an indigenous coach, Shuibu Amodu, who had been in charge of the team previously.

Like many Nigerians who blasted the last-minute decision and the unfair treatment of Amodu, Oladele insists that Amodu is not the problem. “We often make the mistake of reducing the crises in Nigerian football to a coach. We are being narrow-minded and it is better to take a global view of matters.”

“We have been unfair to Amodu. He took Nigeria to the Cup of Nations in Mali and he was relieved of his post and his team was handed over to Coach Onigbinde,” the journalist added.

After winning the qualifier to the World Cup in South Africa against the Harambee Stars from Kenya, Amodu was demoted and foreign coach Lagerback was brought in. Oladele is sceptical of this choice, as the Swedish former national coach is using the same set of players that Amodu put together. “What value has Lagerback added to the Nigerian team between March when he was hired and June when the World Cup commenced?” asks Oladele. “Look at what Lagerback is being paid. He earns in one month what Amodu earned in 10 months. Is this not meant to inflict an inferiority complex on Amodu?”

According to Oladele, Nigeria must accept that they cannot give what they do not have. He hinted that the individual players’ performances were not very impressive. “It is not Amodu’s making that our players are below par.”

Another Nigerian journalist, Seun Akioye, concurred with Oladele’s analysis. “It’s a total waste of funds that should have been directed towards the team’s preparation for the World Cup,” he said. “What is the use of taking all these people to South Africa rather than adding value to the team’s participation in the World Cup?”

Akioye thinks the NFF needs a strong man at the helm: “A man who will be able to enforce discipline, fight rampant corruption and selfishness, and put our football in order.” According to him, 'The droves of officials who have nothing to do in South Africa show the rot in NFF and the lack of seriousness about the team putting up any strong performance. Their presence is an unwanted distraction for the team”.

The Super Eagles were forgiven when they narrowly lost to Argentina 1-0 in their Group C opener. However, the total lack of discipline shown by the team in their match against Greece did not impress fans. Some Nigerians are calling for a total overhaul of the Nigerian football circle. “I personally believe that patriotism, honour and pride in our country took a back seat. I think it is time somebody gives our sporting administrators a reality check,” fumed a Nigerian sports columnist, Ijeoma Nwogwugwu.

She added, “If truth be told, everything about our team, the NFF and preparations for the World Cup, was a reflection of everything wrong with Nigeria: poor administrators; poor management; mediocre, uncommitted players who lie about their ages and vie to go to the World Cup long after their shelf lives have expired; an ill-motivated and politicized local league; lack of cohesiveness in the team; mismanagement and misapplication of funds (where available) meant for the development of the game, et cetera, et cetera. The list is endless, and I am certain the issues have been shouted to the roof tops countless times. We are simply reaping what we sow as a nation.”

However, all is not yet lost for the Super Eagles and their fanatical fans as Thursday's result leaves Group B fascinatingly poised with one round of games left. Argentina has six points and take on Greece, who has three, thanks to their win over Nigeria. South Korea, thumped 4-1 by Argentina in the group's other match on Thursday, has three points after defeating Greece, and take on Nigeria.

With Kaita suspended and Taye Taiwo, who possesses an excellent long-range shot, injured, it will take a remarkable upturn in fortunes for the rock-bottom Super Eagles to soar up to Group B and snatch second place.

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