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Why NFF Must Revamp Grassroots Football

Posted: Jul 5, 2015 at 12:55 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Chibuike Chukwu,  Lagos


The first objective for any football association in line with FIFA Status is developing the game. Developing the game, which is trough organization of under-aged tournaments and grassroots, gives the national association the opportunity of not only discovering talents but also turning them into big stars.

Zimbabwean team during the last Mock Nations Cup in Ajegunle.

Zimbabwean team during the last Mock Nations Cup in Ajegunle.

FIFA in leading the way came up with the Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups meant to give the future stars the needed exposure. This should be the cardinal principle of any football development programme.

As a testimony to the above, the likes Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Sergie Aguero, Paul Pogba, Mikel Obi, Andre Iniesta, azmong others have all announced their arrival at the world stage via the U-20 World Cup.

At the Nigeria scene, players such Tarila Okorowanta, Samson Siasia, Etim Esin, Stephen Keshi, Andrew Uwu, the Olukanmi brothers, Joseph Yobo have also announced their arrival at the global stage through the U-20 tournament.

However, the recent poor performance of Nigeria’s age-group teams and couple with the dwindling fortunes of the country’s football generally have made experts to call for the revamping of grassroots football competitions, which threw up so many stars of yesteryears.

They underscored the necessity to revisit the period where inter-school, inter-state football and tournaments, Principal Cups across the country were organised, recalling that some of the nation’s revered stars were discovered through such tournaments.

For example, the Mock Nations Cup competition in Ajegunle area of Lagos was stirred by the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations that was hosted and won by Nigeria. The competition, which served as a breeding ground for football talents, produced many players for the national teams in the past.

Some of the talents the Mock Nations Cup produced include Siasia, Emmanuel Amunike, Henry Nwosu, Ebitimi Collins, Jonathan Akpoberie, Tarila Okorowanta, Ifeanyi Udeze, Gabriel Okolosi, Wahid Akanni and Yusuf Ayila, among others.

But according to founder of the grassroots competition, Lawrence Alabrah, the tournament, which enjoyed sponsorship from corporate organisations and well-meaning Nigerians in the past, now struggled to get sponsors and survive.

Abarah said: “Initially, when it started, we had no sponsor, but as the profile of the tournament increased, it attracted sponsors from the corporate world and well-meaning Nigerians.

“Companies like 7up, Nigeria Breweries, Cowbell and others sponsored the competition before the immediate past Lagos State Gov. Raji Fashola supported us massively in the 2011 edition.”

Apart from the Mock Nations Cup, there is also the NNPC/Shell Cup, which is principally for secondary schools across the country.

Among the stars that rose to stardom through the NNPC/Shell Cup include Ambrose Vanzekin and Chinedu Ogbuke, who both won Silver for Nigeria at the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup and at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

There is also Femi Opabunmi, Ejike Uzoenyi and Ibrahim Ajani. In all, the NNPC/Shell Cup has produced over 20 stars that have risen to the peak of their careers. The competition is, however, still going strong, while Mock Nations Cup, which brought so many stars of the game, has virtually died.

Regrettably also, the Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YUSFON) is also virtually dead. This is one completion that accounted for unending supply of talents to the national teams, especially the under aged teams.

According to Super Falcons and Delta Queens midfielder, Halimatu Ayinde, “I am a product of YUSFON and today, such precious legacy is left suffering neglect.

“I cannot but regret the situation at YUSFON. We are all sad, but I will support grassroots football the little I can.

“It is obvious that YUSFON is underfunded and not getting the required attention for it to continue churning out stars for the country.”

There is also the Principals Cup, which threw up current Super Eagles Coach, Stephen Keshi, Henry Nwosu (MON) into limelight.They participated at the championship with Saint Finbarr’s College, Yaba, Lagos in 1979.

While the competition serves only Lagos State secondary schools, it is pertinent to make it a national tourney for all the nooks and cranny of the country to be covered.  This is where the Federal Government should come in and ensure that tax holidays are given to private sector to come in and widen the scope of this kind of game.

Former Super Eagles captain, Henry Nwosu, in an interview, said: “The player that can consign Barcelona forward, Lionel Messi, to the bench is on the street playing. Believe me, there are very good talents wasting away in the streets. We need to do something about our grassroots football development.”

Also, a competition like the MTN Street Soccer Competition should be revisited. The competition has not done much to produce talents for the country because the organisers have not made it a talent hunt, but a mere financial empowerment for street kids.

According to another former Super Eagles captain, Segun Odegbami, “The NFF can liaise with the organisers and broaden the competition, where talents can be discovered, nurtured and turn to superstars. Those who can win laurels for Nigeria are on the streets.”

On his own, former Eagles coach, Adegboye Onigbinde, said the failure of Nigeria’s national teams is traceable to “our grassroots developmental failures.

“We will never get it right until we come up with a good policy direction that can ensure good grassroots development.

“This is what I have been clamouring for more than 20 years ago. I have been in the vanguard of grassroots football development. It can be from schools or streets, but grassroots development can never be under-estimated.”

Commenting on this development, Nigeria Football Federation First Vice President, Seyi Akinwumi, said the nation will be better off with good youth development, saying the football house is doing its best to develop the game from the grassroots.

“Grassroots is where the future of football lies. On our part, we are initiating various programmes that will ensure the game is taking back to the grassroots.”