Nigeria, one of the traditional football powers in Africa, remain down in the FIFA Rankings released this morning May 5, after it lost 0 – 1 in Alexandria against Egypt and failed to qualify for African Cup of Nations (AFCON) for the second consecutive time.
It seemed a promising run for Nigeria when Super Eagles rocketed pass many powerhouse to place 5th on the world rankings in march 1994, the only African team to have achieved the feat, but now on a free fall down the ladder – currently placed 67, below minnows like Mali and Uzbekistan.
QUESTION: Why is Nigerian football declining so fast even though it seems to have a blueprint for churning out homegrown young and enterprising talents?
Nigeria won FIFA U-17 World cup back-to-back in 2013 and 2015, and it’s expected that the country will present a formidable team capable of winning the World cup in 2018 or 2022.
But that’s where the problem lies!
Since1985, Nigeria has dominated the world at the cadet level, winning FIFA U-17 world cup 5 times in 31 years [a ratio of 1:3 win in the bi-annual tournament], but have not been able to fashion out a transition process that will ensure such incredible successive run at the U-21 or the Senior National team level.
The interruptive growth is more evident in women football where Super Falcons have also nose dive to place 37 in the world rankings.
It is also reflected at the club sides in the Nigerian League. Take for instance, Enyimba FC, one of the most consistent team in Nigeria, may have been lucky to beat Etolie Du Sahel on penalty and moved on to the Group stage of 2016 CAF Champions League.
No other club side in Nigeria has come close to winning the continental trophy after Enyimba won it back-to-back in 2003 and 2004. Of course, it has also been difficult for the People’s Elephant to move up to such lofty heights since 12 years after.
To understand what is responsible for the seemingly growth – decline situation in ths country’s football industry, let us take a critical look at the model driving football in Nigeria and perhaps, compare it with that of Belgium and China.
What Model Drives the football Industry in Nigeria?
Sincerely, I don’t feel any “Think-Tank” committee in Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has ever sat down to look at the model or even make attempts at re-designing it for a more consistent growth in the industry.
Nigeria football has evolved naturally over the years, being fashioned by several forces of change: the Civil war, Globalization and Technology.
The Civil War:
In the 70s,’ Nigeria Football took another shape of someworth unhealthy competition, as clubs were formed and recruited homegrown players based on tribal sentiments – an aftermath of the civil war, which lasted between 1966 – 1970.
And the most popular club rivalry between IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan and Enugu Rangers was born out of tribal cold war between the Yorubas of Western Nigeria and the Ibos from the East.
The followership was tremendous as such classic matches drew spectators in their tens of thousands to the stadium; and with their transtitor Radio,they listened to commentaries as they watched the match live.
In the mid 80.’ Came the concept of globalization, which allowed European countries to let their doors open to more foreign players. And Nigerian locals like Stephen Keshi and Rasheed Yekini led what now became a continuous mass-exodus of quality players, who move abroad for greener pastures.
This tend greatly re-shaped football in Nigeria. First, It weakened the league structure, as any good player discovered is quickly taken away and transferred to a club abroad. The quality of the league began to depreciate drastically and spectators also began to look for alternative sources of quality football.
Technology delivered the solution to Spectators with the introduction of Cable TV. Fans can now follow top-class Nigerian players in Europe through DSTV and SuperSports. The passion grew to the extent that fans began to support teams in the English Premiership and no longer have interest in the local league.
So spectators cluster in several viewing centers across the country to watch matches on Cable TV and that left the stadiums in Nigeria so cold and empty.
The introduction of the Internet in the late 90s, may have compounded the situation as football consumers can now stream live matches on their Smartphones, and enjoyed football in a whole new way through the several social media platforms.
The effect is Nigerian clubs are further impoverished. Ticket and advertising revenues have been reduced to pittance; Sponsors have also abandoned the local league and followed fans to Europe.
Emergence of Interruptive Football Model In Nigeria
Nigeria football have evolved naturally and self-shaped to serve as feeder to teams abroad. While Nigeria has good youth development structure that churn out young talents in large numbers, from several academies scattered across the country. The best of these players are transferred abroad.
The trend brought about an interruptive growth process in the football industry:
· The league isn’t competitive enough to attract spectators and Sponsors due to the massive exodus of quality players.
· The clubs are continually weakened by uncontrolled transfer system and cannot compete favorably in major tournaments like CAF Champions League or FIFA Club World Cup.
· The Senior national team seems to find it difficult to blend, with players called-up from several teams scattered across the world.
In Part two of this case study, We will be looking at Belgium and China football growth model and perhaps, outline what we should do to salvage the football industry in Nigeria.