By Boye Ajayi
With countries like Egyptian, Tunisian and Ghana winning African continental football events through their clubs, Nigeria, a country considered a force to be reckoned with in the round leather game, is yet to cart home any coveted honour in the last one and half decades.
The two major football competitions being contested by the club sides annually on the continent are African Champions League and Confederations Cup.
According to Persecondnews investigations, in the last 16years, the nation’s football under Nigeria Football Federation (NFF)’s watch has nothing to show for its annual entries, a development which had made a complete mess of its league and Challenge Cup contests from where the representatives emerged.
For instance, the last time a Nigerian club side won a continental honour was in 2004 when Enyimba FC of Aba also known as the Peoples’ Elephants won the Champions League back-to- back, having earlier clinched it in 2003.
This happened when the Peoples’ Elephants after recording a 2-0 victory in Aba, traveled to Egypt to beat Ismail FC by 2-1 right on their soil to lift the trophy again.
Since then it has been abortive attempts all the way for the country’s representatives like Rangers, 3Sc, Rivers United, Plateau United, Kano Pillars among others at one time or the other seeking to redeem their continental image.
Speaking on the development, Segun Odegbami (MON), ex-Super Eagles skipper and a member of IICC (3Sc) Cup Winners Cup winning team in 1976, said it speaks volume of the poor management of our local football.
“How can we do well at the continental level when our local leagues and challenge cup standard is low? It depends on the standard of our league and poor development of the game,” Odegbami said.
He, however, said that for a change, Nigeria needed to inject new blood into the administration of football, explaining that until this is done, nothing good can happen to our continental campaigns.
Another veteran footballer, Felix Owolabi (MON), ex-Eagles star and member of IICC (3Sc) Cup Winners Cup winning team in 1976 was more acerbic in his comments, blaming the development on the poor running of the nation’s football.
“For instance, the League Management is saying that the government is saying we cannot play the game because of Covid-19 and as a result they are awarding continental tickets according to point per match.
“What would those teams selected from an uncompleted league achieve when they go out to represent the country next season?”
Owolabi wondered why Nigeria could not follow the examples of South Africa and European League Managers, who allowed the league matches to be played without the fans.
Owolabi, who is fondly called “Owo Blow” in his playing days in the 70s and 80s, said the nation’s league being controlled by the government has hindered its growth.
“Where are those foreign players who featured in the 70s and 80s? For example, Joe Appiah and Sam Ashante, two Ghanaian players were among the team that won the Cup Winners Cup for Nigeria in 1976, while five foreign players started for Shooting Stars FC when they clinched the maiden MKO Abiola CAF Cup in 1993,” he said.
Owolabi recalled : “Then Togolese, Beninniosse, Ghanaians, Cameroonians and Ivoriens were attracted to our league, thereby making it competitive.”
Also, Mitchel Obi, a former Sports Editor and President of AIPS Africa, who shrugged in a response to the issue of elusive continental honours for Nigerian football, said :“We have done a lot on this, published and organized talks on the elusive Champions League during Dr Ahmed Tijjani’s tenure as NIS Director.’’
Obi, a football analysts, said the simple truth is that Nigeria was ill-prepared to win continental honours, saying “the players with poor welfare are not focused with their eyes always on foreign leagues, while the competition is not competitive.”
“For the past three years running, our league winners have been decided on abridged basis, so how do you want the representatives to do well at continental levels?”
Noting that 20 years after, the Nigerian league which lacks titled sponsorship, was still crawling, Obi described as demeaning the splashing of 12 million dollars on Kenyan League by BetNaija.
“Is their league better than ours? One million dollar prize money will make our players to stay more at home rather than seeking greener pastures everywhere.
Justifying Obi’s allegation of faulty selection process, the authorities have controversially selected Plateau United and Enyimba to represent Nigeria in the Champions League, while Rivers United And Kano Pillars are to play in the Confederations Cup.
Reacting to the development, Seyi Akinwumi, the Vice- President NFF, believed that it had nothing to do with the football ruling body, saying the blame rests on the League Management Committee (LMC) and Club Owners responsible for running the competition.
Akinwumi’s position was reinforced by Demola Olajire, NFF spokesman, who felt that the football body’s role is restricted to
technical support on request, saying it is the clubs and players who should put more efforts and ambition to be victorious.