Time to end Amaju’s picnic

Olumide Iyanda

Buzz by Olumide Iyanda

Email: olumide@qed.ng Twitter: @mightyng

The joke that is the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) under Amaju Pinnick would have been hilarious if it wasn’t about as funny as entering a one chance bus.

From 37th position in the world and 6th in Africa on the FIFA ranking for September 2014, the month the former Delta State Football Association boss became NFF chairman, Nigeria was reduced to celebrating 62nd in the world and 11th in Africa last month.

If sitting below Cape Verde (with an estimated population of 525 491), Cote d’Ivoire, Algeria, Ghana, Tunisia, Senegal, Egypt, Congo DR, Congo and Cameroon did not give Nigerian football lovers a reason to despair, failing to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) back-to-back is considered a hanging offence.

And Pinnick is ready to hang anybody but himself. Playing to the Nigerian escapist tendency to focus on the intangible, the NFF boss said Nigeria played a 1-1 draw with Egypt on Good Friday because it was destined to be so. And we thought calling Sunday Oliseh Pep Guardiola of Africa was the most laughable statement that could come out of his mouth!

Well, it wasn’t destiny that caused Nigeria’s ouster; it was justice. The Super Eagles lost the Afcon ticket long before the first leg of their encounter with the Pharaohs in Kaduna. Our ship to Gabon 2017 set sail with a disgruntled Stephen Keshi in charge, it hit iceberg under Sunday Oliseh and went down the sea of unfulfilled dreams under Samson Siasia.

Keshi had his faults. He was bossy and brooked no dissent. But he managed to drag the Super Eagles to continental glory in 2013 and the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup. His undoing was not knowing when to walk away.

The Big Boss announced his resignation as Nigeria head coach the day after securing a 1-0 victory over Burkina Faso in the 2013 Afcon final. Lack of respect by the NFF and the fact that a foreign coach had been approached to take over his job were two of the reasons he gave for the shock move. If his decision to quit was brash, his reversal of the resignation was naïve.

It was only a matter of time before the former national team skipper lost his invincibility. His eventual sack in July 2015 was applauded by the same set of fans who were once ready to declare a fatwa on the NFF for his sake.

Among the liabilities Pinnick inherited from the Aminu Maigari-led NFF was a grumpy coach and an unmotivated team.

Given the manner with which he defeated old timers like Chris Giwa, Amanze Uchegbulam, Taiwo Ogunjobi, Mike Umeh and Dominic Iorfa in a battle that saw electoral chief, Samson Ebomhe, arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS), ‘newcomer’ Pinnick probably thought fixing the problem was as easy as going on a picnic.

“I have already received calls from top corporate directors saying they will support us just by the names on the new NFF board, a clear indication that there is light and positivity ahead,” he declared.

With former President Goodluck Jonathan, who was seen as Keshi’s godfather, out of power and the wind of change blowing across the country, Pinnick had little problem sweeping Keshi away.

What followed was the ‘Keeping up with Sunday Oliseh’ reality show.

Like a girl who couldn’t dance but blamed the band for not knowing how to play, the former Ajax midfielder sold himself to the NFF via his punditry. Taking thinly veiled digs at Keshi, Oliseh made coaching the national team look easy on television. He spoke with the ease of a diva playing video game.

In a classic case of the Pink Cloud Syndrome, Pinnick sanctioned Oliseh’s appointment as Keshi’s replacement and went on to declare him the Pep Guardiola of Africa. That infantile statement was only matched by the gaffer’s declaration that only those who played regular first division football would make his team.

But it was the same poison in a different bottle. The senior national team wobbled and fumbled under Oliseh who attracted more attention on social media than he did in the dugout. NFF still owed salaries and allowances, and did not accept responsibility for the mess it created.

For daring to go on a “media outburst” over unpaid salaries and bonuses before the 2016 Olympics qualifying tournament in Senegal, Siasia was issued a query in October and told to explain why disciplinary action should not be taken against him. A similar civil service type query was given to Vincent Enyeama in June for questioning the choice of Kaduna as venue of Super Eagles AFCON qualifying match against Chad.

Siasia won the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations in spite of the shenanigans in the NFF; Oliseh failed to progress beyond the group stage at the 2016 African Nations Championship (CHAN). The latter then went on a YouTube rant against “insane” critics calling for his sack before dumping the national team on February 26, one month to the AFCON clash with the Pharaohs.

With the odds stacked against the Super Eagles, a brash and boastful NFF still assured Nigerians of victory after Siasia was drafted as interim Super Eagles coach. While the Egyptians plotted their strategy, self entitled Nigerians called on the god of soccer to see us through.

An association who could not control the crowd at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium probably thought the North Africans would play with their hands tied at the back. It turned out that like Samson with his hair shaven, Siasia was helpless against his more settled opponents who went about their business without sentiment.

Nigeria was shown the way out of AFCON, and Pinnick did not only blame destiny; his board also accused CAF of changing the rules midway after Chad withdrew from the competition.

The anti-CAF outburst, perfunctory apology and refusal to admit that Oliseh was a recruitment error demonstrate how disconnected the NFF is from reality. Unfortunately, we are stuck with this set till 2018.

FIFA rules does not allow for government or any other form of interference with the running of football, so there is no point asking the Minister of Sport, Solomon Dalung, to sack Pinnick. The government can, however, prevent the NFF from taking the kneejerk decision of appointing a foreign coach just for the fun of it.

Nigeria has done well in junior cadre competitions under local coaches, but has not done enough to build a structure that will translate that to success at the most senior level.

Hiring a foreign coach without changing the attitude at the Glass House is like switching seats on the Titanic.

Football administration requires honesty, careful planning and hard work.

It is not a walk in the park or going on a picnic.