By
China Acheru
Watching
Enyimba against Zamalek in the CAF Champions League in Cairo was, to say the
least, heart wrenching.
Watching
all Nigerian clubs play in either the CAF Champions League or Confederation Cup
did not give a different feeling.
Enyimba
did not in any way look like a top division side in Nigeria as many street
football sides may have been more coordinated than they were.
And
don’t get me wrong, it was the same with the other clubs that started the race
on the continent this season but Enyimba went the farthest so they are like the
case study in this,
As
usual with Nigerian sides, we hardly could see five passes stringed all game
long’ there also wasn’t a clear cut playing style and generally, the Enyimba
team seemed like the players just met for the first time ever ten  minutes before the kick off.
Do
we blame the coaches for being clueless or do we blame the players for
underperforming (once again).
Do
we blame the management of the club for not signing the right players or
“playing their politics right” on the continent?
In
Nigeria, when an issue that needs investigating occurs, the government sets up
a committee and charges them to find out the remote and immediate causes of the
incident.
Maybe
the immediate causes could be the things mentioned above, but what about remote
causes of the Enyimba’s ouster and the fact that Nigerian clubs cannot go all
the way anymore?
Is it all about
Enyimba or every Nigerian club?

Enter LaLiga/ NPFL
partnership

Rangers’ Obinna Nwobodo against Malaga CF
Watching
the games of the recently concluded LaLiga Tour by a Nigeria Professional
Football League, NPFL All Star side it was obvious that there was little that
happened, Nigerians were not already used to.
We
see it when Nigerian clubs play against the North Africans on the continent and
we see it when our national teams, especially the home based side play on the
continent too.
We
also see it when our clubs play against organized sides from South Africa;
games we may win eventually via grit and brute force but the difference in
style would be very clear.
We
see a situation where the Nigerian team just chase the ball, hoping to win it;
when they eventually the ball, they can only string two, maybe three passes,
then lose the ball again. They continue chasing, win, manage to get the ball on
the wing and try a cross.
Eventually,
the Nigerian side would labour to get a goal, but a lot of these goals are
unplanned and just happen against the run of play.
Every
time a Nigerian club plays against better organized opposition outside the
country it is the same.
How
often have we asked the question, “Why can’t Nigerian clubs pass the ball up to
five or ten times without losing it? Or why can’t we see a clear cut pattern in
our play??
Why,
also can’t our clubs talk about a philosophy the way Louis Van Gaal would speak
of Manchester United (last season), Arsene Wenger of Arsenal and how Brendan
Rodgers would speak while at Liverpool?
The
reason is simply that Nigerian clubs do not have a structure, philosophy or
plan.
Going back down
memory lane
In
the 90s when Joe Erico coached NEPA FC in Lagos they were known as the
Brazilians because of their playing style. Ranchers Bees coached by the
Argentine, Alex Domingues also were known for a particular playing style
similar to how Brazilian sides would play.

Julius
Berger FC then were known as the Germans because of their difficult to beat
defence. They hardly conceded goals in the league back then.
For
Sharks FC, then coached by Monday Sinclair, it was the Tiki Taka we now see at
Barcelona that was their style, but all these got lost as soon as the coaches
who brought that playing style left the clubs.
The
question is how come Barcelona has been able to keep their style, though with a
few modifications since Johan Cryff in the 90s? How come Chelsea have played
similarly since Mourinho to Scolari, Grant, Hiddink etc?
How
come Zamalek and Al Ahly Nationale, both Egyptian sides have played the same
way since the 80s? Is there something these people are doing that our clubs in
Nigeria do not do?
Why
can’t Enyimba have a playing style, exclusive to them? Why can’t MFM, Rivers
United or Kano Pillars boast of the same thing?
How
come our clubs are only “local champions” but the moment they get on the
continent, they are found out?
The Valencia CF
model
Valencia CF’s training ground showing 14 pitches
I
was privileged to have attended a lecture in Valencia on how their club is run.
Firstly
it is important to note that their first team has only 25 players. Half of the
number comes out of their academy; 35% from other clubs in the country and 15%
are international players.
Because
they want to maintain a style and philosophy, the Valencia CF Academy starts
recruiting players from the age of 6 and they train there until they are 19/ 20
and these players, at least those that make the cut join the first team
depending on how good they turn out to be.
Now
the Valencia people believe that if a game is being played by Valencia and the
players do not have their shirts on, you’ll know its Valencia after watching
for just ten minutes because they play the Valencia way.
So
imagine children playing in a particular way and style from the age of six to
twenty. There is no way that style will leave them.
That’s
why these clubs play the same way in spite of who coaches them.
Then
again, at Valencia, before they recruit first team coaches they look at the
style these coaches have exhibited previously and only go for those that will
maintain what they already have on ground.
Now
why was Valencia so compact against the NPFL All Star side?
Education from
infanthood
They
have a culture of education from infanthood to professional cadre. The club has
a history and a structure and the academy has a goal to build players to full
professionals based on style.
The
questions they ask as they sieve through academy players are
1.     What kind of players do we want?
2.     What kind of football do we want?
3.     What coaching type do we want?
These
define how they sieve players who go through the ranks at Valencia.
It
also defines how they get academy coaches which they usually get from their
pool of ex-players.
Their
reasoning is that these ex-players would be able to impart their style to
children more easily since they also were taught and played that style.
From
the age of 6, the academy teaches Creativity, positional specialization and how
to be competitive. How to make decisions and enjoy the game as well as how to
change from individual to collective creativity.
At
infant level which is Age 6 and 7 they just let the children run around with
the ball since it is a formative stage while they look for traits of what they
really want.
But
from 8 they begin to look at creativity and positional specialization.
But
by the time the kids approach 12 years they begin to imbibe the culture of
bravery and winning since football is all about winning.
Valencia’s
philosophy is to attack, to be brave and to put up a good fight. So in
recruiting national players and international too, they watch for those with
these traits. They also search for smartness during games, self-sufficiency,
high technical and tactical capability and they teach the knowledge of being a
professional.
The
training identity of the academy includes creativity, speed play with few
touches and wide situations to give time decisions.
The
point is that these players are taught these things from age 6 until age 19
every training day of the week and by the time they graduate to the first team
that style is part of them.
Is
there any reason why they won’t pass the ball the way they do even when they
have not trained together for a month?
Is
there any reason why they won’t have a clear cut pattern of play?
Back to the
Nigerian clubs
Nigerian
clubs just exist to play League games on weekends to fight for three points and they need to move on from that to actually being football clubs.
Not
one club in Nigeria has an academy so we have not even started.
Not
one club chairman in Nigeria can address the media and discuss the playing,
marketing and administrative philosophy of their clubs.
Not
one can talk about their policy as regards fans engagement.
Nigerian
clubs need to start from the basics and it is not a one year project. If
consistent it should take at least 5 years to begin to show fruit and another
five to materialize.
How
do you get the fans to enjoy your football again? How do you get people eager
to go to the stadium and watch your games?
We
would love to know what Enyimba’s style is, or Kano Pillars etc.
Currently
Rangers FC play some fancy football but will that continue if, say, Imama
Amapakabo leaves next season? Is there a conveyor belt unearthing new talent at
Rangers?
Can
clubs have these conveyor belts if they do not have academies to churn out these
talents as against the current policy of scrambling for the same players on the
transfer market every year?
Why
do Nigerian clubs every year fight to sign the same players and no one comes in
from within?
The
club administrators must move away from a three point game every weekend to
actually setting up structures and this has nothing to do with government
involvement or not.
Result on the
pitch or wholesome approach
Another
fact Nigerian clubs must know is that the result of a football game is only 30%
of what makes a football club.

Chima Akas against Cadiz CF

There
should be lots of fan engagement; the media department should also be able to
generate enough content on daily basis to keep the fans busy and interested;
and once again the focus should be on development from within. There is also
the fact that clubs need to make money for themselves.
If,
say, Ikorodu United know they are on course with five year development plan,
their fans would not get aggressive when then fail to beat Shooting Stars at
home.
And
the same applies to other clubs whose fans see winning as do or die. Winning is
important but building a legacy of a club thereby generating funds and having
fans enjoy your game should be the ultimate.
At
Valencia CF for example, they, the management and fans do not expect to win
every time they play home or away against Real Madrid and Barcelona.
However,
no matter the result, the fans applaud their side if they give them what they
want- Bravery, a good fight and if they play the Valencia way.
Looking at the
positives
A
lot of people still disagree with the League Management Company, LMC on a lot
of things but no one can fault the giant strides the league has had since their
emergence.
It’s
now left for the club chairmen to begin to implement policies that will grow
the game.
Against
Valencia CF last fortnight, the Nigerian team just sat back, chased the game,
won the ball and could do little with the ball after winning it.
That
is not even a bad way to play but you must develop it and be a master of the
style.
Can
a Nigerian club develop counter attacking as their style? Just like Atletico
Madrid and begin to train players to play that way?
General
consensus is that Nigerian football is based on wing play but how many complete
crosses are there in the average league game after the ball gets to the
wingers?
Can
a Nigerian side actually develop wing play as their style and perfect it?
Valencia
must have learned a lot from playing against the NPFL All Star team because
they met a team that was difficult to break as the NPFL side refused to come
forward and certainly they’ll meet teams like that in the course of the season
this year and next.
Against
Malaga, the team decided to come out and play expansive and attacking football
and got punished for it, losing 4-1 but against Atletico Madrid that fielded
most of the players who played in the UEFA Champions League final three months
ago, the Nigerian side maintained their midfield and defensive shape that
frustrated the Spanish giants.
Can a Nigerian
side build on something and be known for it?
Nigerian
club owners and managers should see this LaLiga partnership as a learning curve
for all of them and begin the make changes in the general structure of their
clubs. That way we would see better playing Nigerian sides from 2021.
 

NPFL All Stars v Valencia CF

While
waiting for products of own academies to graduate into the main team, Nigerian
league clubs must change their transfer policies by going for truly young
players. Most of these young players can be sought out from the 2nd and 3rd
tiers of the league, the NNL and NWFL as well as the countless academies all
over the country.
But
clubs must begin to produce their own players.
The
fact that Nigerian clubs begin to be properly structured and run is no
guarantee that they will win the CAF Champions League every year, but maybe
they will play better football that is pleasing to the eyes, the fans would
return to the terraces and then, maybe the trophies will count.
A
popular Nigerian artiste had a hit song in 2015 that had a unique line, “After
the reggae play the blues.”
The
LaLiga Tour is over. After the tour, let us see changes in the way the clubs
are run.

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