This has been my stance on the League for a few years now, but I have finally decided to put it down on paper, or rather in a blog post.
Is there really any need for the Nigerian League? Why do we play it? Why do we prepare for it? Is there really any real preparation for the League? Why do we even look forward to it kicking off?
By November 3, 2019, the 2019/20 League season will kick off even though the clubs know there is no broadcast rights owners and no title sponsor so they will once again play another season without prize money, appearance fees and any other perk they think they should be getting.
The players are happy, though that they can get back to playing football.
A story to tell
By the time Clemens Westerhof qualified Nigeria for the AFCON and World Cup in 1994, it was obvious he had no use for players based in the league anymore.
This was partly because most of those he started with had become foreign-based and also that those left in the League were not good enough.
Remember that at Westerhof’s first AFCON four years earlier in 1990, he used fifteen out of eighteen players from the home league.
But after that, no coach that came to Nigeria as much as looked at the league for players and the story told was that the League was not good enough.
This story was told by the coaches, the Football Federation people and the media. The populace had no choice but to go with the story that the league was not good enough, but this is not even the point.
Shaibu Amodu circa 2009 was lynched by the media when he said the Nigerian League players were not good enough for the Eagles and would need at least three months to recreate their mentality for the National Team.
Some journalists said he insulted the league and he should be able to mould the players into what he wanted if he was a good coach. In 2019, ten years later, Gernot Rohr has not just said the same thing, he does not even bother about the league and hardly even talks about it, because he basically knows it will be a waste of his breath.
Amodu made this statement sometime in 2009, nineteen years after Westerhof took fifteen home-based players to the AFCON and finished in second place. If the league stopped being good enough in 1994, was fourteen years not enough to change it? Or at least set a plan in motion to improve the league? Between that period, Nigeria had Emeka Omeruah (1993 – 1997), Abdulmumini Aminu (1997 – 1999), Kojo Williams (1999), Dominic Oneya (1999 – 2002), Ibrahim Galadima (2002 – 2006), Sani Lulu (2006 – 2010) and not one of them did anything of note to improve the league because it seemed easier to invite ready-made players in Europe to play for Nigeria. Why did we need players from the League anyway? Why did we need a good league?
Stephen Keshi became the coach in 2011 and was determined to use players from the league in spite of the obvious challenges, but even he knew that it was a bridge too far.
Rather than get support from the media or the Federation, there was always one story or the other planted about how the players were not good enough and how he may have been using behind the curtain means to get them in to play for the Eagles in order to market them.
Who then can save the league?
Rather than build a ten or twenty-year plan to ensure that the Nigerian League improved, it was easier to just invite the next player that scored a goal for some random club in Europe or Asia and continue to push the propaganda that the players in the League were not good enough. In 2014 at the World Cup, the Nigerian media and the NFF chieftains still suggested that the league was not good enough to produce players for the National team. 2014 was twenty years after Clemens Westerhof took eighteen home-based players to the AFCON. There was no need to take home-based players out for any championship so no need looking at the League.
When Vincent Enyeama quit the Super Eagles, Nigeria had to go to Carl Ikeme simply because he played in Europe (this takes nothing away from his qualities). There was really no need looking at the League. Before Vincent quit, his deputies were Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Daniel Akpeyi who we knew they were not good enough but we just kept on inviting them, why?
At the time Carl Ikeme got ill, we had to go to the lower rungs of the league in Portugal to get Dele Alampasu because there was no need even thinking of a goalkeeper from the League and the point of this is simple- if twenty league clubs cannot give you one goalkeeper then why do we have them in existence? Why do they pay salaries and play thirty eight games each every season if twenty of them cannot produce just one goalkeeper for the Super Eagles?
Just before the World Cup in Russia, the National team needed a left full-back, but twenty league clubs could not produce one, so why is the league there in the first place?
The media continued that the league was not good enough like their friends in the NFF had told them but no one spoke about how to make the league better. We all agree that the league is not good enough to produce players for the national team and this should not even be an argument, but we have been saying this for twenty-five years. At what point in our lives do we tell ourselves that we can rebuild the league?
Is there a plan?
There is no doubt that the Nigerian League is rubbish and not worth the time wasted to write about it ( I am crying here), but haven’t we been saying this since 1994?
At what point do we tell ourselves that it is time to fix the league?
Whenever people like us talk about the Nigerian League, the clap back from the other side is that “Players in the league are not good enough for the Super Eagles” and they begin to compare them person by person, but they never suggest a plan for the League?
Why do we really play the league?
Amaju Pinnick as NFF president wowed us with his initial plan to make Nigerian Football self-sufficient financially, but he fell into the same black hole as his predecessors where he believed that the measure of success as a Federation is the number of tournaments you qualify for, rather than football development.
So you hear Pinnick and his other EXCO members talk about tournaments the different national teams have qualified to play in, but shouldn’t the talk be about real development of the game?
Can any president of the Nigeria Football Federation really be termed a success without a League in the country? And with this, I am not ignoring the off the pitch squabbles in the Federation, but we must stop and think for a while. Then how can we truly say the game has developed if there is no league in existence? And if we agree that there is no league in existence why this charade about to start on the 3rd of November?
Rohr can’t be blamed for not thinking of the NPFL
Gernot Rohr became coach and has taken his scouting to another level. For him it is not even about foreign-based players but those who do not have ties to Nigeria by birth. So it has been the likes of Maduka Okoye, Ola Aina, William Troost Ekong, Leon Balogun, Bryan Idowu, Joe Aribo etc.
Yes, as usual, the league is not good enough, the same statement that was made in 1994 when the Super Eagles went to the World Cup.
For twenty-five years we have been saying the league is not good enough and I do not blame Rohr for turning his back on it. These days we now have foreign-based players in the U-17 team.
Rohr will not fix the league for us, the same way no national team coach will, as it is the job of the Federation to do this.
The question is, when will the league be good enough? In 2085, when my first grandson son is NFF president? No, it will not be good enough because I believe he will still say the League is not good enough because we will still not bother about the NPFL or whatever name it will be called then.
As much as we know the league is not good enough to produce players for the Super Eagles, is there a plan to improve it, twenty-five years after this statement was first made publicly?
Imama and the CHAN ouster
Nigeria got what we deserved. And we do not deserve to play at the CHAN. If Nigeria had mysteriously won, we would have forgotten all our problems and celebrated like we won the World Cup, but did we deserve to win?
Who are the players? Who are the coaches? Who are the administrators? Where are the pitches and what is the plan for it?
Have you noticed that in the last five years players from Nigeria who have made it to decent clubs in Europe did not even play in the league? Isaac Success, Taiwo Awoniyi, Victor Osimhen, Kelechi Iheanacho, Wilfred Ndidi etc? The ones that played in the league have only ended up in North Africa and returned after two years, so what really is the Nigerian league? Can someone help tell me what the Nigerian League is?
The Nigerian league is indeed not good enough and no coach that wants to win will touch players from a system that has not just crashed but is non-existent, but at what point do we tell ourselves that we want the league to be relevant in, say, five, ten or fifteen years?
A quick answer- as long as Nigerians continue to relocate abroad and have male offspring who play football, there will be no need for the league.
So what then is the point of this fight for three points every weekend? What?
Stop the League
Let us all sit at home and tell ourselves the truth. Let us begin proper planning. if need be, let us beg corporate Nigeria. Apologise to them for the mess of the past and plead that they come in.
Let us do away with the Club chairmen that know nothing about the game (believe me there are a lot of knowledgeable club chairmen).
This may mean no CAF Champions League football until we are ready. Let us format the system, start from the beginning, the basics and rebuild our football.
Yes, people will be out of jobs, footballers will suffer, but it will be for the greater good. There is nothing to offer in the League. When it kicks off I will not bother to watch any game because it will be better to watch wet paint dry than those things we call league games.
Unless I just want to increase my numbers as I am chasing 2000 games at the Stadium, but the quality is worse than what I played in secondary school so it is time for a re-boot.