By Ed Dove
Once again questions of finances and bonuses have raised their ugly head within the African game, and threatened to derail Nigeria’s preparations for this summer’s Confederations Cup. While the situation has now been resolved, the whole fiasco has again tarnished the continent’s football, and brought the Nigerian Federation’s failings under the spotlight.
Yesterday, rumours emerged that the Nigerian team were boycotting the upcoming Confederations Cup due to a disagreement about the bonuses owed to the players. The discord was given very vivid expression as the national side refused to board the waiting aeroplane, flight SA075 from Namibia to Johannesburg, from where they were to continue to Brazil.
The fact that the Super Eagles made their stance in such dramatic fashion certainly helped to publicise their point, but it also highlighted the shambolic nature of the whole situation.
African national sides are no strangers to financial rows; the Togolese team almost completely undermined their first appearance at a World Cup by disputing their bonuses, while Cameroon and Ghana are just two other nations who have endured very public disagreements concerning money.
The Super Eagles themselves have form in this department. Thursday’s wrangle brought back vibrant memories of their previous battle over finances. In 2007 the same approach was employed, with the players refusing to travel to Uganda ahead of an Afcon qualifier.
Nigeria Coach Stephen Keshi
The NFF’s financial mire has deepened ever since the ignominy of that previous public dispute.
At the 2013 Cup of Nations, the players were accompanied by a sprawling entourage that included a team coordinator, a team secretary, a psychologist and a video analyst. Unable to support the wages and travelling costs that accompanied all of these backroom personnel, cuts were made following the Afcon triumph, with six members of staff losing their positions.
Bonuses were also cut, and both acts of austerity left a deep rift between players and remaining coaches, and administrative figures. This has been one of the key factors in the pervasive negativity that has enveloped the Super Eagles since their glorious victory in South Africa.
While the fact that bonuses were being reduced - from $10,000 to $2,500 - hasn’t gone down well, a deeper issue lies in the approach and execution of the move by the NFF. Senior players were reportedly unhappy, quite naturally, at the decision being taken without their having been consulted.
The move to take such a public stance was not a rash, spur of the moment choice, but had been long in the planning, with the team intending to focus on their recent World Cup qualifiers, before making a stand before the Confederations Cup.
Eventually, Sports Minister Alhaji Bolaji Abdullahi intervened and reached a compromise with the key protagonists. Subsequently, the players reconsidered their strike, and have agreed to head to Brazil, where they are due to play Tahiti on Monday evening.
While the news is a relief to Fifa, CAF and Nigerian fans, it is only a short-term reconciliation, and Super Eagles observers should be wary of future upheaval.
|Many had hoped that Stephen Keshi’s revolutionary approach would change things for the better - this latest dispute is a major setback for their aspirations.|
The fact that the NFF struggles for resources is clearly an issue, with the Nigerian paper Vanguard yesterday going as far as to suggest they are actually “broke”. The players might need to become more sensitive to the fiscal realities of their federation - particularly after revelations that the NFF contemplated removing their representatives from the Championship of African Nations (the continental competition for domestic-based players) due to lack of funds.
The public image of the federation clearly needs to be improved, as an absence of transparency, and suspected corruption has marred NFF’s relationship with the fanbase and with potential international sponsors. This permanent disconnect has led to chronic instability within the team, and a lack of credible funding for the national setup. Many had hoped that Stephen Keshi’s revolutionary approach would change things for the better - this latest dispute is a major setback for their aspirations.
The Super Eagles are limping, rather than marching, over the line in their World Cup qualifying group, but that particular focus will doubtless be put on hold as the team prepare for the Confederations Cup. The loss of important midfielder Ogenyi Onazi was buried in the commotion of yesterday, and it remains to be seen what state Nigeria are in as they finally head to Brazil.