Sikiru Olatunbosun and the NPFL shot heard round the world

The MFM FC striker has become an internet sensation, just what the domestic league needs to promote itself as a veritable entertainment for Nigerians

COMMENT    By Lolade Adewuyi       Follow on Twitter

Permit me to use that well-worn headline but it is an apt one for a topic such as this, in a time such as this. Sikiru Olatunbosun has become an internet sensation because his goal (without using any adjectives) has been seen around the world.

It was a routine Nigeria Professional Football League game that was hardly envisaged as an important event in the life of Lagos’ 15-20 million inhabitants. Even the 4000-seater Agege Stadium was not full as many could not be bothered that the reigning Nigerian champions, Enugu Rangers, were in town.

MFM FC, residents of the stadium for the last two years, can hardly call themselves a household name despite being the sole Premier League football team in Lagos, Nigeria’s vibrant commercial capital and centre of culture and Nollywood, arguably Africa’s greatest export to the world.

In Nigeria, domestic football is hardly considered entertainment. It is seen as physical activity and continues to struggle to make headway in a country where it has to compete with church time, mosque time, Nollywood, Afrobeats and the EPL.

Domestic football leagues have been endangered species in Nigeria for a long time since the 1990s when military rule and poor administration ensured that fans were pushed to supporting European football led by the behemoths of the English Premier League and the Uefa Champions League. And once Nigerian footballers became regular fixtures in the EPL and UCL, all our hearts and love were given out to the better-packaged football of Europe. Nigerians became more passionate about Chelsea than Londoners living in that neighbourhood.

However, there is a resurgence of domestic football once again and it was highlighted by Olatunbosun’s goal against Rangers on the night of Friday, February 25, 2017. The shot heard around the world was an impressive team effort that was finished off by a player whose ability to control the ball and shoot at goal is being hailed already as a contender for the Fifa Puskas Goal of the Year award.

Olatunbosun’s goal has been listed by CNN as a contender for their Goal of the Week prize. The goal has been published on the websites of some of the world’s leading sports media: France’s L’Equipe called it 'magnifique'; Spain’s El Mundo Deportivo named it El golazo de la jornada; Brazil’s Globo named it Candidato ao Puskas and Italy’s La Gazetta dello Sport called it remarkably, a ‘supergol’.

The advent of television broadcasting brought good things to sport. It enabled more people to be able to consume sport beyond the confines of the stadium. Even though the early American sport entrepreneurs felt that live matches on television would reduce the number of people in the stadium to see their teams. Time has proven them wrong. Television has become an important part of the growth of the multi-billion dollar global sport industry with broadcast rights accounting for the bulk of earnings for leagues and tournament organisers.

Perhaps the problem with the Nigerian league in the 1990s and 2000s was its inability to get matches onto TV screens across the country as the government-owned NTA became nothing but a mouthpiece, losing the ability to invest in veritable entertainment that could keep local audiences interested.

The growth of cable and satellite broadcasting allowed the well-packaged leagues of Europe an easy entrance into our collective psyches until we began to see ourselves as first Arsenal and Manchester United fans, naming our children after European players while looking down on our own league. This encouraged our best players to leave our shores in pursuit of fame and better pay and adulation, because a prophet is not respected at home.

Like television, the advent of social media has made it easier for a shot in Agege to be seen around the world. Imagine if SuperSport had not shown that game (one of three broadcasts weekly) and the footage had not been posted on Twitter, the world would not have seen and come to appreciate the beauty of Olatunbosun’s goal. Right now more people have seen that goal than ever watched all of MFM FC’s games over their last two seasons playing at the Agege Stadium. 

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Does this mean that there would be more fans to see their next game? While it is possible, there is also a need for clubs to improve their marketing in order to ensure local interest in their games. For MFM FC, they have been presented a unique selling proposition by the name of Sikiru Olatunbosun. He should be on TV and radio before their next game asking fans to come out and watch them.

Just like the NBA created a communication strategy and built its popularity around Michael Jordan in the 1980s and 90s, the NPFL has a well-recognised name on its roster right now. The league needs big-name players that can bring fans to games. What the NPFL does with him and other budding stars will determine their ability to promote the domestic league and ensure it becomes a household product.

Fate does not offer too many chances. Olatunbosun could become the first real super star of the modern Nigerian domestic game or he could be lost in the next transfer window. But there is an opportunity to create a good sport product and it has been provided for the moment.