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Samson Siasia

(Opinion) Siasia, NFF and the U23 team by Tayo Ogunbiyi

Samson Siasia
Samson Siasia

Samson Siasia is the Chief Coach of the country’s Under 23 male football team, popularly referred to as ‘Dream Team’. In a month’s time, in Senegal, at the African U-23 Nations Cup tourney, the team is saddled with the enormous task of securing a ticket to represent the country at the football event of Rio 2016 Olympic Games. It will be recalled that the team did not qualify for same event at the London 2012 Olympics.
A few days ago, Coach Siasia raised alarm over the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF’s inattentiveness to the dilemma of his team as it prepares for the African U23 Nations Cup championship. Siasia revealed that the management of the NFF has abandoned his team with no resources to adequately prepare for the tournament. He said: “Nobody from the football federation is concerned about our daily welfare in the camp. At times, we fuel vehicles to carry us to training. We have not been paid in the last three months, while we’re being owed allowances”.
As football fans were trying to dissect the sordid revelation from Siasia, a bombshell came from the nation’s football house. And this is to the effect that plans are already in advanced stage by the NFF to relieve Siasia of his job. His offence? Daring to expose the inefficiency of the football body! Indeed, there are indications that a replacement for Siasia has already been found. Not many, however, believe that the coach could actually stand the risk of losing his job just for drawing public attention to the gross neglect of the team by the NFF.
Some have argued that Siasia shouldn’t have cried out over the matter. Their position being that the coach ought to have availed himself of official communication channels with his employers. Siasia, who was capped 51 times for the senior national team, the Super Eagles, with 13 goals, and was part of the team that participated in the 1994 FIFA World Cup and won the 1994 African Nations Cup, has, however, revealed that his efforts to draw the attention of the NFF to the predicament of his team had yielded no tangible results. He said: “Sadly, NFF keeps telling us that there is no money without giving reasons for this. It has gotten to the situation that I won’t just sit down quietly and die; I’m tired of the system”.
It could, therefore, be argued that Siasia’s outburst was actually borne out of frustration after he had unsuccessfully exhausted available official channels. In crying out, Siasia might have hoped to achieve three things. One, draw attention of the public to the neglect of his team. Second, he must have anticipated a positive change of attitude from the NFF. Third, he wanted to put it on record so that soccer crazy Nigerians will not hold him responsible if the team fails. This much was revealed when he said: “I want Nigerians to know that I won’t be responsible for any bad result that may come out of our campaign in the African U-23 Nations Cup. I should not be held responsible for whatever happens at the championship”.
Ultimately, two things are quite apparent. First, Siasia was given a task to perform by the NFF. Second, the NFF did not give him the necessary assistance to succeed on the task. Now, what exactly did the NFF want him to do in that circumstance? Continue to suffer in silence and bear his cross? Won’t that be a recipe for suicide? In the first place, the NFF actually has no moral right to issue the coach a query when it was obvious that the body has failed woefully in its own duty. If at all anyone should get a query over the issue, it ought to be the NFF for criminal neglect. Why should the coach be punished for drawing public attention to the plight of his team?
If it is actually true that NFF officials are really planning to relieve Siasia of his job, then members of the National Assembly must urgently intervene in the matter. Rubbishing Siasia portends a serious danger to our football as he has contributed significantly to the development of football in our country. As a player and coach, Siasia has excelled. He was among the U20 football team that represented Nigeria at the junior World Cup in Moscow 83. He was a member of the senior national team, the Super Eagles, for over ten years. As a coach, he had taken the U23 team to the final of the Olympic football event winning silver for the country in 2008. As the coach of the U20 team, he took the team to the final of the World Cup in 2007 losing narrowly to Argentina. He had equally had a stint as the Chief Coach of the Super Eagles.
Considering his pedigree as a footballer and coach, the NFF needs to treat Siasia with a little respect. Issuing him a query for speaking out his mind is, to say the least, disrespectful. Why should we still be practicing slave trade in this age? It is only a slave that can be flagrantly denied his rights and yet not be expected to complain. Is Siasia a slave in his own country? In as much as the Coach wasn’t accusing the football body fallaciously, officials of the NFF should have swallowed their pride by swiftly addressing some of the salient issues he had raised.
Perhaps, more importantly, the NFF needs to deal with the issue of double standard in its dealings with all the national teams. When the Chief Coach of the Super Eagles, Sunday Oliseh, was recently unveiled, officials of the NFF revealed that his wages for some months have already been paid into his account; even while he hasn’t worked for one day. Isn’t this rather hypocritical when placed side by side how the NFF treats coaches of other national teams? Why was Oliseh singled out for such preferential treatment while others are grossly neglected? Come to think of it, what is the coaching pedigree of Oliseh when compared to that of Siasia and other coaches that are being neglected?
A major issue that would continue to generate rift between football administrators, coaches and players has always been lack of trust. The coaches and players don’t trust the soccer administrators because they believe the later are not always forthright in their dealings. The way forward is for soccer administrators to embrace transparency and integrity in order to earn the confidence of coaches, players and football fans.
It would be more appropriate, for future purposes, to ensure that team spirit is not distracted with the issues of money and other such engrossing stuffs. News of bickering over money matters, a recurring occurrence, only goes to show us as a people that lack adequate and effective planning. It is a shame that a country of Nigeria’s stature would camp players for a very important national assignment without sorting out such vital details that concern remuneration. It is, therefore, important that the two parties promptly sit down to map out the way forward for the U23 team. Considering the urgency of the next assignment, consolidating on the recent exploits of Siasia and his boys is, perhaps, the most ideal path to follow.

Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.

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