INTERVIEW: How to develop football in Nigeria – Onigbinde

Nigeria needs to embrace grassroots development starting from remote parts of the country if it wants to develop its football potentials, Festus Onigbinde, a former Super Eagles coach and FIFA/CAF Technical Instructor, has said.

In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES in Abuja, the 77 years old football development enthusiast also called on the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, to embrace local government competitions and develop football talents.

PT: What is the way forward as it seems the U20 is the only good football team in Nigeria

Onigbinde: In accordance to the FIFA statutes, and going by FIFA regulations the first objective for any football organization is to develop the game and that’s the first objective according to FIFA statutes. You use competition to assess level of development. A national team should be made up of home based while foreign based should only reinforce. I still maintain that we should concentrate more on development, if you develop adequately and well, good results will come later and will be permanent and if you don’t develop, well, you will continue to fail.

PT: What about the foreign based players, how do we introduce them into the team?

Onigbinde: What is so special in this foreign based players that we don’t have in Nigerian born and groomed. Infact, it will pay us better because we will be developing them along the line of our natural endowments by the Almighty, and that is what makes the difference. Because these boys in Europe go through systematic programmes over there and why can’t we replicate the same thing in Nigeria so that we have better chances.

PT: How can developments be made visible in Nigeria, how do we go about it?

Onigbinde: You are not developing but accessing, what are you accessing? That was what I first told Sani Lulu when we first discussed this issue and that we are going to set up U13 and I said that is not development, the first thing is development, teach them how to play first, and that’s why we are in trouble now. That is why we depend entirely on foreign based player which is wrong, the nucleus of a national team should be home based, so that they will formulate a national policy and culture of football, and I believe that the incoming president whom I know is a sports man will support this, and if a teacher goes into a class and starts with a test, he will need his head examined. That’s what we are doing in our football, we are not developing, we are organizing competitions to access. What are we trying to find out. It is just unusual, that’s what we are doing with our football.

PT: How can we run football properly in Nigeria?

That is why I say most of the time that instead of running football we are ruining football, the talents are there and we are not polishing the talents, they are there like gold in the goldmine. If you go to the bush to get raw gold, you will be lucky to get solid pieces. Before it can become necklace, earrings, it has to pass through fire and that is what our talents have to pass through and its not a difficult thing, people are just not focused on that area, most unfortunate.

You’ll reduce juvenile delinquency. Each ward in each local government should have a football team, If you have 21 wards in a local government, about 20 players can come together to compete, to form or select a zonal team. The zonal team will meet at the national level, select a Nigerian team and with that you’ll be sure to have got the best players from the grassroots from the remotest parts of the country which is possible. And when you organize a competition, you have to monitor the competition. Pick outstanding players, when these list comes to Abuja they will collate their names. I can raise a team that will represent Nigeria within Abuja alone because the talents are there.

PT: What are the modules of football development in saving our dwindling Football?

Onigbinde: Look at this, what’s the population of Cape Verde, about half a million and they are ahead of us in FIFA rankings. Nigeria should present a team that can represent Nigerians, if we get our developmental programmes together and well, and first problem we have is this developmental program which has to be engineered by the Technical Department. The Technical Department has been relegated to nothingness in our football administration, and sports administration in general and that is the nerve centre. That’s the focus. If you want to achieve in sports you must care about the technical department and they must be given the rightful position. So that they’ll be able to monitor and organize.

PT: What about school children, how can they balance school and football?

Onigbinde: A boy leaves school at two and he knows he has football training at four o’ clock because the concentration is on that football, he will be there then and very excited, he will always look forward to it. There’s another advantage, interested people will be there as well to watch. So in the next two hours, you won’t see him elsewhere, you have taken him out off the street from joining bad company, then your are building healthier citizens with education.

In 1983, I started from the scratch even when I was going to world cup, I started from home, that was what brought people like Enyeama and others. The talents are there but we are not organized enough to nurture them and polish them into stars. In fact, we are retrogressing instead of progressing.

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