Nigerian coach, Adebayo Gbadebo, plies his trade in the Thai League. The 46-year-old Gbadebo holds a Pro coaching licence and has been coaching in Thailand since 2004. He became the head coach of Suphanburi FC in 2017 and his team is sixth on the Thai League 1 table after four weeks of action.
In a chat with PREMIUM TIMES, the University of Ibadan Sociology graduate explains the reason why Nigerian football seems mired in the past and is under-developed.
PT: What would you say to Ndubuisi Egbo’s success in Albania and Didier Drogba’s failure to become Cote d’Ivoire’s FA president?
Gbadebo: Egbo was my teammate in the U-23 national team in 1991 and 1992 under Coach James Peters, from where he left for NEPA FC of Lagos and I am so happy for him. He is an example of the kind of talent Nigeria possesses.
I pray he continues to succeed in Albania and beyond. For Drogba, I also say congratulations. Many will say he lost but I tell you, it is a great beginning. We need more people like him – his is a drop but when many drops come together, they will form a big river of water.
Many more Africans in the diaspora must go back home to join the reconstruction of their countries. Each and every one of us cannot continue to complain without putting our hands to the plough. We must not allow our passion for our countries to be discouraged by petty politics and though we might fail initially, in the end, we will succeed.
PT: Can you expound on what you mean by passion?
Gbadebo: I cannot explain this properly without letting you into how I started my career. As the first person in my family to get a university admission, I needed to set a good example of finishing even though my dad knew I was good in the game. When I gained admission to the University of Ibadan, my father told me to forget the game.
Unfortunately, or fortunately for me, being a good footballer guaranteed good accommodation and because of that I started playing for Mellanby Hall, and from there with the school team. I was then playing for Railways FC, in Ibadan, who decided to move the club to Lagos.
Herein lies the meaning of passion. I would leave U.I at 5:30 a.m. to Lagos for training, and straight after training, I would be on the way back to meet some lectures. Sometimes, I had to be back in Lagos in the evening to play matches – and many stories were like mine at that time. People sacrificed a lot to play the game and it can only be said to have been fueled by love and passion for the game.
At this point, I have to mention that I found myself in a group in my year 1 at the University, who did a lot to help me graduate on time, without carryovers. This group of four loved me playing football and they just supported me a lot. I still want to find these four people because since we left the university, we have not crossed paths.
PT: What is the difference between football in the late 80s and 90s to what we have now?
Gbadebo: The major difference is passion. When I played for Railway of Lagos, Eagle Cement of Port Harcourt, we played because of the passion we had for the game, and not necessarily for the money. In those days, even playing in the second division meant some good money.
PT: What is the difference between passion-minded and business-minded?
Gbadebo: What I mean is that when you are doing business, you cannot continue to put money on a venture that has no return on investment. Passion is what makes players play without salaries and matches are played on artificial pitches. If it is about business, our players will not play on surfaces that are not used in FIFA competitions.
This is why clubs like Enugu Rangers, Shooting Stars are still playing in government-owned stadia. I coach a team in Thailand’s premier league and we have our own stadium and our own training facilities. For emphasis, this is a club that was created in 2008.
All of us who are not happy with the league are not getting involved. But this is our country and we will just allow these people to keep on doing things that will not improve the league.
We have many business-minded people that can come into the management of the game and make it a business. For example, check these teams who we are complaining of not paying players – go and check it, they sell players to Europe every year and they make at least $100,000 – so where is the money?
The monies are unavailable because the clubs are not run like a business. The problem is probably not government, it is the people put in charge, who are bereft of vision. the fact is that instead of pilfering the little they make, and embezzling monies made – these administrators can make so much more if they run their clubs as a business.
Insecurity, visionless, and poverty-mentality awesome of the characteristics that have led us to this backward thinking cul-de-sac we find ourselves. Having stolen so much and packed it in a bank account does not mean one is rich. These administrators will continue to live poor amongst the players because they owe them money. How is that life?
Let me use this analogy – the state of Nollywood and Nigerian comedians. People attend comedy shows where some tables command about N1 million – in one night. What is not debatable is the fact that Nigerians are more passionate about football than either Nollywood or comedy shows.
But they have turned these into world-class events, where patrons are made to feel secure, and are treated to quality service. People are well taken care of. These guys are not necessarily better than ‘Baba Sala’ or ‘Aderupoko’ (comedians in the 70s and 80s) but their stage has changed. To get our football to this level – we need change; in our mentality, vision, and preparation.
This is what they are doing in Thailand. We cannot be talking about this next level while playing on AstroTurf. FIFA will not stage any World Cup on AstroTurf. How can we expect to produce players good enough for the world stage when they are playing on AstroTurf? That is the visionless nature of our administrators – what does it take to have a good and natural playing surface? It only shows our tardiness and unreadiness for moving to the next level.
When an entity gulps about N80 million in a year and there are no returns – what do you expect again from the benefactor? Even if I have billions – one day, I will just get tired. If I invest the same money in building an events centre or rearing rabbits, I will get some return on my investment.
The government, private individuals, and companies are tired, and this situation will remain in place as long as administrators think only of their passion and that of the players. Passion alone will not sustain or develop football in Nigeria – we must move the game forward by thinking like business people.