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Russia 2018: Before the knives are drawn

As we prepare for Russia 2018 World Cup

Amaju Pinnick

Russia 2018 World Cup is 83 days away. Everyone seems convinced that the Super Eagles will do well at the Mundial, unlike in the past when our preparations were dogged by bickering among Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) members, sports ministers struggling to hijack the federation’s duties, as well as wrangling among the players and coaches. Nigerians were left unimpressed. Of course, Eagles never did well.

The fragile peace among football faithful as we countdown to the world’s biggest sporting activity is hinged on the fact that issues which heated up the polity have been settled, with oil giant Aiteo Group  paying N581 million ($600,000 and N370 million) to coaches, including the Eagles technical crew. The players’ and officials’ allowances and match bonuses have been settled. Besides, the players and their coaches were at the meeting where they agreed with NFF chieftains what they should be paid during the Mundial, beginning with Nigeria’s opening game against Croatia on June 16. The government has the report, which is good. So, we know who to blame when things go awry.

My take on this is that the Federal Government should ensure that the agreement is fulfilled. We are tired of Nigeria being the laughing stock at the World Cup because of our players going on strike for their entitlement. The government should direct the sports minister to allow the federation handle cash disbursement. If the minister feels strongly that any cash is misappropriated, he is free to petition the relevant bodies to prosecute those liable. The idea of the minister paying sportsmen and women at international competitions is not only an aberration, but a laughable act. Our ministers should learn to trust their subordinates like the President does with them.

Interestingly, NFF men have made accountability sacrosanct by allowing renowned financial agencies that brokered the deals to handle the disbursements. What the federation’s chiefs  are doing now is to make requests based on what was agreed when the cash was sourced. They get what they want after due diligence by the financial agencies.  It explains the seamless manner of financial transactions leading to our qualification. Of course, there are pockets of protest, most from those who want the old order to continue.

Accountability is a major problem within the sporting sphere in Nigeria. No company will support any sport and not expect such a federation to account for what it got. No company will identify its products and services with federations enmeshed in controversies or burdened by allegations of corruption. All appears well between the NFF and the Sports Minister, who once declared the country squad for the 2016 Olympic Games missing, when indeed they were in America. The stories of how an American airline took our team to Brazil, nine hours before their first game should never happen again. Equally unacceptable was the financial assistance to the squad by a foreigner when the contingent cried out for cash to settle hotel bills. We had at least four years before the last Olympics to prepare for the competition. NFF has sourced for its funds which it has used to give Eagles the desired preparations for the Mundial.

But the masterstroke by NFF, which has raised Nigerians’ hopes of a credible outing in Russia, has been the quality of international friendly matches lined up for the team. I would rather the friendly games expose our flaws than to win them, only to be beaten groggy in Russia. Nigeria played against Poland in Wroclaw yesterday and the players’ performances will form the bulk of the discussions today. On the 27th in London, Eagles will file out against Serbia, a game which is meant to know how Croatia plays.

Gernot Rohr stated the obvious when he told the international media on Tuesday that he doesn’t have match winners in his team who could change the tide of matches the way Austin Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu did. Rohr, however, revealed that his side’s strength rests with their collective play, which is what a team needs to avoid selfish tendencies among the players.

‘’We have a difficult group with Argentina, Croatia, and Iceland, to which we came from the fourth basket. This shows that we

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