Francis Moniedafe, remember him? He was an ex-Green Eagles star in the late 1970s and also featured for Bendel Insurance when the team defeated Rangers International of Enugu 3-0 to lift the 1978 FA Cup finals. In this exclusive interview with ANDREW EKEJIUBA he speaks on the future of the beautiful game in the country and why he and a few Nigerian ex-internationals based in the United States formed Nigeria Ex-international Football association (NEIFA). Excerpts:
As the President of NEIFA, can you let us in into the workings of the association which you and a few ex-Nigerian internationals formed in faraway United States of America?
NEIFA was formed by a few ex-Nigerian internationals as you earlier noted who left the shores of the country to school in America. Some of our executives include Femi Olukanmi (Vice President), Nathaniel Ogedengbe (Secretary), IkechukwuOfoje (Treasurer) and Paul Okoku ( Director of Communication) to mention but a few.
The foremost aim of the association is to look for ways to help some of our unfortunate ex-internationals who are going through hard times. Also we are looking at how we can collaborate with the Nigeria Football Federation to help in the development of Nigerian football because in the association we have lots of head coaches of schools in America and sports directors.
Look back from when you left the shores of Nigeria to the present date, what really has gone wrong with our sports development, especially in football administration?
I left the shores of Nigeria when our football was at its peak; everything was working perfectly well for our beautiful game. But, I left Green Eagles squad in Brazil while camping there for the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations. I travelled from Brazil to America to study and make a living there!
I had a choice of staying back in with the team or travelling to America, but I decided to travel. The choice was mine actually!
Talking about the state of football, in the 1980s and now, things have really changed and drastically too. Then our league was highly revered and watched by lots of fans. Even before 12noon on a match day the various stadia hosting league matches are almost filled to the brim unlike now.
Five years ago, I was in Benin at Ogbe Stadium to watch Bendel insurance play and I was shocked at what I saw. Not more than 200 fans were in the stadium, while in a beer parlour outside the match venue, I saw more than 500 soccer fans clustered inside the place watching an English Premier League game involving Chelsea and one other team.In fact I almost shed tears.
Truly we have a long way to go in terms of repositioning our football.
With your experience as a footballer, a coach and an administrator, what is the way forward for Nigerian football?
The way forward is to get the right people to administer Nigerian football. We need football technocrats to administer our game and it is my strong belief that football should be taken away from government.
Corporate Nigeria and individuals should come forward and bankroll football as it is done in other parts of the world.
The football industry is a multi-billion naira business, so the private sector can be of a great help in repositioning our game by sponsoring clubs in the local league.
From the local front, do you still believe we have talented footballers that can take our game to the next level and bring back the crowd to the various stadia during league games?
Nigeria have an abundant flow of talent in football, but all we need is to harness them and put them in the right places. Discovering players today and tomorrow they are in Europe is not the best way to develop our football; it’s not going to work that way!
Our football administration, academies and even clubs need to be restructured to make these talented young footballers hit stardom. We really need to nurture these upcoming lads to stardom.
If NIKE can do half of what they are doing in America in the development of sports in Nigeria, I’m sure that this will give us a great boost in sports development.
NIKE supports Olympic programmes in America for their athletes and even go the extra mile to nurture their budding talent to stardom.
You wrote an article recently that was published in Daily Times, titled “Our dream Sports Minister”, what actually motivated you to write that piece?
The piece was aimed at correcting the past errors government made in the appointment of Sports Ministers. Apart from Ishaya Mark Aku of blessed memory whose tenure was short, every other Sports Minister who came promised to fix the sports industry, but to no avail. At the end many stakeholders of sports discovered that these Sports Ministers were only interested in what will line their pockets.
We need to have the right people or technocrats who will administer our sports. We need to go back to the good old days when school sports held sway, especially in churning out world class athletes for Nigeria.
Therefore, we a need a Sports Minister who will key into the system and administer sports the way it should be in Buhari’s second coming as Nigeria’s president.
AdokiyeAmiesimaka, SegunOdegbami and Stephen Keshi were all discovered through school sports.
Nigeria is losing a lot financially because we have failed to harness the enormous potentials in sports development and that was the reason that motivated me to write that piece in Daily Times.
Recently Stephen Keshi signed a two-year contract to tinker the Super Eagles, do you think he still has that magical wand to rebuild the team and turn it to a world-conquering side?
The issue of Keshi’s contract has lingered on for too long before both parties reached a compromise. If I were Keshi I could has advised him to let go the job, especially the way his deal was handled, but as a patriotic Nigerian we all applauded him in his second coming as head coach of the senior national team.
We should remember that Keshi has contributed a lot to football development in Nigeria and deserves the support of all to excel because from nowhere he came and won the 2013 AFCON for Nigeria with his boys. However on his return to the saddle I think he must have learnt from his mistakes and ready to deliver.
From the depth of your heart, do you still think Keshi has the capability to take Nigerian football to the next level?
Why not? He has done it before, I believe Keshi can do it again if given all the necessary support by the NFF.
The right atmosphere must be created for him by the NFF to deliver and take Nigerian football to greater heights.