Nicolas Sarkozy, Silvio Berlusconi and David Cameron take note. Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, has responded to his side’s poor performance at the World Cup by suspending the national team from international football for the next two years.
It might sound like a drastic move but it has been greeted with enthusiasm by many in Nigeria who have grown tired of the corruption and mismanagement that blights their national game.
The Nigerian team, known as the Super Eagles, lost two matches and drew one at the World Cup in South Africa, exiting in the first round. But the players alone were not to blame. Off the pitch, Nigeria’s preparation was arguably the most chaotic of any World Cup team in modern times.
The coach, Shaibu Amodu, was sacked four months before the tournament started, a training camp arranged for April had to be cancelled because the players couldn’t make it, and then three warm-up matches in May were called off amid allegations that opposition teams had not been paid promised appearance fees. Once they arrived in South Africa there were more problems – an argument over a cheap hotel that the players had been booked into, followed by a crush at a friendly match caused by poor security.
Allegations of corruption have also been made against senior figures in the Nigerian Football Federation involved in the recruitment of a new coach. Former England manager, Glenn Hoddle, had been lined up for the job but turned it down after being told that his $1m salary would be announced as $1.5m – the rest would be handed out to officials as kickbacks.
Nigerian football “is in a shambles”, thundered an editorial in Next, Nigeria’s most influential newspaper, pinning the blame on the men in suits at the federation. “It is evident that these vapid people are the biggest part of our football problem. They have nothing to offer… The list of blunders caused by incompetence and greed are too many to enumerate in this editorial.”
Nigeria’s performance – both on and off the pitch – looks even worse when compared to their West African neighbours, Ghana. Its football association gives the national team’s coach its full support, runs a decent national league, and has also invested money in youth development over the past decade.
The results are impressive. The national youth team are African and World champions and many of those players have graduated to the full national squad. Ghana were the only African side to reach the second round of this World Cup and this afternoon the Black Stars take on Uruguay for a place in the semi-finals, a stage which no African side has ever reached.
Ghana’s president, John Atta Mills, is preparing a more welcome return for his players and officials than President Jonathan.