Prof Patrick Omo-Osagie, a respected academic and sports consultant, who teaches sports management in the United States has spoken to Goal.com about many issues in Nigerian football while proffering solutions to the problems that the country is facing
What do you think of the LMC and its performance at the end of the just concluded season?
I believe I am on record as saying that the LMC as an organizing body was the right thing to do, but drawing its powers from the NFF was the wrong way to do it. The clubs should own the LMC, it is the only way to develop that concept. Let me explain further; if the LMC is owned by clubs, all decisions made by the LMC will be approved by 75% of clubs. When you have this kind of administrative process, things will start to get better. Here is an example: The LMC has the power to negotiate deals on behalf of the clubs, TV, title sponsor and other commercial deals. The LMC then decides how that MONEY will be spent and convince the clubs or the majority of the clubs on the budget, and get it approved. When you have a process like this, you cannot go wrong. Every decision is made by the clubs themselves. For us to think that a body like the LMC can impose decisions on clubs over time is a war waiting to happen. The bigger the pie becomes, the bigger the war will be.
Why do you think there are very few private investors in our leagues?
Simple answer, we have made it too expensive. I remember reading somewhere a few years back that 3SC was getting a government allocation of N29 million a month, that comes out to N348 million a year. How many individuals will spend that kind of MONEY, when there is nothing in the horizon that tells you that there is profit ahead? Nobody INVESTS in a business without the prospect of profit. So the first thing I would do is either reduce teams or reduce games and there are so many ways to do either.
Talking of revenues, football revenues, how can the league improve on that?
Football or sports revenues come from three sources, game day sales, television or broadcast and commercial sales. The LMC has done well and secured two decent deals with GLO (commercial) and SuperSport (broadcast). The amounts are a little fuzzy, but I read that the league gets about N600,000,000 a season from GLO and from next season will get about N1.3 billion from Super Sport. We are looking at a total of say N2 billion as revenues for next season. If the LMC should decide to give the clubs 50% of the amount, every team will get N50 million each. The NBBF (basketball federation) already does this; they give the sixteen clubs in the league 40% of the sponsorship money from DSTV. This should be the kind of thing I talked about in the beginning of our interview; LMC negotiates on behalf of clubs, brings a budget for the approval (75%) by clubs and all will start to role in. Transparency is the key to your financial success in sports. If you want more companies to partner with you, you must show openness to the monies in your purse. Everyone likes a good name, if our football develops a good name, companies will associate with it.
What about the standard of play in the league?
If our coaches think they can survive with what they have now as football coaches, then we [are creating] a lot more trouble for our football. All UEFA coaches are licensed; they all have what is called the Pro-License. This is a tough license to attain, it is not handed out for free, and you have to work hard to get it. I’m not advocating a UEFA license, but a locally developed license that has a lot of the elements we require for good football coaching and management.
How can we get crowds back into our stadiums?
Really anybody with the right answer will make a whole load of MONEY. I can proffer some suggestions though. Improve the looks of the stadiums, many look like dumps. I am not talking of the playing surfaces; I’m talking about the seating areas, toilets and the entrance and exits into these places. They are so unattractive and uncomfortable, that it will be difficult to pull in a crowd. The stadium is an entertainment venue and we should treat them as such. When the EPL started, a condition was that all stadiums must be all-seated and they must be football specific, no running tracks around it and it has worked. It took over from the Italian league as the league to watch, because with their good looking stadiums, it was eye and television friendly. We can copy from what Silverbird has done in the movie business recently. Growing up in the 70s, we had movie theaters and it was a place we went for weekend entertainment. But the business died for so many reasons like, exchange rate and general drop in life style in the country. But it is back; what they have done is build decent looking movie houses that people are comfortable with, and they have built a following. Check out these houses on the weekends or on a holiday and see the numbers that come out to watch the latest movies. Like I said, I don’t know the answer, but we have to try something new. Allow the sales of alcoholic beverages, well packaged pepper soup, chicken, small chops; we already have all our stadiums doing this but only on the outside. There is no beverage that does not come in plastic or can, so we don’t have a bottle as a weapon problem. We have to bring the people back, so try something different.
What about this new NFF board, what do you make of their fast changes and plans for developing Nigerian football?
Anything new always gives you hope, so I am hopeful that they will get it right, but I am already having my doubts. They seem to be rushing in with what I call flashy ideas. Here are a few examples: sending referees to England. I think we need to improve the standard of referees but sending a handful to England is not the answer. Developing a local training system is the key. The instructor should still be a foreigner, but he will be using our own games to train the referees. He will be doing on the spot assessment for some referees in our local games. Referees will be asked to analyze their own games on a weekly basis, it goes on and on. Bring an instructor to Nigeria for a season and you will see the benefits. I call it a flashy idea because of the nice reviews it is getting in the press; ‘the best thing for Nigerian referees’ and so on. It is not and they should rethink the idea. Here is another flashy idea that came out of what many were saying about Keshi; ‘he cannot read games’; so the NFF decides to send coaches and non-coaches for a match reading course. I have been around coaching for a long time, I specialize in coaching science, I have drawn up many coaching curriculums and I have never had to train people on match reading on its own. You cannot affect change in a match if you are not the coach of the team, you don’t understand the individual psychology of players or even the game plan for the team. So again this was done in haste to try to satisfy Keshi’s critics. My suggestion to the NFF is hire a sports consultant and let the consultant help research ideas that come out of the board. Right now all the ideas will come to nothing at the end of the day and this is no knock on the NFF.
Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2015 Afcon, you have written about developing a coaching policy. What do you think about the NFF’s plan to send players abroad as well as bring home players born abroad to play for the national teams?
This one is hard to comprehend. A federation that is supposed to locally develop players is now willing to export ‘young talents’ to foreign junior leagues and then in the same breath, wants to import foreign-born European-Nigerians with talent to populate our junior teams. In a country where the league is suffering, the federation’s goal of export and import of players is misguided. This is a policy that was not well thought out.
Goal recently published a series of articles about the corrupt practices going on in grassroots football. The NFF has said it would make changes to how young talents climb up in the system. How best do you think we can solve these problems of loss of talents?
I have gone back and read your reports on the problems in our development programs. It is disheartening for young men to see their dreams die because they have no ‘god father’. But I am a man that believes no coach or agent will forego real talent and go for scraps. Most of these young men see themselves as talented, but that might not necessarily be the case. Having said all that, the NFF should have a well coordinated youth program that is based on well trained coaches, whom all should have qualified under the NFF structure. If done properly, the majority of youth coaches will have better ethics in dealing with their wards. Fleecing young players is nothing new. For many years here in the USA, the summer AAU basketball for high school players was riddled with corruption – coaches collecting MONEY for players to sign with certain universities. Sneaker MONEY was corrupting the summer league, but it has changed considerably with coaching education and certification. When the NFF decides to make coaching education/development and certification a priority that is when this rot in the developmental stage of our football can be eliminated.
What should be the plan of Amaju Pinnick’s NFF over the next four years of its mandate?
Do you remember the acronym, SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme). The NFF needs to be structurally adjusted – from administrative organization to football matters. I would like to see an NFF that is largely a ceremonial board just like any board of a major company. Yes, they set the guidelines or policies but leave the day to day execution to a seasoned administrator, one that is experienced in man and money management. As we are often to say what happens in other federations, ours is unique. We elect a board that becomes executive, the board is not accountable to anyone. The president or members drop their supposed professions and take care of Nigerian football. Let people check how every other country has gone away from this model, if we consider our football a business, then let us run it as such. A business will be a registered company with a CEO, it will have board meetings where policy will be discussed and decisions agreed to and executed by the CEO. What we cannot continue to do is have lawyers vacate their chambers to run Nigerian football. If they want to be CEO, they should apply for the job. And we need a CEO that can help guide in policy formations. A good example is this export and import of players. There are consequences to bad policy, what is termed ‘unintended consequences’; if we had a well versed CEO, this will be a policy that will never see the light of day. The next four years look interesting, we have started out with not qualifying and defending the Afcon title, there is a stalemate in coaching, there is an unnecessary hurry to be innovative (match reading, referee London travels and export and import of players), the board should slow down, conceptualize ideas to the fullest before implementing.