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….Calls for Zoning of NPFL

Former Secretary-General of the defunct Nigeria Football Association, Dr Tijani Yusuf has expressed his happiness over the restart of the Nigeria Professional Football League. He, however, believes the present league structure demands too much from the clubs given the limited resources at the clubs’ disposal.

In this interview with Jacob Ajom, Dr Yusuf who was also the Director of the National Institute for Sports is suggesting that the league be zoned as the country was too big to execute a single league format. Read on:

Let's respect our indigenous coaches — Dr Tijani Yusuf

Dr Tijani Yusuf hardly talks in the public sphere. He has been quiet since retiring from public service. It took Sports Vanguard several efforts to track down the former Secretary-General of the defunct Nigeria Football Association. Even when he agreed to talk, his answers were short, sharp but incisive.



Surely, Yusuf who also worked as a Director at the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development said he was not happy with the state of sports in the country.

Although he expressed happiness over the resumption of the Nigeria Professional Football League, Dr Yusuf said organisers of the competition can improve on what they are doing at the moment and make life easier for the participating clubs.

“Yes, I am happy that the league has finally kicked off. Due to the lockdown, which affected all parts of the world, the league had been on hold. But thank God, we are now having matches of the NPFL every weekend, like it is happening in other countries.”

Of what to expect from the league, in terms of content and organisation, the former scribe of the defunct NFA said, “We expect the best from the LMC. I have no doubts that the standard would be high because Nigeria has abundant talents and that is what will be in exhibition every week.

“However, I believe the league will be better served if it is on television. In that regard, I am hopeful the NFF and the LMC which is headed by the NFF Vice President, Shehu Dikko will do something about that. If we want the league to get stronger and get the best out of the players, the league should be on TV.”

Dr Yusuf still has reservations on the organisation of the league. He called for the creation of zonal leagues that would produce zonal champions before getting to the national level. “We have to advise the League Management Company to zone the league. When I was Secretary-General of the NFA, Cote d’Ivoire, as small as it is, zoned their league. Imagine the spread of our country then you will appreciate what pains the teams go through in a bid to meet up their tight schedules.

For instance, if Enyimba have a match in Aba on Sunday and they have a mid-week fixture in Maiduguri against El Kanemi, how are they going to cope? Take a team that cannot afford flight tickets for their players, what happens? They will set out for Maiduguri as soon as they finish the match in Aba on a night bus. When will they get there, get the desired rest before playing on Wednesday? I think zonal leagues should be considered because of our peculiarities.”

Dr Yusuf also spoke on the national team, the Super Eagles. He is not happy that a Nigerian is not handling the national team, despite having numerous ex-internationals who have played to the highest level and have obtained top coaching certificates.

“We have very qualified Nigerians who, I believe can do a good job with the Super Eagles,” he said. He contended that the national team was not at its best, despite the abundance of talent Nigeria has, which clearly boils down to poor management. “Why can’t we use our own?” he asked. “Why can’t we give them a chance? Why don’t we believe in our own?

“We still have this mentality that any white man is better than the best black coach. It is a colonial mentality. Yet we have Nigerian coaches who have proved their mettle with the national teams in the past. The late Shaibu Amodu and Stephen Keshi. For instance, Keshi won the Nations Cup. Coach Onigbinde took the Eagles to a silver medal win in Cote d’Ivoire in 1984.

“If we can give our indigenous coaches the enabling environment and the necessary incentives, they will perform. Incentives don’t necessarily mean fat pay packages. In addition to a good salary, give him the necessary backroom staff, like good assistants, nutritionist, psychologist, match readers, scouts, a good home, official car and so on. You will see them excel. They have proved this in the past and I believe they can do it again.”

Dr Yusuf dismissed the notion that Sunday Oliseh who was given the chance to lead the Eagles abandoned the job midway. “Forget what people are saying about Sunday Oliseh and the Eagles job. There is more to the Oliseh case than meets the eye. Forget what you are reading from the pages of newspapers.” He would however not delve into that, as he said, “that is a story for another day”.

The former Director of the National Institute for Sports would not talk on coach Gernot Rohr. “What do you want me to say that has not been said about the man. If you are ruling and your subjects are talking against a particular thing, you must listen to them. You don’t behave as if their views don’t matter. A lot has been said on Rohr. I have nothing to add or subtract.

“All I am saying is that we give too much respect to white men and we are impatient with our indigenous coaches. When it is about a Nigerian coach, we demand immediate results. But we give longer gestation periods to foreign coaches. I repeat, let us learn to believe in our own.”

Although Dr Tijani Yusuf sees nothing wrong in the influx of players in the diaspora coming home to play for Nigeria, he is of the opinion that at least 20%– 40% of the national team should have been made up of local content. “We should lay the foundation for the growth and development of our local game,” he asserted. “I am not against our children born abroad coming to play for Nigeria.

They are Nigerians. But to encourage and get the best out of our players in the domestic league, at least 4 to 6 players plying their trade at home should be included in the Super Eagles. I am sure there are a number of them that can fit the bill. Call all of them together, both local and foreign-based.

Give them an equal chance to compete for places in the team. I am sure some of the locally-based players can emerge tops in certain positions.”

Vanguard News Nigeria

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