7 minutes with China: Dear Amaju Pinnick, your time starts now

Dear president Amaju Pinnick, I am writing this in good time so you can read and digest as the planning starts in earnest for the World Cup in Russia next year.

I heard on the news that you said somewhere that Nigeria could win the World Cup in Russia next year and I will just ignore that statement as something said in the excitement of the moment.

At risk of Nigerians attacking me for being unpatriotic (as if being realistic is now a bad thing) I can tell you that Nigeria WILL NOT win the World Cup in Russia next year and I would love to wager you that posh car of yours, I mean the SUV, yes, that SUV and your allowances for two sittings on your CAF committee. Nigeria WILL NOT win the World Cup next year.

In fact I would love to wager you that no African country will win the World Cup next year, but I digress like I always do as that is not my reason for writing this open letter to you.

Congratulations on the journey so far

Dear Amaju Pinnick, I am sure that coming from me a lot of people will be surprised I am writing all of these and not spitting venom at you, but after my chance meeting with you in Uyo (twice for that matter) during the last qualifier, you acknowledged that my criticisms have been constructive and helped you navigate your way at times. That shows a man who wants to succeed.

I must congratulate you and your team for steering Nigeria’s ship well and finally qualifying us for the World Cup because I remember how the race was at the beginning.

Nigeria failed to qualify for almost every competition it went in for and those were some of the darkest days of our football.

Just after you were inaugurated, we had the shocker of failing to qualify for the AFCON of 2015 and to make matters worse, we were the champions.

The manner you handled the Stephen Keshi incident, sacking him twice, once being twenty four hours after he won a qualifying game in Abuja left a sour taste in the mouth.

Nigeria’s under 23 men team failed to qualify for All Africa Games football event of 2015, neither did the women.

I still remember the under 20 team at the 2015 World Cup departing in the Round of 16.

Super Falcons, also in 2015 failed to qualify for the Olympic Games of 2016 and it was back to back failure for the Super Eagles as they failed to make it to their 2nd consecutive AFCON.

In 2016, we were disgraced at the CHAN as Sunday Oliseh and his charges failed to make it out of Nigeria’s group.

At the World Cups in 2016, the Falconets and Flamingoes did not even get past their groups

Remember, we failed to qualify for all tournaments in 2017 and unprecedented failure was when even the under 17 and under 20 teams could not even make it to their Nations Cups, how much more World Cup.

But having overcome those dark days and the clamour by Nigerians for your quick exit things began to take a good turn.

In an interview, you blamed Nigeria’s poor performance on all fronts as well as the inability to get sponsors (one of your major campaign promises) on the crisis that engulfed our football, the various courts too. Maybe, you were right.

According to you, now that there was peace, things would pan out well for our collective good.

Truth be told, if you were blamed for Nigeria’s failure between 2014 and 2016, then it just makes common sense that you take the plaudits for any success we find in our football, right? That’s what I thought… However….

Amaju Pinnick's time starts now
Your time starts now

Football at the national team level began to improve and the Eagles qualified for the World Cup.

Now, there is more to a Football Association/ Federation than just qualifying for the World Cup, but at least we are there which is much better than licking our wounds and playing the blame game if we had failed.

After all the back slapping, popping of champagne and parties, you need to know that the work begins immediately.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but as much as Nigerians, myself inclusive are happy and thankful that we have qualified for the World Cup there is still nothing special about you.

Between 1992 when the qualifying race started and 1993 when we actually qualified for the World Cup in 1994, we had Amos Adamu as Sole Administrator of the Nigeria Football Association, NFA and then Emeka Omeruah as chairman.

They both achieved World Cup qualification and It must have been even more difficult for them at the time because it was our first ever and the pressure must have been massive.

Others who have qualified us for the World Cup include Abdulmumuni Aminu for France 98, Dominic Oneya for 2002, Sani Lulu for 2010 and then Aminu Maigari for 2014.

Dear Amaju, by qualifying Nigeria for the World Cup, you are not a hero, at least not yet because quite a few had done that before you so I want to advise that the partying stop. We have celebrated enough. It is time for the real business.

Let me also advise that you still will not be a hero if the Eagles scale through their group into the second round because we have done that three times already. I just want to re-iterate this so you understand the work ahead of you.

Amaju Pinnick, you can deify yourself

Dear Amaju Pinnick, Nigerians are not under any illusions that we can win the World Cup. That will just be fan speak and when it gets to crunch time we will know our level.

Success for you would be getting the country to the quarter finals.

Heck Ghana have done quarter finals before and they make horrible jollof rice, so why can’t we?

In 1994, we had what the majority still believe to be our best team ever, but there was total mayhem in the USA when coach of the side, Clemens Westerhof, some how allowed wives and girlfriends of players to stay in the team hotel.

Sensing it was a poor decision, he could not send them away and thought the best way out would be to change the team hotel. This was just before the game against Italy in the 2nd round.

Most of the players in the team who were already enjoying the benefits of having their partners with them kicked against it and there was open mutiny in the team hotel.

We all saw how much of a distraction that was.

In 1998, the team was divided into different cliques that affected the harmony on the pitch. Key players did not speak to one another and at some point it seemed as though they took their bitterness and disagreements to the pitch.

The injuries to Joseph Dosu and Ike Shorumu were not well handled by the coaches and even the media. Abiodun Baruwa was hounded out of the team due to a mistake in a friendly match and a holidaying retired goalkeeper was called back. We saw the disaster.

Meanwhile, between the last group game and the 2nd round tie against Denmark, certain members of the team allegedly made a trip from France to Nigeria to visit their friends in government. All these eventually told on the team. There was basically no control.

In 2002, the coach who guided Nigeria to the World Cup, Shaibu Amodu was wrongly sacked a few months to the event.

He was not just sacked, but a massive clear out of the players who ensured Nigeria qualified also destabilised the team.

Players like Victor Agali, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Finidi George, Sunday Oliseh, Wilson Oruma and Victor Ikpeba were dropped from the eventual team for obvious non footballing reasons.

Apparently, certain players in the team spoke out and it did not go down well with the administrators who thought it wise to punish them.

In 2010, the Nigeria Football Federation made the same mistake of 2002, sacking the coach who qualified Nigeria for the World Cup, Shaibu Amodu again and less than three months to the event, brought in Lars Lagerback.

We know how it all ended.

In 2014, which is very recent, there was the issue of money/ bonuses that caused disaffection in camp with players refusing to train at least once before the game against France.

Then we remember that the battle to occupy the Glass House actually started in Brazil during the World Cup.

But the good thing about the team going to the World Cup in Russia is that you, Pinnick, if you are a student of history like I am, already know where your predecessors failed in terms of managing the team right.

You seem a very intelligent man who would look at the on and off the pitch factors that stopped Nigeria from progressing beyond the 2nd round in previous World Cups and ensure they do not rear their ugly heads this time around.

It may not be in my place to tell you what to do, but knowing the previous problems, I am so sure you can figure out the solution. That is what good leaders do.

Dear Amaju Pinnick, a lot of Nigerians are still not convinced as regards your ability to lead, but you have the one chance to be legend, please take it.

Use it well, as you may not get another. I wish you the best ahead of the World Cup, I wish the Eagles the best and as a Nigerian, my sincere hope is that we go beyond the 2nd round.

As our friend from Who wants to be a millionaire, Frank Edoho would say, “Amaju Pinnick, your time starts now!”
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