By Duro Ikhazuagbe
The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is to begin a fresh search for an indigenous Technical Director following directive yesterday from the Minister of Sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, that the process of hiring Belgian, Tom Saintfiet, be halted immediately.
Until the minister’s pronouncement yesterday, the Glass House was in the process of getting work permit for the Belgian it entered a four-year deal with in April.
Special Assistant (Media), to the Sports Minister, Julius Ogunro, said in a statement Tuesday night that the directive was a follow up to the meeting Abdullahi had with the NFF, in which he also asked the body to begin the process of engaging a qualified and competent Nigerian for the post.
The Minister explained that the decision was necessary as there were many competent Nigerians who have knowledge of grassroots football in the country and were better suited for the role of a Technical Director, whose main function is to identify and groom local talents.
Abdullahi further directed that henceforth, footballers invited to the National Under-17 football camp must now show proof of having been in secondary school, or a similar institution, in the last three consecutive years. He said this was meant to resolve controversy over the ages of footballers invited to the Under-17 Camp and to ensure that only those within the age group make the team.
Saintfiet was to arrive Nigeria in the second week of May to sign his contract and assume duties immediately but the work permit remained a problem for the federation.
The Belgian was appointed by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) board in March sequel to his recommendation as the best candidate to steer the newly created post by the NFF Technical Committee.
His appointment was objected to by majority of the indigenous coaches who felt that a Nigerian should have been assigned to the sensitive technical post.
But THISDAY checks revealed then that the NFF was still fast tracking Saintfiet’s paperwork and was sure that the 38-year- old former coach of Ethiopia and Namibia would sign his contract at the targeted date and assume duty.
Saintfiet was placed on $20,000 (about N3.1million) monthly salary.
He was expected to work with Nigerian club sides and initiate grassroots programmes that will help in uncovering and development of young players in the Under-13 and Under-15 categories who will ultimately graduate to the U-17 national team.
The NFF had to douse the initial apprehension of a clash of role between Saintfiet and Super Eagles Coach, Stephen Keshi, by clarifying that the Belgian would not scrutinise Keshi’s programmes and interfere in the national team activities.
He was not to have a fixed job location in Nigeria and was expected to be helped by a Nigerian assistant.
However, the minister’s director was a confirmation of his body language of not interested in the deal, when the idea of going for the Belgian was first mooted. Insiders at the National Sports Commission (NSC) had confided in THISDAY that there was no way the Belgian will work in the country without the approval of the minister under whose watch the NFF falls.
Interestingly, many had thought that the minister had changed his minds on the choice of an indigenous coach for the post following the manner the NFF went about seeking the necessary work permit for the expatriate coach.
Sources close to the NSC hinted last night that the minister reopened the matter of the Technical Director at the meeting he had with the NFF, following the draw posted by the Super Eagles in their 2014 World Cup group game with Malawi in Blantyre last weekend.
THISDAY further learnt that the Minister made his position known to the football chief and directed that the process of getting the work permit for Saintfiet be stopped immediately.
No Glass House official was ready to comment on the development when contacted Tuesday night. It is expected that the matter may be pushed to the NFF board to deliberate before looking at the option of an indigenous candidate canvassed by the minister.