Newman Ebiegberi, Iber Cup African Representative, Mrs Ijeoma Bristol, Nigerian Ambassador to Portugal, Shola Opaleye, Chief Executive, COD United FC and Dr Nsikak Ntia, a Director of COD United FC
By Tunde Sulaiman
It is only five years ago that C.O.D United Football Club was founded but the progress the club has already made is overwhelming. With a modus operandi based on discipline, integrity, excellence and teamwork, the club has easily attained the status of arguably the best run club in Nigeria.
In a country where haphazard league structures, corrupt officials, match-fixing and soccer-related violence hold sway, that is quite a feat. Over the years the club has consistently risen above the murky waters that domestic football in Nigeria represents and has firmly put paid to doubts about the possibility of non-governmental ownership and administration of local clubs in Nigeria.
Speaking about the club’s vision, Chief Executive of the club, Shola Opaleye, said their aim was “to impact football in Nigeria with competent and professional management.”
Judging by the steady, if not rapid, rise in C.O.D’s stature, they are very well on their way.
When, in 2007, the club was started from the City of David Parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Victoria Island, few paid them any attention but fast forward four promotions and five years later, football lovers, corporate entities and the rest of the country have finally had to take notice.
Few clubs can rise through the National Amateur III League up to the Nigerian National League in strict adherence to their principles of excellence without being caught up in the pervasive sleaze that characterizes football in these parts.
“Sometimes, it feels like we are doing battle on and off the football pitch. Everywhere we go we make it clear that we will do things by the book and that often raises a more than a few eyebrows. From referees who have demanded fees and opponents who have offered to fix matches, we have seen it all.
“For us though, it is clear, we have gotten this far without wavering from our beliefs, we are just a division below the Nigerian Premier League, for a club that is as young as ours, that is no small achievement and we give God all the glory, all of these positives fuel our passion and further energize us,” said Opaleye.
Looking at C.O.D United’s recent success, one might think they would be carried away, are they? Opaleye laughs wryly as he answers: “Our feet are firmly on the ground, the team may be flying high but the heads that run it are calm not because we do not want to get excited but because our continued survival depends on it. Ours is a classic case of being so close yet so far, our margin of error is nonexistent, we either get it right or we do not but going by our recent achievements, we are hoping that we have made our intentions clear.”
But it has not always been a success story for C.O.D United. The management of the club is modelled on professional football clubs in
better developed league climes like in the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and Germany and while the club has thus far enjoyed a semblance of success in replicating foreign practice, it has been an inherently daunting task.
Prompt payment of players and officials’ salaries, development of a vibrant youth development program with partnership with Bolton Wanderers Football Club, UK and opening a soccer school for kids, establishing an official merchandizing store and a strong fan club, the launching of a Membership Loyalty Scheme are previously unheard in football circles in Nigeria but C.O.D United have over the years placed a premium on all these even though it sometimes meant breaking their backs.
Opaleye explains the intricacies of ensuring that the club’s books are balanced. “We are primarily funded by our church, Redeemed Christian Church of God, City of David Parish and also by revenue generated from our membership scheme and some individual and corporate partners.
“We appreciate the unwavering support of our pastor, Idowu Iluyomade and church members but the truth is, to do the kind of things we have set out to do, we need a lot of corporate Nigerian to support us, and they can do so profitably. We are have shown that we are innovative going by the series of firsts we have recorded.
“We are the first Nigerian club to have a megastore, the first to be affiliated with an English premiership club (Bolton Wanderers), the first to set up a soccer school and we are the only Nigerian club that runs the whole gamut of a first team, reserve, U-16, U-12 as well as our academy.
“We have also set up a tournament for kids called OMODELIG and we are unearthing talents some as young as eight years old. We are also the first and only side to produce a monthly newspaper. We keep thinking and working on ways to build real value on and off the pitch and our fans also have had a taste of our forward thinking approach. We need a lot more support from the corporate world in order to keep the vision going.”
Opaleye went on to indicate that for C.O.D United, the big picture is the goal.
“All our actions over the years, our successes, and our consistent belief in due process as well as our hand-on approach in running the club are all driven to generate trust and goodwill which our would-be sponsors can leverage upon. We firmly believe the by the grace of God, giving our ambition and focus that in a short while we will be competing on many fronts not just in Nigeria or in African but across markets such as Europe and this will place our sponsors on a great pedestal as they will be associating with what we believe will be a truly first-class Nigerian football club that everyone can be proud of. It is an exciting opportunity.”
For a club in Nigerian football, all of this sounds novel but Opaleye’s confidence is rather infectious.
“Right from the off, we started this football club with a big picture in mind and our sponsors have numerous opportunities to identify strategic brand tie-ins. Brands always find it hard to invest money in certain projects but we have created a credible product - a well run football club in the megacity, Lagos.
“Overtime our long term goals will manifest and we will be not just the number one club in Lagos but also in Nigeria.”
Not one to paint bland pictures, Opaleye supports his arguments with facts and figures.
“Across Europe, 12 million jobs have been created from sports and sports accounts for 3% of world trade, it has taken a new dimension and we intend to take advantage of the opportunities that football presents, our sponsors can also come onboard and enjoy a fantastic range of benefits and leverage on all of these,” Opaleye concluded.
It is abundantly clear that the vision of C.O.D United is uncommon and they appear to be unwilling to waver or even take a pause, the dizzying heights they have reached in so short a period is an evidence of their drive.
In a few years, they just might realize their dreams of competing in and maybe even winning the CAF Champions League and even though they are still playing for promotion to the Nigerian Premier League, you get the feeling that everyone in the club has three words etched into their minds: Full Speed Ahead.