Mikel Leads Under-23 Team to ‘Defy’ NFF



While millions of Nigerians are still celebrating the solitary medal (bronze) won in the football event last Saturday by the gallant Under-23 team at the just concluded Rio Olympics, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and the players led by their captain John Mikel Obi have been at daggers drawn over the money donated to the team by a generous Japanese billionaire, Katsuya Takasu.

Although the NFF had officially denied the news making the rounds that it wanted to collect the $390,000 on behalf of the team which the reports stated that the players flatly rejected, it was gathered that hours after the team’s victory over Honduras, coach Samson Siasia and Obi received the money from the Japanese plastic surgeon.

Earlier on Saturday, the NFF had issued a statement quoting president Amaju Pinnick as saying it was mischievous to say that the body planned to use the donation to offset the backlog of salaries owed its coaches, adding that the NFF was merely conducting an integrity test on the donation and the donor.

The Japanese fan in redeeming his pledge to the team wrote out two Citibank cheques — $200,000 in favour of Siasia and $190,000 in favour of Mikel.

A member of the team, who craved anonymity, disclosed last night: ”We have resolved that no matter what, we will not surrender this cash to the NFF.
“Mikel has insisted all of us will get our share of the money. That we should not mind what the people in the NFF are saying.

“He will make available this cash when he comes for next month’s AFCON qualifier against Tanzania in Uyo.”
According to him, a meeting by the team had resolved that both players and officials would receive equal amount of the cash, while Obi had said that he would give part of his share to Siasia so that the coach’s share would be more than that of individual player in the squad.

It was further gathered that the sharing formula agreed at the meeting would be a flat rate for the 22 players (18 accredited players and four alternate players) and 10 officials.

A further check also revealed that the Nigerian Embassy in Tokyo, Japan had written to the Sports Ministry to confirm knowledge of the decision of the Japanese doctor to reward the U-23 team, but the Minister of Sports Solomon Dalung insisted that he would not be part of the generous gift saying: “We want to protect Nigeria’s image.”

An official in the Under-23 team said that the desperation on the part of the players to share the money without the support of their principals was borne out of the fact that similar donations to the national football teams by philanthropists in the past were never released to the players.
“When the Super Eagles won the African Cup of Nations in 2013, prominent Nigerians made pledges and till date nothing came out till date.

“A while ago in 2005 when coach Samson Siasia led Nigeria to come second at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Holland, former Governor of Balyelsa State, late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, donated $50,000 to the team through NFF and nothing has been heard about the money till date following the dissolution of the camp after the tournament.