Let me start by admitting that I have not always been a huge fan of the Nigerian Football Federation president, Amaju Pinnick. However the events of 2017 have led me to admire a great quality in the man that I believe Nigerian leaders, not only in the sports sector, should emulate. Much of my problem with him had to do with what I perceived, in the early days of his administration, to be his adulation of the English Premier League. When he publicly declared that he was an Arsenal fan, I felt it bordered on the sacrilegious that the number one man in Nigerian football would become a noncommissioned brand agent for a foreign club and league when he should be totally focused on making a success of the struggling domestic game. Back then, over two years ago, I remember expressing my outrage on this column and advising that given his influential and sensitive position, Pinnick should publicly retract his Arsenal love.
I have also not been enthusiastic about his apparent desire to scout almost every Nigerian citizen with dual nationality that has ever kicked a ball in Europe to play for the national team. Instead I believe we will never achieve a balanced national team or make the most economic gains from football commerce, until we turn our local league into a talent minting industry. In more recent times, watching Pinnick strut his stuff on the international stage, and seeing him exploit the strengths of the green-white-green with swaggering braggadocio, I have felt that few Nigerian leaders, if at all, have really understood how powerful the Nigerian brand can be and how to exploit it to their advantage on the world stage like Pinnick does.
Ideally everyone who wants to do business in Africa should first talk to us given our population size, economic potential and the industry of our people. Often you get the feeling that many of us forget how powerful being Nigerian can make you. Not Pinnick, he is bold and dramatic. This showed when he helped unseat the legendary Issa Hayatou as president of CAF and install a man from Madagascar in his place. That was no mean feat, especially when you consider that others in his position would have withdrawn into the shadows and grumbled about the impregnability of the Franco-phone conspiracy.
He has also dribbled his way into the good books of the FIFA hierarchy, ensuring that in the high-wire politics of global football Nigeria now enjoys more voice and consideration in Cairo and Zurich. Every head of a sports federation in Nigeria would do well to take a trip to the Glass House to see Pinnick and get a tip or two on how to flex their Nigerian muscles. It would serve them well.
Michael Emenalo is a Nigerian legend, please respect that
Someday I will understand how the Nigerian mind works, not today. Can someone please help me understand how Nigerian fans would say “good riddance” to Michael Emenalo after he resigned his position as the technical director of “their” football club Chelsea FC of London? Even sports writers, who you imagine should know better joined in the silliness for social conversation. Were Emenalo white, South American or Asian, such could never have happened as he would have been upheld as a Nigerian legend. But as they say, Africans have no heroes.
I doubt any Nigerian, alive or dead, has managed anything like the profile Emenalo has built for himself in world football. Although it is not in our nature to hero worship anyone that is not a private-jet flying pastor, Emenalo is no ordinary Nigerian. Well educated, he played at the 1994 World Cup as part a team considered the best Super Eagles of all time. He also played for the biggest club in Nigeria, Rangers International, before heading overseas. While in Israel he worked under former Chelsea coach Avram Grant and impressed him so much that the Israeli tactician recommended him to Chelsea’s Russian billionaire boss Roman Abramovich in 2007.
He rose to become the technical director just four years later, a position, truth be told, the English press and fans did not enjoy being handed to a Nigerian. At his level he needed to be world-class at his job, and he did enough to win the respect of Abramovich. He could not have earned his promotions because anyone liked his face, and he would have had to work doubly hard as a black man and one from Africa at that. The records showed that he went on to sign some of the best talents the club has known and in his time the club won every trophy on offer, including three league titles and the FA Cup, as well as the UEFA Europa Cup and Champions League titles. He also made the club’s academy one of the most competitive in Europe, winning the UEFA Youth League in 2015 and 2016.
Proof of his quality is that French champions Monaco have now snapped him up as their new technical director in a move they said showed their ambition. I bet those guys know a thing or two more about world class football than the Nigerian fans who said “their” club was better off without him. In the words of Monaco vice president Vadim Vasilyev: “I invested a lot in him coming. His know-how in detection and recruitment, as well as the technical experience acquired in one of the most successful clubs in recent years, are the reasons that led us to present this ambitious challenge. This appointment is another sign of our ambition and our desire to be as competitive as possible.’
Those guguru and epa sports analysts and fans should go tell Monaco they don’t know what they are doing.