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Football Loosing Its Brightest Leaf -By Ayobami Okerinde

Opinion Nigeria Staff

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Football is like a tree, passion is it’s leaf and without it, it cannot bear good fruit“-OKERINDE AYOBAMI

The Nigeria dream team now have the chance to create another history as they did in Atlanta 12 years ago; these words still sound in my head as I remember how a 10 year old me saw Nigeria defeated Belgium 4-1 in the semi finals of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. I said to myself that I will have the chance to watch Nigeria win an Olympic gold medal, I have always been taunted by my older siblings about not watching Nigeria win Gold at the Olympics in Atlanta’96. The Nigerian contingent to the Olympics underperformed with only Blessing Okagbare, Chika Chukwumerije and Mariam Usman winning silver, bronze, bronze in athletics, taekwondo and weightlifting respectively. With the number of followers that the Nigerian team had, winning the gold medal would be something tangible for the Nigerian team especially the football team to take home from China.

The day arrived, and the stage was set. The Nigerian dream team coached by Samson Siasia and captained by John obi Mikel was to face the Lionel Messi of Argentine team. With the level of rivalry between the two teams, most notably a Lionel Messi brace which saw the Nigerian under 20 team take the second position at the 2005 Fifa world championship in Netherlands, the game was set and made to be a fierce one. The time difference between Nigeria and China meant that the game would be played at 6am Nigerian time and that was more of a disadvantage to this side of the World. I remember that the night before the game I couldn’t sleep well as I was hoping that the electricity suppliers would give us light that day. Unknown to me, my dad had his alarm set for 5am, so at 5am he came to my room to wake me only to find out that I wasn’t asleep. We moved to the sitting room and waited, hoping to see the brink of the light. Just fifteen minutes to the start kick-off, we set out from our house ignoring the warning of my mother that it was too early to look for where to watch the match. I remember how we searched for where to watch the game but couldn’t find any but found one at last. Although, the owner of the house rejected our plea to allow us watch the game, saying he doesn’t know us and he couldn’t allow us into his house. We went home dejected and sad but then we found solace in our radio, we stayed up all through the game but sadly Nigeria lost courtesy of an Angel di Maria goal in the second half. Despite listening to the game on radio, that didn’t stop us from watching the replay of the game when power suppliers finally brought light at noon. The reaction the Nigerian team got that day was massive that today I wonder where the passion and love the we had for football (using Nigerian football as a case study) went.

Most notably, football today has turned out to be a shadow of its past self. Football today, is now played for playing sake if I may say, and the energy being put into football is long gone. I remember while watching the 2006 world cup that was held in Germany, a man then in my area who had a danfo bus, volunteered to close early from work while the back of his bus was used as a viewing centre just to watch the world cup at night, someone volunteered his television set, one brought his generator set just to make people watch the world cup. Watching football back then was a thing of note as there were people who were willing to give all they had just to make people watch the game of football. I also remember vividly how a man held a certain cable for almost the duration of the 2007 champions league final between Liverpool FC of England and AC Milan of Italy, but today this have become a thing of the past. The weekends today is no longer how it used to be. Gone are the days when people skipped parties just to watch their favourite team play, especially when it’s a Derby the street gets deserted and viewing centres are filled to their brims but now “owambes” (a Yoruba slang for parties) is the order of the day. Gone are the days when the starts of every champions league season is a thing of joy for football lovers, the thrill’s and grill’s of the champions league such as advert from multinational companies like Pepsi, Sony, Heineken and most notably the champions league anthem with the lyrics “we are the champions” and also the half time trademark of ” this match between Chelsea and Arsenal is proudly brought to you by Heineken, proud sponsor of the UEFA champions league” is now something that no one could recognize or reckon with. The dearth of football can most notably be associated with loss of passion, the fire that lightens and brightens football is now on it last life just like the warning sign one gets while playing Mario game on Sega in those days. Football is now being played by the highest bidder and sport administration is now being run and done by people who doesn’t have any affiliation with football and hence the viewers of a football game tend to reduce when people no longer get to watch the glamour and fun that football brings.

Another killer on the list is ownership influence. Using Nigerian football as a case study, the ownership policy has led to the extinction of great football club stationary stores, iwanyawu united and the likes and hence new football clubs are being formed and many changes being made which in turn leads to football fans loosing interest in such clubs. The ownership influence has grown to an alarming rate that if care is not taken, football is on the brink of getting to a point where by football would be compared to a movie where the owners are the real players while the players that are being signed into such clubs are there just to act based on the directions given to them by the owners. While I was at a lecture sometimes ago, the guests speaker spoke on the issue concerning Nigerian football, in his words he said “the problem with Nigeria football are the administrators, in other countries you do not get to know the name of the president of their Football association chairman unless there is something of urgency or importance they need to say to the media, but in this part of the world, the administrators are more popular than the players the people want to see play”. He later challenged everyone present during the lecture to name a soccer player in the Nigerian league and as expected, none of us could mention the players and while I Sat down to think, I discovered that it is a big blow to us as football lovers not to identify a player in each club in our league but we know football stars in other countries such as Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard, Neymar and the likes. Judging by the above, it can or could be deduce that it has affected football of today compared to the past. While listening to stories about Nigerian football, I was told how people troop to the stadium and how people travel far and wide, within and outside the country just to see their favourite football teams play but now it’s something that has been thrown into the bin. I remember while speaking with a friend moths ago, he bluntly told me that he would never use his money to watch a Nigerian club football game just because of the fact that away team rarely wins and the fact that permutations are been done by the administrators, the owners are also fund of owning players salary and anyone who dare goes against the order of the club owner is on the brink of leaving the club.

Just recently, we saw Chelsea FC of England buy Kepa Arrizabalaga a goalkeeper for a world record fee of seventy-one million pounds. Also a year ago, we saw Neymar of Brazil break the world record fee for a player when he moved from Barcelona to Paris saint German for a fee well over 200 million Euro’s. Ten, fifteen years ago, 200 million Euro’s was enough to buy a club and finance it bit today that fee can only buy a player. Another killer of football in recent years is the huge and augmented fees that are being paid for a player to move to their clubs. Now loyalty is nowhere to be found in football as the round leather game is now dominated by people who just want to make mobey. This was the reply of Juventus legend Jianlugi Buffon on why he chose not to leave juventus after they were relegated in 2006;

Lorenzo – Hi, I’m Lorenzo, I’m from Parma and here’s my question: Why did you decide to go down to “Serie B” with Juve when you were a World Cup winner? (When many other teams wanted to sign you!)

Buffon – Hi Lorenzo, say hello to Parma for me when you go home – it always has a place in my heart! I chose to drop down into “Serie B” with Juve because i thought of you guys, I thought about you because I really believe at times you need to stop talking and take action.

Given that there are a lot of rumours in football and other industries and people love to preach and then behave badly, without making big statements. I decided that it was a great opportunity to send out a message to those who wanted to listen, because of course there are some people who don’t want to! But the fact you’ve asked me this question shows that one of the aims I had in mind when I made that decision turned out right. (Courtesy: 101 greatgoals.com)

Also Roma legend Francesco totti on why he didn’t leave Roma – “There was a very important offer from Madrid in 2004, but I decided to give up on lots of titles so that I’d always wear just one shirt. This was what mattered most to me. In the end, instead, I received love and passion, which for me were more important than winning cups elsewhere. I put Roma ahead of everything.” (Dream team.com)

On football players loyalty in recent times, Michelle Martinelli a lover of football since 1994 has this to say while answering the question “is loyalty dead in modern football??” On search engine Quora.com

“No, but it’s increasingly rare and that’s largely due to the ridiculous amount of money floating around.

In the past you had players such as Alessandro Del Piero, Paolo Maldini, Carlos Puyol, Steven Gerrard, who were happy to stick around year after year, dedicating themselves to a single club, but now players who might have been loyal in the past, find themselves unable to resist the lure of insanely high wages. Take Robinho – he left Real Madrid, one of the most prestigious clubs in the world, to join oil-rich Manchester City. And that was a long time before they were competing for titles.

Sometimes, the lure of money is too much for a club to resist and the player has little say in the matter. Take Kaka back in 2009, the Brazilian was subject to a bid from Real Madrid worth about €70 million. He made it clear that he was happy to stay at AC Milan, but the club decided to sell him.

These days it takes something really special for a world-class football player to stay loyal to a club. Especially if it’s not a club constantly competing for European titles and showering them with money. There are a few exceptions though and, as a Roma fan, I’ll point out a couple of my favourites:”

The above statements have shown that there’s a huge difference between football in the past and of present. In the past, football players are unfazed by money, they respect the fans more and in turn football stadia are always filled to capacity when football games are being played. But in recent times, football stadia are not filled with football enthusiasts anymore but people who wants to make money but going in there to scout players who they might sign and make money off them (this is not an attack on betting companies and websites). Also slightly related to this is the introduction of betting into football, opinions might differ on this but truth be told, the introduction of betting into football has killed it’s passion. Football in the past are being followed by people who had passion for it, people who had nothing to lose other than being sober when their teams lose but today, viewing centres and newspapers’ stands are filled with people who don’t know Jack about football, people whose only aim is to win money from football and when asked about their thoughts on the game or on the loss of their favourite team, they tend to reply that the club doesn’t need them so once they can make money in football, their team can continue to lose.

The loss of passion in football today, thanks to the aforementioned factors and many more which could not be contained in this write-up. Football in this age coupled with the advent of the technology should not only see an increase in its number of viewership physically but also those who follow the game passionately. Some of the factors that might help increase are not limited to the following;

Football cinemas should be made available. This might sound like a joke but it’s one best ideal way to know and show how passionate football followers are. Although many might argue that there are lots of viewing centres around but it’s a known fact that viewing centre this days are now being marred by lousiness, fights amongst others and also watching football in a serene environment is one of the best feeling a football lover can have.

Also, the passion people had for football can be ignited if people can be educated about their love for the game. Footballers today no longer care about the longevity and success of their careers, all they care about now is the money attached to their respective contracts. They now prefer to play in leagues that are not recognized once the pay is higher and greater that the present club where they are and at such, fans of such player tend to lose interest once he can’t watch his favorite player play again. Another one, is the introduction of bench mark in football or salary range, footballers are now being transferred and offered astronomical wages and thus, does not help the game. The financial fair play rule is already in place but introducing a bench mark should be allowed in football to regulate the inflow of money. Not having passion for football can be compared to not having a brake pad in a car, the car can move but the possibility of it crashing is high. So, if passions are not being reignited in football, it might thrive but definitely it’s chances of loosing followership is high.

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