By Amaechi Agbo
Assistant coach of the Golden Eaglets, Bunmi Blair has said that Nigeria has the potential to become the greatest football country in the world if government will invest in building facilities to support the efforts of the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF.
The young coach, who believes Nigeria is going in the right direction in terms of grassroots football development with the establishment of U13 and U15 teams, said that the Under 17 coaching crew has put modalities in motion to ensure seamless qualification when hostilities commence in June this year.
Speaking in an exclusive interview, Mr Blair said that to facilitate faster growth in the country’s football development programmes, the NFF needs to invests in coaches, the government should invest in facilities and the coaches need to go to the grassroots and select the right players.
Improving grassroots football in Nigeria
In terms of improving Nigeria’s grassroots football, it is an everyday thing. It is always done every day. When I say every day, I mean it is NFF’s plans. Just some few weeks ago they concluded the U13 and U15 finals. U13 was in Kano and U15 was in Lagos where talents were discovered.
Talking of the U17, the head coach, Abdullahi Maikaba is in touch with NFF in terms programmes he wants for the national U17 team. You can also be sure that scouting is already going on for players that he intends to use for the national team. Qualification is expected to commence in June, so if by now work has not started, it means we are not serious. All works have started but it is NFF that will conclude the remaining part of the work.
How far has the coaching crew of the U17 gone to in getting talents for the nation?
This is what I am saying; scouting has started but we cannot really disclose right now because NFF is yet to officially open camp. During the yuletide, I was in Ondo State with the permission of the head coach, Abdullahi Maikaba, to scout for new talents. So, work is going on. I can assure you that in the next few months, he will reel out his programmes and I am sure Nigerians will be satisfied with them.
Nigeria future and grassroots football
I can assure you that NFF is deeply rooted in youth football development in the country. We want young people to be in the cadet teams and that is what we are doing.
As for Nigeria’s future, we are not yet there. But obviously, the NFF is taking right steps in the right directions.
For instance, having the U13 and U15 teams, is very important. What we need now is for the government to support the NFF in providing facilities. I was online this morning trying to do some research on how Iceland got to where they are right now. I discovered that the government invested hugely in facilities then the FA invested in coaches such that for every 6, 000 players, you have about10 coaches.
This is not too bad but for Nigeria, for all the accredited coaches we have, we have just over 700 coaches in about 170 million people. We need more coaches and NFF needs to encourage coaches to go school.
The fees for CAF coaching courses are very high. How can the people in the rural areas afford them? I travelled to the village and saw people coaching children but because they are not certified coaches, the kids will not get the best from them. These guys want to go for coaching courses but they cannot afford it. How many of these coaches can afford to pay N100, 000 for a coaching course? The NFF needs to invest in coaches while the government needs to invest in facilities and the coaches need to go to the grassroots and select the right players.
I know the NFF is doing it; they have started with the U13 and 15 but we need to pick all the angles. We have a huge population; we should use it to our advantage. If we have good facilities, qualified coaches with incentives, Nigeria will become the best football country in the world.
Graduation of youths to the senior nation team
I think that is a notion that has been in the past but for the present, we have about ten Super Eagles players who played in the cadet teams and are playing in the senior national team.
Let us start from the goalkeeper; we have Francis Uzorho who was a member of the 2015 U17 winning Eaglets; Kelechi Iheanacho was in the 2013 edition, Victor Osimhen was the Most Valuable Player in the 2015 U17 championship, Ogenyi Onazi was a member of the Flying Eagles squad. Wilfred Ndidi also played in the same team with Onazi, Ahmed Musa played at the youth level. John Mikel Obi played the U17 and U20 including the Dream Team and up to the Super Eagles. I can go on. Gradually the NFF is bringing football back to where it ought to be like encouraging those who played at the youth level to get the chance to play at the serious national team level.
We must also give kudos to Gernot Rohr for given young players a chance. I think gradually we are coming back. Again, if we keep the coaches who have worked at the youth level in the system, they will be in a better position to pick the right players for the national team. If there is continuity, then there will be consistency and Nigeria will get it better.
The culture of parading overaged players in cadet teams.
I don’t think that it is happening again because there is a standard. The FIFA standard is the MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and for any player to play at the U17 level right now, he/she must pass the MRI test.
So if you pass the MRI test, it is not the NFF problem. That means you have qualified to play for the U17. The standard is MRI. The moment you pass the MRI test, then you will be allowed to play.
U17 and U20 none qualification to CAF and FIFA championships last year; what efforts are putting in place to ensure such does not reoccur?
The NFF is making efforts in this regard and that is why they appointed coaches and I think they are going in the right direction. Also the youth development football is encouraging because it remains the only way to go. When we have players who can graduate from one level to the other it makes the work easier and the system very effective.
I have been working with the national team set ups since 2010 and I have a lot of players I know that should graduate from one point to the other; the likes of Kelech Iheanacho, Chidera Eze, Francis Uzorho and Chidiebere Nwaakali. It is gradually coming into play. But for it to blossom, you need huge investment for camping of the players. Let there a centre where players will come maybe every three months, you camp them and Nigerians know about it.
It needs investment so the federal government needs to invest not just the NFF. I think the federation is going in the right direction.