This is a simple question that should elicit aggressive positive answers, followed by urgent expressions of intent; and for many reasons. Nigerians love football, this is one idea that involves a lot of money, add the attendant follow-on of the impact such a huge amount will make in our sports economy, and the rush to actualize a project like this, should be a no-brainer.
Alas, that is not the case, simply because a project like this cannot be built on nothing; it needs a solid foundation and pillars so unshakeable, that it will not be affected by the battering which tests anything that will be built to last.
The $6.5m project is what Al-Ahly Football Club of Egypt completed on Thursday, when they finished in Third Place at the FIFA Club World Cup for the second time in their history, by defeating Palmeiras of Brazil 3-2 via penalty shootout. The Egyptians had finished in Third Place behind Internacional of Brazil and Barcelona of Spain in 2006, and were Fourth in 2012 when they lost the Third Place game to Monterrey of Mexico. TP Mazembe of DR Congo had cruised past the same Brazilian team with a 2-0 victory on their way to the Final in 2010.
But back to the project.
The success of the Egyptians on the African continent is a result of a deliberate policy to chase what is important: the Egyptian Football Association don’t participate in the African Nations Championship. It is not arrogance; why play a tournament designed for players based on the African continent, to give them a chance at international football and tournament, when their own players are not classed?
Egypt have won more African Championships, both at Club and national team level than any other nation, and yet they are one of the few countries that show up at the Nations Cup with a glut of players based in Egypt and led by an Egyptian. That is a deliberate policy; players that are built to compete at major championships don’t roll in second rated ones.
There is no doubt their League is the best in the Africa; yet they don’t make any claims to be ‘the giants of Africa’. Empty barrels make the most noise.
What Al-Ahly have done, is that they ended 2020 with the $2.5m prize money for winning a record-extending 9th CAF Champions League title, and have begun 2021 by earning another $4m for finishing 3rd in the 2020 FIFA World Club Cup. That is the $5m Football Project the Nigeria Football Federation must help everybody connected with the Nigeria Professional Football League to see.
Nigerians are always glad when the Super Eagles qualify for the FIFA World Cup; after all it is a thing of joy to see your country line up alongside the best nations in the world. But for many African countries, qualifying for the World Cup offers more than emotional benefit; there is also a financial benefit attached.
Every nation that qualifies gets a $1.5m handout from FIFA, those who get knocked out in the first round earn an added princely sum of $8m, Nigeria earned $9m after (or is it despite?) losing to France in the Round of 16 in Brazil – that is why (minnow) nations recruit players from all over, to guarantee the reward that comes from participating at the Football Mundial.
And this same approach, which has turned the Super Eagles into the main focus of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), should be extended into building the structures that would guarantee success in Africa, and participating in the World Club Cup routine, for teams in the Nigeria Professional Premier League.
Let us be clear; both the NFF and the League Management Company (NPFL) have done things in the past few years that have improved the League, but those things as honest as they are, are just scratching the surface; they have not addressed the urgent need to push Nigerian footballers and by extension, Nigeria Football, into the big leagues.
So, who is interested in the $6.5m Football Project? The foundation is all the teams in the NPFL, the building blocks include referees, media, fans and the officials of the NPFL and the NFF – those of us who are interested, are also the building blocks. Until we start seeing ourselves the way we are, and we determine to change it for a better version; the Nigerian league and the players, will continue to be excluded from worthwhile projects such as these.