The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has inadvertently assumed controversy as its middle name.
For over a decade, the federation has been enmeshed in one controversy or the other. If it is not election crisis, it will be over contracts it entered into or fraud related cases.
The sad part of the situation is that the federation has emerged from these crises worst off. It seems it has deliberately failed to learn any lesson.
For example, after the country failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, elections into the board of the federation became a contested issue leading to the intervention of the World football controlling body, FIFA, before Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima, the then NFF President was e4ased out in a controversial circumstances. As if that was not enough, the last elections into the board of the NFF also witnessed crisis until Amju Pinnick was elected president. The renewal of Stephen Keshi’s contract as Super Eagles Head Coach was not devoid of crisis.
There was a time $236,000 US got missing at the NFF secretariat with the where about of the money unknown.
The latest in the series of crises is the coming of Nike as the kit sponsor of the national teams. Like its first coming after the 1994 World Cup in USA, when adidas kitted the Super Eagles to its first ever World Cup, amid gale of crisis, Nike second coming is following same pattern.
The three and half year contract signed in London recently, was expected to mark a memorable return to business with one of Africa’s football power houses.
Though the deal amount to $2.75 million, this amount has no cash attached to it as it goes into kit supply to the various national teams only. The first year would see Nike supply kits worth $750,000, increasing to $1 million in the second year and so on.
The federation is also expected to earn bonuses in cash amounting to about $500,000 should the country qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Unlike previous sportswear deals involving the NFF, there was no cash benefit in terms of royalty, retainer ship fee or the likes.
The implication of the deal is that the national teams are merely expected to put on Nike kits and show up for matches. And like a staff of the football body puts it, they are just like ushers who go home with t-shirts of companies they help to advertise at occasions.
It was on adidas shirts that the Super Eagles made its historic debut at the 1994 World Cup in United States where it was rated the most entertaining team of that tournament. And for first the time, (hopefully not the last), Nigeria joined the league of prized national teams in football world in the top ten cadre, rating fifth on FIFA’s global football rating at the time.
However, Nike displaced adidas, and in 1996 Nwankwo Kanu led the Dream Team to win Africa’s Olympic football gold at the Atlanta Olympic Games. Other national teams followed with resounding successes in the continent and beyond with victories at the maiden Meridian Cup, successive victories by the women teams, youth and cadet championship to mention just a few.
Nike revelled in these global accolades and continental visibility. But in time relations with Nigeria Football Federation began to go sour. Starting from 1996 when the military administration of late Sani Abacha barred the Super Eagles from defending the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.
Prosports, which then had the exclusive rights on Nike in Africa and Middle East later, accused the NFF, just as adidas did shortly after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, of gross violation of the terms of the contract.
The culprits in this case were the Super Falcons players, who were camped in Otta Farm, in Ogun State. Prosports’ boss, Noel Okorougo claimed that the girls were putting on kits of rival kits sponsors, while in camp.
True as the claim was then, NFF officials denied it and saw it as clever exit from the contract that ran into controversy.
But for all intent and purposes, the deal entered then was a lucrative one despite all the criticisms it initially generated.
If our record is correct, the total package amounted to about $625,000 with 20% of the deal going to the agent.
The rest cover cost of kit supply to all national football teams, support for youth development, royalty and sundry charges.
Following the Nike’s exit a number of kit sponsors rushed in to fill the void; one of them was Hummels. The information then was that the little known kit manufacturers made a juicy offer that unfortunately, was rejected by some ‘ competing interests’, in then NFA and National Sports Commission, who voted for far cheaper offer from adidas.
The reason given then was that adidas, being a global brand, was best for the national teams, and that a team that is aspiring to be a world beater cannot afford to go by an unknown brand identify Trust Nigerians when it comes protecting interests.
Fast track to 2006/7 when adidas renewed it contract against all odds. Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany and lost much of her strength in the continent with the only exception being the women games where, the Super Falcons held sway. Yet, adidas signed with Nigeria with full and improved entitlements.
The NFF was also at the time mired in ugly election crisis, leading to the exit of then NFF Chairman Galadima. And even when Super Eagles crashed out of the 2010 World Cup and ran into another crisis period, the German firm remained steadfast; retainer ship and other cash benefits attached to its business flowed.
It is perhaps for these and other unstated reasons that the hue and cry over the present Nike contract continues to reverberate.
Recently while giving explanation for the contract dubbed “slave deal” in some quarters, NFF President, Amaju Pinnick, said that he negotiated the contract from a point of weakness. Among other reasons he gave why he signed the deal was that the Super Eagles did not qualify for the 2015 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations and that the federation was again into deep crisis.
“We have been doing a lot of repairs, I tell you a lot of repairs” he said. “And one thing that comes to mind is that whenever we want to interface with people, before you say one thing about Nigeria, they tell you twenty things about us and most of them negative.
“I approved money here for us to buy kits from adidas and I almost wept. I started this Nike thing in Malabo. There were other African countries… As head of the federation, yes everybody has their beat. But he said he had to take up the challenge of getting kit sponsors so as convince the firm in the negotiation of the seriousness of the matter.
Pinnick also explained that kit sponsors are gradually shying away from national teams in favour of club sides because of rising global followership. Yet this cannot explain why South Africa would extract better deal in its business with Nike.
But like some commentators have observed, it appeared that the NFF president overlooked a key component of that negotiation, namely personnel of the marketing department, who were supposed to provide background information that may have been relevant in drawing up good contract.
A top staff of the federation’s marketing department disclosed recently that the department was never consulted by Pinnick before entering into the deal.
He maintained that even an advisory that he sent to him and some top members of the board against putting signing the Nike contract was ignored.
Instead the staff had been put on notice that his position would soon be advertised, we heard.
According to the staff, some groundwork had been done back in September 2014 before the present board came in. He noted that communication between the federation and Nike suggested a keen interest on the part of the American company to do business, even as the agent maintained that the federation must make a ‘dramatic’ cut in what it was proposing for them to start talking.
But “they (Pinnick) came hijacked the contract negotiations without knowing the foundation that has been laid. They sidelined me and because the Nike lady was not comfortable because I have a higher bargaining power, they went and made the federation look like a cheap commodity. I had insisted in a memo to them that the contract is not good for the federation and Nigerians whom we represent,” noted the source.
The Flying Eagles will file out on Nike shirts as it begins its campaign to win the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. If the star team repeats the feat of the Golden Eaglets another joyous era would have begun for Nike and Nigeria.
So, the question begging for answers is; did Nigeria sell cheap, is the Nike deal the best NFF can extract from Nike, or has somebody got anything else to tell Nigerians?