The 3G network threatening many of Nigeria’s grassroots players

By Daily Sports on December 15, 2016

Views: 4,499

As someone who has been coaching grassroots players, I have watched with dismay how the number of very talented grassroots players has dwindled in Benin city where I live. The number of the ones I know who have, for one reason or the other, left the game is alarmingly high, and it makes me wonder how many would soon be left standing with the enthusiasm to play.

Ex-basketballer (who is now a celebrated psychologist) John Amaechi, in one of his bitesize lectures, once asked people who aspire to do great things in life to search for their souls in the dark. By this he meant that they should have a silent and honest consideration of the likely impediments to their lofty career pursuits and what could possibly aid them up as well. After they have done that they could then make a choice on pursuing or halting a particular dream.

Well, many a young grassroots footballer in Nigeria may never have heard about John Amaechi, but it is safe to say that they have searched their souls and have come to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that football as a career won’t be possible.

The main reason why many of them come to this conclusion at the lower level of the game has little to do with talent than the dream-crushing economic situation in the country.

When players struggle to feed, (many manage to once a day) and find it almost impossible to maintain worn-out boots and other kits, playing on may seem too much of a drag.

A lot of players who have left and the others who are considering stopping their progress in the game are not standing still and allowing themselves to sink into despondency.

Some things are taking the place of the lack of enthusiasm to play among many players in Nigeria today; some phenomena which offer long-suffering grassroots players a chance of attaining riches and fame. These phenomena are what I term the 3G network. They are ‘Gee’, ‘Ground’ and ‘Gangs’. Together these three factors are threatening to eat much further into the numbers of talented players around and drain the country of much needed football heroes.

By ‘gee’ I mean internet fraud. When someone is into this game, they say he is a ‘gee man’. This is the ongoing fad in the streets today. Everywhere you look there’s a young boy who has 'just hammered’.

A young exciting winger in Benin, who everyone had predicted would go on to greater heights for the country after he was invited by a former Super Eagles coach to play in a top Nigerian club some few years ago, gave up his football goals after a fraudster duped his family. They reportedly paid almost a million naira to a fake football scout who had promised to take him to Turkey for a club. His family was left in dire straits when the agency that loaned them the money came calling.

He was introduced into internet fraud as a way of rescuing his family. Today he’s one of Benin City’s biggest young millionaires. He flaunts his flashy cars and bling bling. Many young players have followed suit. Many will.

Another factor that constitutes the 3G network is what they call in pidgin parlance: ‘ground’. This is a reference to the land journey many embark upon to Libya, en route to Italy. It’s common to hear people say ‘boys have vanished from the streets to Europe through ground’. While this is hyperbolical in a sense, it is true that many young talented stars have made this dangerous journey through the Mediterranean waters, dumping their football, to find a better life.

I had a young and very good midfielder in my team who I nicknamed Frank Lampard. His knack for intelligent one-touch passing and arriving in the box to score was excellent. I was giddy about having him shine for the world to see. He was a young ambitious lad, barely 18 years old, and always dreamt, like other young players, of moving to Europe to play.

I hoped he would move at the ripe time and sign like a big star just like Isaac Success who moved from grassroots side BJ FC of Benin City to Granada in Spain.

One morning, this young midfielder’s family offered him the chance of moving to Europe and gave him an ultimatum to leave for Libya immediately or they would never help him travel anymore. He had to go, against his best wish which was to stay and play in the Edo State League with us earlier this year and progress steadily in the game towards a European club.

Today I fear for his football future, given the tough asylum process he must overcome in order to get a permit to play at a professional level.

When many players here see selfies of their friends and ex team mates looking well fed and in beautiful exotic places, the temptation to pack their bags and head to Europe through 'ground' becomes too strong to resist.

The last of the 3Gs is gangs. Perhaps this is the oldest among the lot. Gang membership dues offer youths the money with which to get by. A lot of good young players unfortunately see a rise in the cadre of their cult group as a sure means of making some money and, instead of working hard in football, they concentrate their time and energies on becoming the baddest.

For football to continue to grow as an income earner to players, their families, the government and the larger society, we all must come to the conclusion that this ugly state of affairs should not continue. More investment needs to be made to make the welfare of players in the grassroots a priority.

More emphasis must be placed on teaching the right values in life and making sure young grassroots players inculcate these values. This of course means too that the youths must be sensitised to insist on good governance so that they would know that their hard work would likely pay.

We must also have the moral courage to acknowledge that a society where the best brains leave for greener pastures, where fraudulent youths are celebrated more than honest hardworking individuals, and an insecure society where gangs and membership of cult groups constitute a parallel government can never thrive for long. 

Source Daily Sports

Posted December 15, 2016

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