Grassroots Football as a Solution Our Professional Clubs and National Teams’ Unexciting Football

By Daily Sports on March 14, 2019

Views: 845

Some weeks ago Enyimba came calling at the University of Benin (UNIBEN) Sports Complex where they were guests of Bendel Insurance in the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL). The turnout of fans that day was the largest the complex has ever known since Insurance made their return to the Professional Division 1 League after many years of playing in the second division (NNL). Despite Insurance’s home struggles this season, failing to win in two of their three home games before the Enyimba tie, football fans in Benin City still trooped out in large numbers to watch the Benin Arsenal do battle against the People’s Elephant.

The reason for the large attendance wasn’t far-fetched. Enyimba are the most illustrious Nigerian team in recent times, having won the CAF Champions League back to back in 2003 and 2004 and a slew of Nigerian league trophies.

Many came hoping to see what makes Enyimba thick. A team reputed as one of the biggest – if not the biggest – spenders in the Nigerian too flight, must surely find a way to play entertaining football to the admiration of fans.

Some years ago, during their stranglehold dominance of the Nigerian league, Enyimba had to use Bendel Insurance’s main home, the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, for a league meeting and played Insurance off the pack, winning 4-1 in the process. Benin fans became instant converts to that Enyimba team that boasted the likes of David Tyakarse, Obinna Okemiri and a host of other ball jugglers. Their passing football on that day was mesmeric, sending Insurance players on a mission of shadow chasing and opening up the their hosts’ defense as easily as a thief with a master key to his victim’s house and meeting no resistance at the door.

But this latest meeting had very little resemblance of that fanciful Enyimba display of a little more than a decade ago.

At the end of about 90 minutes of action in their latest clash, Insurance and Enyimba played out a goalless draw that disappointed spectators for its lack of genuine entertainment. The match was an exercise in sheer physical show of force, which suited the bigger framed Enyimba team, with players of the two sides spending more time in physical duels than actually passing the ball around.

The ball spent more time in the air than it did in the slightly bobbly surface of the UNIBEN pitch.

During the game, you could almost see and hear even Insurance fans wishing Enyimba would play better football and justify their big name. But according to one fan, watching a grassroots match was more interesting, in terms of quality of play and entertainment it serves, than watching the Insurance and Enyimba match.

Most matches of the Nigerian league, whether it’s the NPFL or the NNL league are similarly short of entertainment. Teams usually employ the long ball tactics, with players and coaches perhaps too lazy to decode means of playing a heavy possession-based approach to matches. Our local league football seems always too hurried, with players hoofing the ball around, going shoulder-to-shoulder in the air every time to win aerial balls with too little of those intricate passing that arouses the interests of spectators.

The football played in the league is what we see largely from under-age Nigerian national teams. The football played by the Flying Eagles at the last African under-20 junior nations cup which held in Niger is a good example of uninspiring football from the national team. The team failed to impress and as their football was usually the attempt at the functional with excitement-sapping long-balls tactics.

There’s a need for Nigeria to start to rebuild a football culture that would place much emphasis on possession football. This has to start at the level of club academies around the country.

Instilling better enjoying football in our system should start from the grassroots.

Maybe a national summit of grassroots coaches and NFF coaches is needed where the modern trends of the development of good tactics and technical players are discussed and a real genuine resolve taken to adopt a playing strategy both in training sessions and matches at the grassroots that would place emphasis on such things as passing from the back, players positioning and interaction with space and how to open defences without overly resorting to the desperate and lazy long balls into the box of opponents.

Many African countries play better football in their leagues and seem to have benefited from a culture of playing football the right way right from their youth academies.

Is it any surprise that Nigerian clubs are doing very poorly in the continent when you see the football served up in the Nigerian league? It’s quite embarrassing seeing Nigerian clubs unable to cope when faced against many African clubs. Watching Orlando Pirates passing Enyimba off the park in South Africa, watching Nigerian clubs always being bereft of ideas against Nigerian teams and then seeing them bullying lesser clubs in the continent while not particularly playing good entertaining football has been a recurring affair every year.

The win at all cost culture of football is very visible in the grassroots in Nigeria and many clubs care less about the aesthetics of the game. The pressure to win games and prize money of tournaments seeps into many coaches who in turn put so much pressure on their players to ‘play forward’ all the time and what we get are clubs and payers lacking in confidence to try intricate things and we end up with football that is uninterestingly rushed.

There can be a way out of the malaise. The conversations must seriously begin about how we can change this culture. According to Arsenal’s former legendary manager, football is an art, like dancing is an art. But only when it’s done well that it becomes real art.

Source Daily Sports

Posted March 14, 2019


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