Former Super Eagles Assistant Coach, Sylvanus Okpala, believes that for Nigerian sports to regain traction and be amongst the best globally, Presidential Candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, must be given the chance to rule the country.
‘Quick Silver’ as the former winner of the 1980 AFCON with the Green Eagles is fondly called, told THISDAY during the week that as someone who has seen it all in Nigerian football both as player and coach, only Obi has the interest of the sports sector at heart.
“I know so many sportsmen and women both retired and active who are into the Obidient Movement like myself Sylvanus Okpala. There are several coaches: male and female also part of this movement.
“They have never met Peter Obi before, they have no link whatsoever with him previously but have seen him as someone who does what he says and believe he will change the face of Nigeria and our sports. This is why we have thrown our weight behind his presidential ambition. All of us are no politicians or card carrying members of any party. We just believe Peter Obi has the capacity to change the face of our sports for once,” stressed Okpala, who played club football for Enugu Rangers, C.S. Marítimo and C.D. Nacional in the Portuguese Liga before retiring into coaching.
Asked what Peter Obi will do differently to change the narrative of current sports woes, Okpala stressed that the presidential candidate of the Labour Party has demonstrated in words and deeds that he has the capacity to turn around all sectors of the economy, including sports.
“Peter Obi has been asked this question in the past about sponsorship and how he’s going to raise funds for his campaign. He said he will start with the little he has and sell to the people what he intends to do and why it is important for the people to follow him. And that after doing that, if the people see him as a good and viable product, they will key into it and bring in money.
“And that exactly is what is happening today. He has the biggest movement in this dispensation. He has the most spread within five, six months of joining the Labour Party and getting the presidential ticket of that party. And that is what Peter Obi is saying will happen in sports, not just football.”
The former Enugu Rangers star defender pointed at how Super Eagles failure to win AFCON 2021 as well as the inability to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar had adversely created sponsorship problems for the senior national team.
“For example, if Nigeria had won the last AFCON 2021 in Cameroon, are we going to be crying over lack of sponsors for our football activities today? The answer is no. A good product sells itself. People always want to identify with the winner. We live in a winner-takes-it-all world. If we had won the AFCON 2021 and also qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, of course, sponsors would have been falling over each other to identify with the Super Eagles. And so, because we didn’t win the AFCON and also failed to qualify for Qatar 2022, now, funding our football activities have run into cul de sac,” recalled the ex international.
On the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) that has been without sponsors for several seasons, Okpala insisted that there is no way brands will identify with where they will not get full value for their money.
“Organisation is key to getting any sponsor to come near a product. Until we make our league viable with good organisation, I am afraid, we may not come out of the wood we are in right now. I know, because I played the game here and abroad as a professional. I was amongst the very first set of players from the domestic league to go abroad to play pro football. So I know what I am talking about.
“Look at the English Premier League. Money just didn’t come into the league when the reformation started in 1992 thereabout. No, they started it out with little funding and gradually, businesses saw it as a great product to invest in. Today, massive television broadcast money has made it the most viable league around the world. That success boils down to good organisation of the league. “Now, everybody with cash want to come to England to buy Premier League clubs because they see them as good investment that will bring in returns.
“We in Nigeria can get a fair share of the money in football if we do the right things because we have the talents here. I believe that with Peter Obi at the helmsman in Aso Villa come 2023, every other sector, including sports, will key in for better management of our sports,” concludes Okpala who won the AFCON 2013 as assistant coach to late Stephen Keshi.
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