In life one cannot but take risks. President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Melvin Pinnick disclosed the other day that he took two risks when he opted for coach Gernot Rohr and when he did not support the candidacy of Alhaji Issa Hayatou for his eighth term as President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF). The risks have paid great dividends as Nigeria has qualified for its sixth appearance at the World Cup with a game to spare.
Who really is Amaju Melvin Pinnick?
From his emergence as the President of the Nigeria Football Federation on September 30, 2014, Nigerian football which was in decline when he was elected has received a great shot in the arm.
Amaju was born as the 15th of 19 children to the family of Chief Oritsetimeyin Japhaet Pinnick. He graduated from the University of Benin, with a Second Class Upper in Political Science and Public Administration in 1994. From primary school through secondary to university level and afterwards, Pinnick has always been involved in football and Nigeria has started to benefit from his experience and expertise.
In March 2017, Pinnick won a seat into the prestigious executive committee of the Confederation of African Football.
He defeated incumbent Moucharafou Anjorin of Benin Republic by 32 to 17 votes at the CAF elective Congress in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Nigeria thus made a return to the highest organ in CAF since the exit of Dr Amos Adamu.
Working with clear focus, Pinnick triumphed over initial distractions, including litigation and instantly began consultations with football stakeholders across the country with a single minded objective of forming a united and focused football body that would work assiduously towards uplifting Nigerian football.
Next was the strategic plan. Working side by side with the NFF executive, particularly the chairman of the League Management Company, a tested football administrator, Mallam Shehu Dikko and Barrister Seyi Akinwunmi, another experienced football bureaucrat, who are both vice-presidents on the Nigeria Football Federation board, the Pinnick-led board came up with series of innovations and modern techniques in managing the national teams. One of this is the periodic visits to different clubs across the world where our national team players ply their trade. This has improved the hitherto frosty relationship between the country and the clubs, especially on timely release of players for national teams’ assignments.
Having successfully put the house in order, Pinnick whose chairmanship of Delta Football Association and tenure as Director General of Delta Sports Commission recorded 288 medals, including 114 gold, 99 silver and 75 bronze medals for the state, beamed his searchlight on coaches and gradually, the national teams were all allocated new coaches, giving preference to ex-internationals alongside other contenders.
Ex-international, Sunday Oliseh was subsequently appointed to coach the Super Eagles and he had a short stint with the team before he was replaced by a German coach, Gernot Rohr, an experienced tactician who has coached the national teams of Burkina Faso and Gabon.
Pinnick then undertook the tour of Europe and other top leagues in the world where he met and discussed with several Nigerian players. The result was the influx of young players into the national teams, with a resurgence of interest by different players in playing for the Super Eagles.
A new era gradually emerged and competition for places in the team became competitive, thereby raising the standard of the team.
Within two years, a new Super Eagles gradually evolved and from different friendlies to competitive matches, the team began to win the confidence of the nation, with the coaches putting them through different tactical regimen towards achieving the best formation.
Before long, the best eleven, backed by a formidable bench that can support the team at all times, emerged.
Within a year, the country’s ratings on FIFA ranking improved tremendously.
Though Nigeria missed out on the African Cup of Nations, it was an important learning curve and with hundred percent support from the Pinnick-led NFF, the national team forged ahead undeterred.
Among the new faces that have now become household names in the national team are Leon Balogun, a fast improving central defender with Mainz FC in Germany; William Troost-Ekong of Bursaspor in Turkey, who partners Leon in the defence, Odion Ighalo, Moses Simon, Abdullahi Shehu, Ola Aina, Kelechi Ihenacho, Alex Iwobi, Wilifed Ndidi, Tyron Ebuehi and others. They have joined the likes of Ogenyi Onazi, Mikel Obi, Victor Moses, Oghenekaro Etebo and Elderson Echiejile in forming a rock solid national team.
The 2018 World Cup qualifiers commenced in earnest and the Eagles were drawn in Group D alongside Algeria, Cameroon and Zambia.
The team started the qualifiers with a victory in Ndola, Zambia where the Zambian national team, Chipolopolo were defeated 2-1 with goals coming from Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi of Arsenal.
Next was the top African side, Algeria who were rated as the best African side in the last World Cup and occupied the top spot in African football ranking. The Eagles thrashed the Desert Warriors 3-1 at Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo to move up to the commanding position in the Group with six points.
After a long break, the qualifiers resumed in August, but before then the Eagles comprising mostly upcoming players lost 2-0 to the well prepared Bafana Bafana in the 2018 African Cup of Nations qualifiers. This was a strong lesson for the Eagles and a wakeup call, especially in the World Cup qualifiers.
Immediately, the Pinnick-led NFF board sprang to action and the technical team was given a marching order. The team bounced back from the set back with victories in different friendlies. It was also reinforced with regular players that missed the Bafana Bafana match.
The result of the action of the NFF was more than what Nigerians bargained for. The rampaging Super Eagles thrashed the defending champions of African Cup of Nations, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, picking four out of six maximum points. The Lions lost 4-0 in Uyo and forced the Eagles to a 1-1 draw in Yaounde in the return leg of the round-robin encounter. The Eagles then extended their lead at the top of Group D, posting a total of ten points.
Meanwhile, the Pinnick-led NFF started as early as September to put all plans in place to ensure that the Chipolopolo crash in Uyo on October 7 in order to facilitate easy passage to the 2018 World Cup for the Eagles and making the final qualifying match against Algeria a mere formality by end of the year.
This came to pass when the Zambians came calling in Uyo and were beaten by a lone goal scored by Arsenal’s Iwobi. Thus, the Super Eagles became the first African country to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. What a feat! Our football is gradually on the ascendancy and this is heartwarming.
The architect of this resurgency is none other than the suave Pinnick.
Right now, the Eagles are on fire and there is no stopping them. The next task is qualification for 2018 Nations Cup which is a veritable dress rehearsal for the World Cup.
As the Super Eagles march forward to the 2018 World Cup, soccer-loving Nigerians are expecting a performance that would improve on our second round qualification. With Eagles setting standards for other national teams including the Flying Eagles, U-23, U-20, U-17 and Super Falcons, new era is indeed here for Nigerian football, all thanks to the deft touches of Amaju Pinnick.