Over the last 5 days, the football world has been rattled by the allegations of 2 former Eagles’ players, Chinedu Obasi and Taye Taiwo. Both claim there was corruption going on in the national team during the era of late Stephen Okechukwu Keshi as head coach. Former team media officer, Ben Alaiya has come out to strongly deny Obasi’s claim of being asked to pay to be in the 2014 World Cup team while former assistant coach, Ike Shorunmu’s disavowal included that of Taye Taiwo who said he left the team because Keshi was involved in ‘dirty dealings’.
The denial hardly ever gets as much attention as a mind-blowing allegation so as such, these players’ accounts of what transpired in their time is still buzzing. Frankly, you wouldn’t blame anyone for paying little or no attention to the denials. The mind of the average Nigerian has been moulded by the numerous stories of corruption in Nigerian football over at least the last 2 decades to absorb these allegations as definitely true.
We have heard of FA officials arranging fake friendlies that eventually get cancelled so that they can pocket the funds allocated and also of players buying Rolex watches for coaches after the era of the Eagles mafia; a group of players that determined who played and who didn’t. The current NFF President, Amaju Pinnick and other members of the glasshouse are currently being accused by the EFCC of diverting a total sum of $8.4M in FIFA grants.
In an open letter i wrote to the sports minister, Mr Sunday Aare after Pinnick discussed terms of a contract Rohr was yet to receive on TV, I cited unconfirmed stories suggesting Pinnick was angry at head coach, Genort Rohr for refusing to allow his players give ‘gifts’ and didn’t discuss or notify Rohr of the appointment of Joseph Yobo (who is his preferred choice of the head coach) as Rohr’s assistant because he was hoping Rohr would quit due to the disrespectful manner in which he was being treated.
However if one chooses to set aside the notoriety of the major stakeholders in football as a parameter for judging the allegations by Taiwo and Obasi and analyzes the matter holistically, the conclusion would have to be that it is not safe to attach too much weight to what they are claiming. At least until strong corroborative evidence surfaces.
To start with, Chinedu Obasi and Taye Taiwo were never an integral part of Stephen Keshi’s plans when he became the coach. As Keshi’s policy of unearthing young talents home and abroad started to take shape, most members of their era started to make way for younger and ‘poorer’ players.
Before the provisional list for the 2014 World Cup being released, Nigeria had played and won the Afcon in South Africa a year before. Obasi and Taiwo were not in that team. More notably, the 2014 World cup team which Obasi claimed to have refused to pay a bribe to be part of had players like Azubuike Egwueke of Warri Wolves, Kunle Odunlami of Sunshine stars, Ejike Uzoenyi of Rangers and Godfrey Oboabona, the former captain of Sunshine stars who had just left the team months earlier to go overseas.
There were a plethora of foreign stars at that time who could afford to pay to be in the team ahead of these players and others like Juwon Oshaniwa of Ashdod in Israel who was the left-back of the team; the position Taye Taiwo plays. While Obasi didn’t mention names as he was urged to by the former Eagles media officer, Taiwo it would be recalled was more explicit and cited the ‘dirty dealings’ of Keshi as his reason for leaving the Eagles.
Taiwo never told anyone then he had left the Eagles and wouldn’t honour any more invitations. He played only one game under Keshi and that was an Afcon qualifier against Rwanda. That Nigerians never bothered asking back then why he wasn’t being invited speaks to the fact that he wasn’t the player he once was. As a matter of fact, Taiwo told Goal.com’s Shina Oludare afterwards that he would play for the Eagles if he was ever invited and that Keshi hadn’t been answering his calls. It is shameful for Taiwo to say now that he ‘packed his things and left’ the Eagles.
In November 2012, Obasi was telling the press that he would be happy to return to the Eagles if Keshi gave him a chance to fight for a place in the Afcon team after returning from injury. Keshi went on to win the Afcon and at about that same time a year later, Obasi was left out of the provisional team for the 2014 World Cup because he was injured again. Shorunmu has said this so has Ben Alaiya. Obasi is not disputing these claims now like he also didn’t in 2014.
Without outrightly dismissing what they allege, the evidence available points to both players being victims of Keshi’s revolution than of the players being pushed out for refusing to pay bribes. The closest thing to a corroboration both have gotten from anyone was Keshi’s assistant Daniel Amokachi telling KweseESPN that striker, Brown Ideye deserved to be in the World cup team. However, he didn’t say Keshi received a bribe, he only said he was helpless because he wasn’t the coach. Amokachi impeached his own credibility when he said ‘players he didn’t even know’ made the team when every member of the final 23 was part of a provisional team of 30 that he camped with.
More intriguing is the fact that he was suggesting Ideye’s dropping had something to do with him (Amokachi) fighting a lot of people. If anything, his interview points more to him being the corrupt one since ‘his boy’ would be dropped by people he was fighting with to annoy him.
Anyone who watched that team would attest to the fact that Ideye was not a stand out performer. His goals ratio tell the whole story. The young and hungry template had worked for Keshi at Afcon 2013 and had come to be accepted as his trademark in 2014.
From where I am standing these players were more victim of that than anything else.
Umar Sa’ad Hassan is based in Kano