Nigeria’s representative at this year’s CAF Champion’s league, Heartland FC, indoubtedly did the country proud by reaching the finals of the tourney, though they narrowly lost out on the away goals rule to Congolese outfit TP Mazembe. They have every reason to be content with their final placing at the competition as that was the best the level of preparation they put into it could produce. With the level of seriousness (or lack there of) that the team, its officials, and supporters put into the crucial encounter, they could never have achieved anything better than the ‘king of the pretenders’ title they came out with.The Heartland FC team looked shabby in a cruelly crafted kit, belying the importance of the encounter, and making the final game of Africa’s biggest club tournament look like a local league tie between Sunshine star and Mighty Jets. The team’s goalkeeper Brown, had a pair of shorts that had two numbers roughly inscribed on a part directly over his right thigh, one was the number ‘12’ while the other appeared like the number ‘17’ to me. He did not have any name on his jersey and his gloves matches the description of one meant for bikers. The other player’s had their names and numbers daubed at the back of their jerseys with what appeared to be a mixture of chalk, local pap and water. The emblazoned words and numbers looked like the handiwork of a poorly trained apprentice ‘printer’ (that’s what they call them these days). To even make matters worse, the team’s Jerseys did not even carry the CAF Champions League badge.
This scruffy appearance was not restricted to the players alone as the medical attendants of the team also appeared totally out of sort. One of them came in with a face cap that popular television character ‘Ajasco’ would have refused to adorn out of shame. The only individual that appeared presentable on the Heartland FC side was the coach Kelechi Emetiole who though wearing a slightly oversized suit, appeared the only person that could say he did not come out of a jungle. I hoped Madam Dora Akunyili was watching as Nigeria was being thoroughly De-branded in front of the world?
Enough of the sermon about the apparel worn by the team! After all, it was not a fashion parade but a serious matter of football. However, if truth is to prevail and be said, the dinginess of their outfit was like a piece of jewel in the desert compared to their gameplay on the day. The game itself clearly showed that African club football was light years away from what was being played on other continents. Needless to reiterate that the two teams played poorly, but TP Mazembe had a better mentality coming into the encounter, while Heartland FC came in with the obsolete strategy of putting every man behind the ball and involving in silly time-wasting tactics.
However, what may have been the deciding factor in the encounter must have been the massive support at the Stadium rooting for the Congolese side, even the President of the country Joseph Kabila was at the stadium to support the club side. I had wrongly imbibed the opinion that Nigerians gave the best support to their soccer teams, but how wrong had I been? The CAF Champions League final game was lost in Owerri where Nigerians abandoned the team. There was very little awareness of the game, as sycophantic journalists and greedy football administrators were busy paying eye-service in Abuja. There are reports that a certain privately owned television station was given money by the team’s management to broadcast the game live but failed to carry out its part of the agreement! Shameful!
Unfortunately, the team would return back to the country soon and things would go on as usual. The NFL would not bother to review the performance of the country’s representatives and even if they do, it would be an avenue for further pillaging of public funds at its disposal with no meaningful output. The cycle of soccer failure in the country continues!