Former Super Eagles captain, Austin Jay Jay Okocha has reiterated his call for proper management of the Nigerian league to make it attractive to investors.
Okocha said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Monday in Lagos.
The mercurial midfielder, who started his journey to stardom in football with Rangers International FC in 1990, said he had earlier expressed an honest opinion about the Nigerian league being a less-fancied league.
Recall that Okocha in a recent interview with the local media in Nairobi, Kenya, on Sept.1, said he would rather watch English Premier League than the Nigerian league, an opinion which generated some backlash.
The former Bolton Wanderers Captain said his judgement on the level of Nigeria’s football development was devoid of bias, adding that the managers of the league should wake up to their responsibilities.
He highlighted some solutions to the various challenges stunting the growth of the league such as lack of grassroots development, academies, feeder teams and live coverage of the league, which must be attended to.
“The future of football is grassroots development and that is the point I am trying to make.
“At this stage, we should have been able to put structures in place that can enable us to say that these are our future players.
“My position on NPFL stands. One thing that is for sure is that there is no shortage of talents in Nigeria, the only difference is management and putting structures in place.
“I don’t want to own a club, I would have loved to. But the question is, how will I function when I know that I will struggle to win away matches, knowing that those games won’t be televised?” he asked.
Explaining further Okocha said: “It hurts to see that the efforts that we have put in those years have not been built on.
“Maybe we are just realising that now and some clubs are taking the initiative.
“The league should give us what we are craving for and that is why I made the statement so that we will all wake up and do the right thing. We need to start attracting investors to our local league.
“We need to make our stadia conducive to watch matches and not people being harassed; we should make sure that we are having the right results and not that home teams must win at all cost.
“I made the statement because of anger, because I cannot be at home in Nigeria and won’t be able to watch matches. I desire to go and inspire other players,” he said.
The two-time BBC African Footballer of the Year winner advised the league managers to put all necessary structures in place and make Nigerian league attractive, which would then allow people like him to get involved.
“We must find a way to develop the league because it is no rocket science; it is a matter of mindset and our desire to do the right thing.
“If I am not comfortable going to watch matches, do you want me to sweep that under the carpet and pretend? I am not okay with the situation and can’t deal with it.
“This is another opportunity to clear what I said in Nairobi, Kenya, because at this stage of my life, it will be unfair for me to lie to our people or be covering up.
“It is true I said I will prefer to watch a premier league match instead of NPFL on television, because the league is not where it is supposed to be,” he said.
According to Okocha, local players start learning about the basics of football when they move to Europe and other countries, because grassroots football is not at the level it’s supposed to be in the country.
“If you go to some of the clubs in Nigeria, their so called feeder teams or academies are filled with old men, even older than those in the main team.
“To call a spade a spade, those footballers are not supposed to be in the feeder teams, which are supposed to be for younger players.
“The structure of the league is deficient and would not attract any meaningful development if the errors are not attended to.
“It is not about scouting all over European leagues and others looking for players that are scoring goals, then, they get call-up. National team is not magic, it is about team building,” he said.
Okocha explained that Nigerian league had not yet provided the right opportunities for players at home to play to realise their potential, and that was why some of them were fumbling abroad.
On the new found love for the Saudi Arabian league by big footballers, Okocha said he wouldn’t resist the offers being made by Saudi Arabian clubs himself.
“As an African, you can fill your cabinet with trophies, but if you can’t feed yourself, nobody will appreciate those laurels you have gathered.
“Unfortunately in Nigeria, you have to be your own government; to provide for everything that you need, or else, you will be a liability.
“Fenerbahçe FC gave me an irresistible offer, a tax free contract, this is different and better than staying in big clubs in Germany. So, you expect me to play for Bayern Munich where the taxes are higher?
“It doesn’t make sense to me, if I want to talk about Osimhen, it is his decision, but if I am given such offer, I will go without hesitation,” he said.
Okocha emphasised that if what he heard about the contract being offered Osimhen was true, he would go play in Saudi Arabia maybe for two years.
“I don’t think Ronaldo and the rest are dumb for going to Saudi Arabia.
“The problem is not about us, but family demands, and for sure, you can’t give what you don’t have. For me, I will go grab it first.
“Some players can play in four world cup and still be broke, that’s their choice.
“Feeding your family is better than filling your cabinet with trophies. It is better if both are achieved; nevertheless, players must remember their roots.
“The main reason of being a footballer is to earn a living; football is one of the few professions that can make the rich and the poor be on the same level,” Okocha said.
He further explained that he was still relevant because of what he had. “If I am hungry, nobody will remember me.”