Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Of 21 players, Yobe Desert Stars and open screening.



The football pre-season period in Nigeria is one most football fans in the country look forward to with keen interest as to who will show up through the door to play for their favourite teams

Coaches also make the transition as has been the case this season with a bevy of coaches playing musical chairs across the league.

These movements are a natural occurrence for leagues all over the world but Nigeria (and a few other countries I must admit) have turned this exciting period to a comedy-fest.

I’ve never written about anything like this and I wasn’t convinced to pen something down but like a stubborn goitre, it stuck to my throat and refused to go despite my failed attempts at treating it.

I woke up to the news that newly promoted Yobe Desert Stars had signed up 21 players for the new season. I’ve heard of 11-14 players, but 21? That’s a new record (I stand corrected though).

But 21? Who does that?. I will get back to Babaganaru Mohammed’s and his record-breaking feat but let me face the issue at hand.

Nigerian clubs have a penchant for releasing players en-masse at the end of the season and then ironically, conducting ‘open screening’ sessions to get new players (which hardly works out at the end). 

I have tried as much a possible to see the sense in it to no avail.
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Rivers United conducted an open screening session a few weeks back with the aim of recruiting nay discovering new talent for their team and when I thought it won’t get worse Wikki Tourists also joined the gang.

It didn’t stop there.

Katsina United relegated teams ABS and Gombe United all took a bite off the poisoned chalice (emphasis mine). My beloved Rangers International took it a step further by conducting an open screening of players for the main team and then..wait for it.....another open screening.

New coach Gbenga Ogunbote has however called up a few players to Enugu with a view to signing them to fix some problem areas in the squad which apparently the ‘screening’ failed to achieve.


Hopeful players in their hundreds thronged the screening sessions with the hope of getting picked by these teams and realising their football dreams, dreams which usually doesn’t come to fruition as a lot of these exercises are just are just insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Open screening exercises are not entirely bad. Rough diamonds have been unearthed this way but that is like looking for a needle in a haystack, it is a waste of time and limited resources on many fronts.

The time spent on this can be used for more productive things as well as blending new players into their squads.

Professional football clubs should endeavour to have proper scouting departments. A special unit that will be responsible for scouting players from the league and grassroots. The department should be saddled with developing and implementing short-term, mid-term and long-term goals as regards player recruitment. 

This will save cost and time for the coaches and technical staff who will only concentrate on drilling the players during pre-season instead of spending weeks on open screening sessions before the usual ‘invitation for trials’ commences.

I was with Niger Tornadoes coach Abubakar Bala when the Minna-side open the pre-season came. It was straight to trials for ‘invited’ players. Chop and change was the mantra as he went about his business.

From a distance, over a period of one week and a few test games to boot, I could see the core of his squad and say for certain the areas he was looking to plug. It was that straightforward. Even though the system isn’t perfect, it was a diversion from the usual Nigerian template of an all-comers -come and try your luck affair.

Our clubs need to do better, we need to plan better. I’ve always insisted that ‘next season begins when this season starts’. 

The way to go is to gauge your strength and weaknesses as the season goes by with the purpose of making your squad better. The scouting unit is expected to spread their dragnet all over the place to identify players who can do the business for the short term or long term and set out plans to get those players on board during transfer windows.

Scouting did wonders for league champions Plateau United last season. The appointment of Ahmed Ibrahim a.ka Coach Bros was a master-stroke by the Plateau United management team. He was able to reinvigorate the scouting unit and took it upon himself to lead the charge.

Peter Eneji (who has since been capped the Super Eagles), Emeka Umeh and a host of others were brought in and they contributed immensely to United’s first ever league title.

Ibrahim is arguably the go-to man when it comes to grassroots football in North Central Nigeria producing the likes of Moses Simon, Kingsley Madu, Philip Azango and a lot more. He brought his experience to bear at United and they were the better for it.

Nigerian clubs can also do well to take a cue from Enyimba’s recruitment policy which is one of the best in the country.

Sporting Director Jude Anyadufu knows his onions as he has been in the business for ages which puts him in a good stead to be emulated. He goes about his business quietly-identifying the loopholes in his team and looking at how to screw the loose areas tight with the right bolt.

Players are identified, their clubs contacted, terms are reached with the target, and he is off to Aba. 

They keep it simple and short.

Back to the issue at Damaturu where Baba Ganaru will try to gel 14 old players and 21 new players (still can’t wrap my head around it) into a team capable of holding their own in the 2017/18 Nigeria Professional Football League.

The 21 players recently signed consist of players who have played in the NPFL and NNL, a few of the veterans in their own right. Former Rangers goalkeeper Akor Itodo, Kano Pillars striker Shagari Mohammed, ex Shooting Stars Philip Asuquo and the experienced Philip Auta are among the players who have linked up with the newly promoted side.

I have no stats as regards how many players were signed after the open screening session by Yobe Desert stars as nothing came from their ends despite my inquiries but it will be a herculean task for the experienced coach.
Yobe Desert Stars coach Baba Ganaru Mohammed. | pic credit @shengolpixs

On the flip side, the postponement of the resumption of the league should be a silver lining for him as he gets ample team to blood the old and new together even though it will be a ‘walk on nails’ season for the former El-Kanemi Warriors coach.

I’m no betting man but if I were to jab a slip, I would say his team will be relegated or at best flirt with relegation. I hope he proves me wrong, I really hope he does.

Might take a long time before our clubs take up the gauntlet and run their race in a professional way but before then, as we say in Nigeria-it is well.


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