Sunday, 21 August 2016


The journey of a thousand miles, they say, begins with a step. But for Nigeria’s U-23 team, the trip to a bronze medal outing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil, began with and was tainted with controversy after controversy.
Head coach Samson Siasia first led the team to a silver medal outing at the 2008 Beijing Games but his second coming to the side left much to be desired right from the build-up to the 2015 All Africa Games to the African qualifiers for the Olympics and then the Olympics proper.
Siasia led the team to considerable success winning the 2015 U-23 African Cup of Nations despite the challenges and qualifying for Rio but the squad faced a tumultuous time before winning the bronze on Saturday, courtesy of a hard-fought 3-2 defeat of Honduras.
Below are some of the troubles they faced on their way to the podium in Rio:
Bonus row ahead of AAG
Players of the team rejected the $1,000 offered each of them by the Nigeria Football Federation after their 4-1 victory over Gabon in a 2015 All Africa Games qualifier last year.
The players were reportedly set for a showdown with the federation, insisting that the money was too small for them despite the federation’s complaints of lack of finance.
“It is not good that after the victory in Libreville, all they could give us is a meager $1,000,” a player told
Team media officer Timi Ebikagboro, however dispelled the story.
‘Wash-and-wear’ Nike contract
At last year’s All Africa Games, players of the U-23 team had just one jersey, which they had to wash themselves after each game. “It’s embarrassing; we don’t have training kits up till now. We wash and wear. People see the finished product but they don’t see what we go through,” coach Siasia said in Congo.
Pinnick abandons team in Pointe Noire
NFF boss Amaju Pinnick, an Arsenal fan, came under a barrage of criticisms when he travelled to London to watch the Community Shield game between the Gunners and Chelsea at the expense of the U-23 team and the Super Falcons, who were both involved in matches leading up to the Rio Games.
The Falcons lost 2-1 to Equatorial Guinea in Bata and crashed out of the Olympics, but the U-23 team held the Congolese to a 0-0 draw in Pointe Noire, to qualify for the 2015 U-23 AFCON in Senegal.
Siasia’s mother kidnapped
While in Gambia preparing the squad for the U-23 AFCON, which serves as qualifiers for the Olympics, Siasia’s mother, Beauty, was abducted by gunmen at Odoni community of  Sagbama Local Council Area of Bayelsa State and forcefully whisked away on a motorcycle. The 72-year-old woman regained freedom 12 days later after pleas from Siasia and members of the family.
NFF queries Siasia
Last October, the NFF queried Siasia over what they described as a “media outburst” after the coach publicly accused the federation of neglecting his U-23 team, with a month to the Olympic qualifying tournament in Senegal.
Siasia said the NFF owed him match bonuses, allowances and his three months’ salaries, adding that he should not be blamed if the team failed to qualify for the Olympic Games. But the NFF officials, who were “highly embarrassed” by Siasia’s comments, issued him a query, demanding to know why he should not be sanctioned.
Coach faces the sack
The future of Siasia as coach of the team was however left hanging in the balance as angry officials set out to sack the ex-international.
Angered by Siasia’s outburst in the media, the federation reportedly contemplated deploying  Salisu Yussuf as the U-23 team head coach with Fatai Amao and Gbenga Ogunbote as assistants, but Siasia held on like the proverbial cat with nine lives.
Playing without NFF logo
At the Africa U-23 AFCON in Senegal late last year, Nike omitted NFF’s official logo from jerseys of the U-23 team, leading to insinuations that the kits were probably bought at a sports shop as the details of the contract deal between the NFF and Nike was largely kept secret from Nigerians.
Players threaten AFCON final boycott
The players threatened to boycott the 2015 U-23 AFCON final against Algeria in protest against their unpaid allowances at the tournament in Senegal.
It took the intervention of the sports ministry, whose officials flew to Dakar with cash in foreign denominations, to restore parity just hours to the final victory against the North Africans.
Dalung denies team
The U-23 team arrived in Atlanta early in July without money as they prepared ahead of the Olympics. The Atlanta 1996 gold-winning side and their 2008 counterparts, who won silver in Beijing, had their trainings ahead of both Olympics in the US.
The present team according to their coach, Samson Siasia, had to resort to begging to make ends meet, with reports saying they played friendly games wearing different jersey brands.
But the Rio-bound team were left to rue their fate after sports minister, Solomon Dalung, distanced himself from their Olympic preparations.
“That our U-23 team is suffering in the United States is news to me because we do not know what they are there for. Also we do not know who actually took them to the United States of America. We are not part of the team’s trip to the USA; we were not told about the trip, so what they are facing on their trip is not our business,” Dalung stated.
Mikel’s $30,000 drama
Team Nigeria captain, Mikel Obi, who joined the squad in Atlanta late on, reportedly donated $30,000 to the cash-strapped Olympic team after the team had lamented the terrible conditions they had been training. But the Chelsea midfielder dismissed the reports, saying he didn’t give out any money to the squad.
Dalung sidelines Siasia for Mikel
While in Atlanta to visit the squad with less than 48 hours to their opening game in Manaus, Dalung ordered Mikel to take charge of the team, in an apparent move to spite coach Siasia, who had complained bitterly in the media about the state of the team and his unpaid five months salaries.
The minister stated, “There is no doubt that the ministry was not considered while plans were being made for the Olympic football team. Nevertheless, we shall intervene to remedy the situation. I have appealed to the captain (Mikel) to assume control of the team and restore sanity.
“For officials who decided to violate the code of their profession and take to the media to secure cheap blackmail, their conduct will definitely be measured with existing rules.”
Squad stranded in Atlanta
The African champions were locked in a race against time to make it to Brazil for its opening match on August 4, following a ridiculous mix-up that left the players stranded in Atlanta.
The squad finally left the US on the morning of their game, boarding a flight that landed in Manaus with just hours to spare ahead of their Group B clash with Japan.
Mikel named Nigeria captain
The sports ministry’s announcement of Mikel as Team Nigeria captain created yet another controversy, as some felt that it was the duty of the Nigeria Olympic Committee, who are in charge of the team, to do so. Some others also felt seven-time Olympian Segun Toriola should have been given the honour of leading the country in Rio.
Unknown national anthem
The squad arrived in Manaus just in time for the game against Japan but the players stood transfixed and could not believe their ears as the organisers played another anthem instead of Nigeria’s. Reports say the mix-up was due to the non-submission of the anthem by the Nigerian officials as a result of the late arrival of the team.
Team missing at opening ceremony
Just as Mikel’s announcement as Team Nigeria captain generated concerns in the media, so it did when the England-based player and the U-23 team failed to show up at the opening ceremony of Rio 2016, a day after they beat Japan 5-4. As captain, Mikel was saddled with waving Nigeria’s flag during the ceremony; instead, it was assistant captain, Olufunke Oshonaike, who did the job in his place.
Padded team list
The team was also engulfed in a ‘padded list’ controversy, after it was discovered that several unaccredited players and officials of the squad abused the use of the Personal Identification Cards (accreditation cards).
A furious Dalung then set up a three-man panel to investigate the allegations on receiving the mail from Lenny Abbey, Head of National Olympic and Paralympic Relations and Services Committee, intimating him of the abuse of the cards by the team.
“I have asked the three men to verify the players with official accreditation and remove the rest from the hotel and camp so that we can report back to the IOC that we have complied. Our football federation came with excess players and officials but we have taken steps to rectify it. We don’t want any of our players to be found in possession of the counterfeit PVCs,” Dalung said.
Dalung sends team members home
Dalung sent two players and three officials of the team back to Nigeria on Monday due to the inability of the sports ministry to continue to fund their stay in Brazil.
Those sent back were the two alternate players Stanley Dimgba and goalkeeper Yusuf Mohammed alongside the team’s media officer, Timi Ebikagboro, curator and the team coordinator. They were sent packing from the Games and flew out of Brazil to Nigeria on Monday night.
Dalung said eight — four players and four officials – unofficially accredited persons had been with the team since they left Atlanta for Brazil.
“The organisers of the Games, the International Olympic Committee, are only responsible for 25 accredited players and officials including feeding, flights and accommodation. We have been carrying the rest along. In Manaus, we were forced to pay camp allowances to the extra four players making 29,” Dalung added.
Team threaten boycott
The team, who skipped training penultimate Thursday, also threatened to boycott their quarter-final match against Denmark unless they were paid their outstanding allowances at the Games, and the coaches also paid their five months salaries and allowances.
Players denied allowances
To the disbelief of the players, Dalung stated that the national U-23 football team were not entitled to match bonuses in Rio on the eve of their defeat to Germany.
Dalung stated, “I spoke with the captain of the team Mikel Obi and I explained to him that match bonuses are only paid to players during the World Cup or Africa Cup of Nations but not at the Olympic or Commonwealth Games. This is their first appearance at the Olympics so the players may not know that they don’t pay match bonuses at the Games.”
Dalung’s stance on Siasia’s salary
Dalung also caught the eye with his handling of Siasia’s unpaid five months salaries, which almost led to the team’s boycott of their last eight clash with Denmark.
He stated, “On Siasia, the federation has admitted that they owe him five months salaries. He was owed before he agreed to take the team to Atlanta, so making it an issue now after qualifying for the quarter-finals is not in the interest of the country.”
Siasia quit threat
Amidst all the troubles encountered by the team, reports from Rio said Siasia had threatened to call it quits midway into the Olympics. The coach was reportedly not happy with the overbearing influence of Dalung and sports ministry officials, who he felt were a distraction to his team.
Siasia, it was also learnt, was unhappy over Dalung’s decision to sideline him in Atlanta while the squad endured a torrid time ahead of their trip to Manaus.
Sao Paulo hotel drama
There was drama at the Sao Paulo hotel of the national U-23 team just before the Denmark game, when the team were prevented from leaving the hotel over unpaid bills of eight of their unaccredited players and officials.
Siasia, was forced to wake up Dalung, as tempers heightened in the hotel, with the hoteliers insisting on being paid their money before the team would be allowed to leave the place.
Reports said Team Nigeria captain Mikel Obi paid the hotel bills but Dalung denied the news, saying the ministry and not the Chelsea man, paid the bills. However, the ministry later admitted that Mikel had paid the hotel bill, which they refunded.
Players bar Dalung from camp
Ahead of the Germany game on Tuesday, the players allegedly warned Dalung —now a regular face in their dressing room — and his delegation to stay away from them during the game, saying they were a distraction to the team.

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