Opinion Sport

Can Nigeria gain from English football?

Emmanuel Onwubiko
Emmanuel Onwubiko
The Gazette Staff
Written by The Gazette Staff

Spending quality times inside the imposing Stamford bridge sporting facilities in London, United Kingdom has become for me like a yearly ritual in the past decade and still counting.

In April, I had the opportunity to watch a live match between Chelsea football club – my favorite English premiership side against one of their opponents. The match was similarly watched live by approximately sixty thousand ticket paying fans.

I was a little unlucky not to have procured the ticket officially since I am not a seasonal tickets holder. Nevertheless, with a princely sum of one hundred pounds sterling, yours faithfully grabbed a ticket from near the gate. The ninety minutes I spent watching this interesting and pulsating football match was eventful.

It afforded me the opportunity to notice that running a professional football team in England has become truly commercially attractive and interesting. Also, I could see that on a typical match day, the fans do spend a good chunk of cash to buy souvenirs of different genres even as soft drinks and beverages are sold in very organized fashion around the stadium environment.

A typical match day would see the train and bus stations getting frenetic and busy. But in the midst of these mammoth crowds of soccer lovers who turn up to watch matches in England, one characteristic I noticed from close observations of Chelsea Fc and Tottenham Fc stadia, is that the police operatives are usually deployed to control human and vehicular movements and to assist in minimizing inconveniences that come with gatherings of people of such magnitude. Usually, train services to such places I am told are increased even as the atmospheres are convivial but relatively peaceful.

A day after the football match I watched the aforementioned, I also entered the shop of the team just within the stadium environment to make purchases.

My observation of what goes on inside these chain of well-coordinated shopping outlets remains so impressive. There is also the interesting dimension of the fact that on almost every working day, hundreds of tourists who traveled from far and near to England usually buy up souvenirs such as customized shirts and several other materials that depict that those were products of such a professional football team.

I sat back on getting back to my hotel room to reflect on the extensive ramifications of what Nigeria will be like, should we be able to replicate at least half the success stories of some of these England based football teams.

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My thinking is that since Nigeria is amongst the few nations in the world that is understandably endowed with talented footballing youngsters who are yet to be discovered, and their overwhelming talents harnessed and optimized, our Country would be better for it if football becomes professionally well administered with all the global best practices in place.

We will return to this significant topic. But first, let us visit the recognized website of the world’s governing body of football to understudy how the game of football originated. After reflecting on the historicity of football, we will then still return to England to take a scientific look at how commercially viable running professional football has become in the United Kingdom making use of transparent statistical data.

The Origins

The contemporary history of the world’s favorite game spans more than 100 years. It all began in 1863 in England when rugby football and association football branched off on their different courses and the Football Association in England was formed – becoming the sport’s first governing body, so says football historians as recorded by FIFA.

Also, we are told that both codes stemmed from a common root and both have a long and intricately branched ancestral tree. A search down the centuries reveals at least half a dozen different games, varying to different degrees, and to which the historical development of football has been traced back.

The writers argued that whether this can be justified in some instances is disputable.

Nevertheless, they said the fact remains that people have enjoyed kicking a ball about for thousands of years and there is absolutely no reason to consider it an aberration of the more ‘natural’ form of playing a ball with the hands.

On the contrary, they stressed, apart from the need to employ the legs and feet in tough tussles for the ball, often without any laws for protection, it was recognized right at the outset that the art of controlling the ball with the feet was not easy and, as such, required no small measure of skill.

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Interestingly, however, we also saw that the very earliest form of the game for which there is scientific evidence was an exercise from a military manual dating back to the second and third centuries BC in China. But unarguably, Britain is the home of football as we will see shortly.

Britain, the home of Football

FIFA record has it that for all the evidence of early ball sports played elsewhere in the world, the evolution of football as we know it today took place in Britain. The game that flourished in the British Isles from the eighth to the 19th centuries featured a considerable variety of local and regional versions – which were subsequently smoothed down and smartened up to create the modern-day sports of association football, rugby football and, in Ireland, Gaelic football.

Primitive football was more disorganized, more violent, more spontaneous and usually played by an indefinite number of players, FIFA recalls.

Curiously, the writers said it was not until nine years after the rules of football had been first established in 1863 that the size and weight of the ball were finally standardized. Up to then, agreement on this point was usually reached by the parties concerned when they were arranging the match, as was the case for a game between London and Sheffield in 1866. This encounter was also the first where the duration was prearranged for 90 minutes.

Now, let us ask the question regarding Premier league finances.

The 2016-17 accounts of all top-flight clubs and what the figures say about their health go to show that the Manchester United tops the charts again with a £581m income and £57m profit

Chelsea celebrates winning the 2016-17 Premier League title – but still managed to make a loss, unlike at least 17 of the other 20 teams.

Because of space the financial figures for 2016-17, we will cite here are from just two out of the 20 Premiership teams and then we will look at the overall financial profiles as released by EUFA the football governing body of EUROPE. For ARSENAL – Ownership Arsenal Holdings plc. major shareholders are: Kroenke Sports Enterprises UK (registered in Delaware, owned by US resident Stan Kroenke): 67%; Red and White Securities Limited (owned via Jersey, by Russian resident Alisher Usmanov): 30%

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As recorded in the beginning of the end for Arsène Wenger: the first full season Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions League under his management, finishing fifth. The finances reflect underinvestment in players, with income – boosted by the new TV deal – the third highest in the Premier League but wages only fifth highest.

That reflects a caution in owner Stan Kroenke’s approach which some frustrated supporters characterize as an emphasis on profit at the expense of football ambition. Looking at CHELSEA – Ownership Wholly owned by Roman Abramovich, registered at Companies House as a Russian resident. The team made in one year as follows: Broadcasting £162m; Match day £66m; Commercial £140m; Net debt Not stated; £1.17bn owed to Roman Abramovich.

Interest payable No net interest payable

Ironically, the Russian oligarch increased his loan by £33.8m, taking his funding to £1.17bn since he bought Chelsea in 2003. Let’s look at Europe wide financial profiles of football sector.

According to the just-released UEFA Benchmarking report, the Premier League accounted for 27% of all revenue generated by Europe’s top-division teams.

The annual UEFA Benchmarking report has been issued by Europe’s governing body. It is the 10th report of its kind and it provides a financial picture of the over 700 teams operating in the top-flight of the 55-member associations.

(The benchmarking report;2017) uses two different measures of clubs’ profitability (i.e. their profits or losses).

The first is operating profit, which measures clubs’ underlying ability to generate profits that can be reinvested back into transfer and financing activity. The second measure is net profit after tax, which we refer to as ‘bottom-line profit’, as it is the final result after all costs, gains, and losses.

A reading of the breakdown shows that for the fourth consecutive year the profit and loss position of European teams was positive with a cumulative operating profit of €1.39B ($1.58B).

Also, over the last 5 years, €4B ($4.56B) in operating profits have been generated.

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Between 2008 and 2012 losses amounted to over €1B ($1.14B).

The net profit after-tax position (referred to as bottom-line profit by UEFA) in 2017 is €615M ($701M) and it is the first time since the benchmarking report was issued that a cumulative bottom-line profit has been recorded.

Secondly, a record 28 leagues reported aggregate profits for 2017, up from 25 in 2016 and 15 in 2014 just as English clubs lead with €549M ($626M) in net profits with Spain next with €168M ($191.5M). Turkish teams lost €239M ($272.5M). Five (9%) of the leagues generated €972M ($1.11B) of the €615M($701M) bottom line profit while the other 81% lost a combined €357M ($407M).

Also, the statistical fact shows that size matters: nine of the ten largest clubs by revenue also reported the largest operating profits. Manchester United is top with an operating profit of €222M ($253M) while Arsenal is second with a 2017 operating profit of €144m ($164M).

Looking back, the European football go erning body affirmed that over the last ten years, Manchester United FC top the list of profitable teams with a cumulative operating profit of €1.2B ($1.35B). Real Madrid CF (€936M/$1.07B), FC Barcelona (€666M/$759M), Arsenal FC (€635M/$724M) and FC Bayern München (€612M/$698M) come next (https://t.co/YOMNl2rPE8pic.twitter.com/S2n5velGII).

The aforementioned underscore the levels of successes attained by the England based professional football clubs, just as one just has to look at the recently emerged history whereby the entire teams that got to the finals of Europa and EUFA Championships are based in England namely Liverpool; Tottenham; Chelsea and Arsenal.

What Nigeria can gain from this is that we need to restructure and reorganize the ways we manage professional football in Nigeria.

First and foremost, there has to be better organization and management of professional teams in Nigeria so as to attract sponsors and fans to even attend matches.

The standard of refereeing in Nigeria needs to be upgraded urgently and extensively.

The poor state of football governance in Nigeria depicts the poor standards of referees and the readiness of club owners to compromise the professional business codes of running football in such a way as to compel all that are involved in management of football to operate by the minimum benchmark requiring that they must operate ethically and avoid all criminal tendencies to compromise standards.

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The Nigerian government has no business running the football but should provide the legal frameworks for professional football to happen in Nigeria so locally groomed talented players are gainfully employed. Nigeria needs to abolish the ministry of sports so the Football Association becomes truly autonomous.

If the running of football in Nigeria becomes ethical and professionalized, meaning that the standards of the game are upgraded, the standards of playing stadia/facilities are upgraded, it then follows that merit will drive the recruitment process of players to play in the professional football teams who must be technically and financially sound enough to bear the funding burden of running their teams. Players must work under financially sound atmospheres.

It is a fact that the Nigerian Football Federation interfaces with the Football Association of England.

These interfaces with English F. A. and FIFA should be explored to use them as opportunities to deepen the reforms of the declining standards of professionalism in Nigerian football.

If and whenever the football sector is properly administered, it will not only boost the jobs sector but will also serve as fertile grounds for foreign direct investment just like in England whereby almost all the teams are owned by foreign investors.

If football in Nigeria is sanitized and cleaned up from the debris of corruption, bribery, and match -fixings that it is now, then, our talented footballing youngsters would seamlessly be bought by the affluent European teams and the economy of Nigeria will be better for it.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko heads Human Rights WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs@www.thenigerianinsidernews.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com;www.huriwa.blogspot.com; www.huriwanigeria.com.

Written: Emmanuel Onwubiko

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