By Joseph Odoekwu
Since having a stint with Nigeria’s Kwara Football Academy around 2012 as Technical Director, Paul Ashworth who came and saw young talents has also developed keen interest in monitoring Nigeria and Africa generally at major global football events. It is on this ground that the English beamed his searchlight on Nigeria and other African countries during the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The elimination of the five African teams that represented Africa at the Russia 2018 from the Group stage of the tournament further gave credence to what he told this writer before the elimination of Senegal, who seemed to be the last hope of Africa at the World Cup. It was a painful moment for Africa, feeling the bitter pains of a sort of premature elimination that gave African teams some form of dejection. But for Ashworth, unless the right steps are taken more problems will befall Nigeria and other African teams in the future.
ON SENEGAL WINNING AFRICA’S FIRST GAME IN RUSSIA: Senegal was the last African team to play during Group stage at the Russia 2018 World Cup but the first to win a game for Africa at the tournament. For Ashworth “Only Senegal won their first game and every other African team lost their games, that’s really bad and that shows that Africa is not of the same standard with Europe or South and North America. When probed before Senegal’s second match on what he thinks Senegal did right to get a win against Poland in their opener, Ashworth said “You are talking about one game, not the long term outlook. Any team can beat any team in one game but they may not win any more”! Eventually, Senegal did not win any game again and they were edged out by Colombia.
ON BONUSES PAID TO PLAYERS THAT REPRESENTED NIGERIA AT RUSSIA 2018: For Ashworth, the players that represented Nigeria at the Russia 2018 World Cup are already rich, they do not have to depend on the match bonuses to earn a living, but the Nigeria Football Federation dwelled more on having them progress to the knockout stage for them to get their full bonuses, but that does not mean much to the players. “Do you seriously think money (bonuses) bothers the players”? Ashworth asked, “That’s not the problem, they are all rich anyway “The problem is the players are not as good as the other players in their group” Ashworth said.
WHAT EUROPE AND OTHERS ARE DOING RIGHT THAT AFRICA IS NOT DOING: Ashworth emphasizes that “the structure in African football for producing players is a long way off the Europeans”. Africa has the raw talents but not the organization for developing players. “The clubs and youth set up is not invested enough in Africa, the concentration is in the national teams and not on club level especially youth”. “More money and structure should be invested at club level for youth football and a long term plan is needed”. “Not the attitude of let’s spend all the money now”. For him, “as soon as a country gets that right then within 5-10 years they will be as good as the South American and possibly Europe”.
THE IMPACT OF U-17 ON AFRICA NATIONAL TEAMS: For Ashworth, the impact of the U-17 winning teams of Nigeria that won the tournament in 2013 and 2015 respectively was not felt in the Super Eagles Russia 2018 World Cup team. “It’s pathetic Ashworth started, that only Iheanacho and Uzoho where part of the U-17 winning team in 2013 that made it to the Russia 2018 World Cup team. Winning the U-17 Championship isn’t enough, Nigeria need to look at what happens to those players after they won the championship and develop them to the seniors”. “England won the U-17 and the U-20 World Cup for the first time in 2017 and there is a countdown clock for the team to win the World Cup in 2022”. “My brother (Dan Ashworth) is the technical director of England national side, and he has been there for 5 years. I see what they do with the players and I can also see that there is a plan for 2022”. “The players are young and there is a national training centre for them. Where is Nigeria’s national training center, what money is in development”? Ashworth asked. “African teams concentrate mostly on spending on national side and abandoning the youth setup and this is really bad” Ashworth concluded.