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By Fred Edoreh
So, the NPFL All Stars lost all their matches in the tour of LaLiga, down 1-2 to Valencia CF and 1-4 to Malaga CF, 1-2 to Athletico Madrid in the Carranza Cup tournament held in Cadiz.
Indeed, the Nigerian players met a too sophisticated expression of football.
The matches were televised live to Nigerian home audience on Supersport and AIT and, interestingly, the verdict of the home fans is that they were not disgraced, given the quality of their opponents and the fact that the All Stars was just an ad hoc squad.
This goes to the essential point of the LaLiga tour, as the chairman of the League Management Company (LMC), Shehu Dikko puts it: “To expose the Nigerian league players and club officials to higher standard of football and its organisation in one of the world’s best league environments in other to challenge them to aspire towards higher level of performance.”
That was also the submission of the chairman of the Technical and Development Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation, Chris Green.
“We did not come with the expectation of winning any of the matches. If we had won any game, that would have been fine, but the most important thing was the exposure for our players and officials. Our objective was to get them to see better football and better organisation and see how we can bring this to bear in the development of our league. The experience the players, coaches and league officials have acquired cannot be quantified. They will be going home challenged to up their game.”
Captain of the NPFL All Stars, Chima Akas, puts it succinctly: “It was a great experience playing against Valencia. Notwithstanding the outcome, we have learnt some lessons in the game and it is a stepping stone.”
The Valencia game was also significant in other respects. The match was played in Alzira, a small neighboring town of the city of Valencia whose citizens are part of the fan base of
Valencia FC. Some time ago, the community suffered a devastating forest fire incident and the Valencia FC vs NPFL All Stars game was particularly organised to raise funds to support the victims.
While that happened, the LaLiga Foundation also identified with the condition of El Kanemi Warriors of Maiduguri who for three seasons had been forced out of their home base due to the security challenges posed by Boko Haram in Nigeria’s North East. Of particular concern to the foundation was the condition of the thousands of Internally Displaced Persons, especially women and children, in Maiduguri, and LaLiga offered to provide financial assistance and sporting equipment to bring them hope.
The lesson therein is the demonstration of the role of sports and football clubs in bringing hope to their operating and host communities. The gesture and sense of love and care is never lost to Alzira town dwellers with whom Valencia shares affinity, values and a sense of common destiny.
This is a take away for Nigeria league clubs, to understand that they should also operate as socially responsible institutions, to interact and share in the life, values and aspirations of their communities and, in doing so, create enduring bonds of togetherness which will also go to sustain their following.
For all intents and purposes, the the LaLiga tour was much more than just football and the chairman of the LMC has declared that the new direction of the NPFL clubs and the league should be ‘beyond the three points” of winning a match which most Nigeria clubs have seemed to only care about.
Representatives of eleven Nigerian clubs were taken on the trip and they attended three seminar sessions focussing on the organisation and business of football club ownership and management. This provided them the opportunity of interaction and lectures by top notch club business specialists in the LaLiga.
It was a rare privilege learning directly from the Commercial and Marketing Director of Valencia CF, Peter Draper who set up the first marketing department of Manchester United and has worked in similar capacity with Chelsea, Paris St. Germain, Formula 1, in Cricket, Rugby and at UMBRO where they grew marketing income from USD 35M in 1986 to USD 400M in 13 years. It is just as well learning from Vicente Casado, the Managing Director of LaLiga’s International Development, and Nacho M. Trujillo, LaLiga’s Managing Director of Innovation and Global Development who comes with a degree in Economics and Management, MBA from the IE Business School in Madrid and Masters in Societal Information and Knowledge.
From all of them, the point was made clear that for the success of club football, the team, the play and winning are very important but equally very important is the bigger organisation with larger vision and objectives. In order words the three arms of club football – technical, organisation and business – all have to be well attended and working together for viability and success.
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