When the local media reported on April 1 that the Super Eagles’ Franco-German coach, Gernot Rohr, had not been paid his monthly salary since January this year, it sent shock waves across the world.
But while it might have surprised many on the outside, only few were surprised on the inside. After all, owing coaches’ wages is a common phenomenon, if not a legend, in Nigeria. Rohr is merely another coach to be owed.
Rather, the surprise was that the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is yet to make a clean break from the ugly past, contrary to what the federation’s president, Amaju Pinnick, promised after engaging the European gaffer last August.
The media was suffused at the time with reports that “an unknown wealthy businessman” had offered to pay Rohr’s wages, a welcome relief for the near-insolvent federation that had often struggled to pay wages of the local coaches.
Not a few had speculated that the hideous businessman was oil entrepreneur and NPFL club owner, Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah. It turned out a hoax as Ubah neither confirmed nor deny his involvement. At any rate, the fact that Rohr would go three months without salary has put the NFF on the spot.
Was there really any deal struck with a businessman to pay Rohr’s salary?
It appeared the NFF had outfoxed itself in the quest to “move Nigeria football forward” and it was only a matter of time for Rohr to roar in anguish as the hidden matter was revealed.
One NFF official, who opted to be quoted as “source”, while obviously seeking relevance, confirmed the federation’s default. “Rohr has not been paid for three months,” the “source” said.
In what seemed an intractably generic situation, the source quickly added: “Rohr is not the one being owed. “There are also outstanding wages due the local coaches.”
Like a bombshell, however, the “source” declared: “The NFF is broke and there are modalities on the ground to offset salaries owed the other coaches.”
It still did not look bright for Rohr and “other coaches”. Little wonder, Pinnick cleverly sought a way out by announcing a “scheduled meeting” with Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, with a view to resolving the matter.
But the NFF may have literally signed a pact with hazy situation. Reports again flooded the media space on April 4, announcing that the federation had signed a deal with five firms that would offset all the outstanding salaries to Rohr and the local coaches.
Interestingly, the NFF did not name the firms, although yet another “source” at the federation who disclosed the “cheery news” said the NFF’s Accounts Department had been “directed” to compile list of beneficiaries to be forwarded to the hideous sponsors.
The “source” appeared sure-footed, anyway, considering the choice of words: “We initially wanted the firms to pay only the Super Eagles’ coaches but, to our relief, they willingly offered to pay all the coaches across board.”
Curiously, however, the “source” called agreement with the generous firms “proposal” that would still be forwarded to the sports minister for approval in what clearly suggested a long haul for the anxious coaches.
Yet, hardly can the NFF be blamed for Rohr’s predicament. He had been asked, upon assumption to his Eagles’ job, how he hoped to cope in the event of a default in payment of his wages.
He responded: “My priority is to work and make a mark here because I am confident that I can coach the Super Eagles to success. I have worked in Burkina Faso and Niger Republic where I was owed salary for up to eight months and I still worked.”
These words endeared Rohr to the NFF and Nigerians, no doubt, notwithstanding that he added: “But there is an agreement with the NFF with regard to payment of salary and I hope all parties will respect the agreement.”
Should Rohr invoke the last words, trouble would surface between the agreeing parties and history would be just literally at the door again, knocking furiously. It dare not be allowed to gain entry, lest the Eagles’ march forward is disrupted.