Secretary of the National Association of Nigeria Professional Footballers (NANPF), Austin Popo, has rejected calls for age restriction to be imposed on players in the Nationwide League.
At the conclusion of the 2016 Bet9ja Nationwide League Super 8 competition, both the 1st and 2nd Vice Presidents of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Seyi Akinwunmi and Shehu Dikko, had suggested that there is need to restrict the age of players in the Nationwide League to below 20 years if the clubs are to serve as feeders to the elite professional clubs.
Both top operatives of the NFF said they would raise the motion at the board meeting of the NFF, indicating that they have discussed the move with their colleagues.
However, Popo has faulted the suggestion, pointing the Nationwide League clubs are community and grassroots based but are not necessarily supposed to be amateur or youth clubs.
Popo contended that the Nationwide clubs can serve as an exit window for professional footballers and imposing age restrictions would remove the opportunity of continued engagement for aging players.
“We have seen situations where aging and retiring players in Europe cross over to China to continue to play in their league. It helps to develop football in the grassroots and communities as it available aging and retiring players the chance to continue to play to continue to earn a living while also imparting on the level of football at the community level.
“For example, Davidson Owunmi was at the verge of retirement when he was re-engaged by Enugu Rangers. He joined us to play an ex-footballers novelty match but he performed so well even at that age that Rangers signed him on again and he played for another three years. We have many other players like that who can find space to continue to play in the community clubs.”
Rather than see the Nationwide League as a feeder for the elite league, Popo contended that the football authority should enforce action on the top professional clubs to develop their own youth and feeder teams and allow more people participation, irrespective of age, in the Nationwide League clubs.
“Football clubs in the Nationwide League are not academies but full blown clubs. They cannot be regarded as amateur clubs because the players are not spending their own monies. They still collect some firm of payment, no matter how small, for playing. We need to check FIFA definition of “amateur” to understand this.
“Rather than impose age limits on the Nationwide clubs, the NFF and LMC should charge and encourage the elite professional clubs to have truly youth teams where such age restrictions can be imposed to truly serve them as feeders.”
The NANPF secretary also called concerted action on the part of the football house to promote and encourage community club ownership as a more sustainable structure for the development of club football in the country.
“Let us advocate, encourage and promote community ownership structure in clubs, starting from the lower divisions as these are the clubs that gain promotion to the elite leagues tomorrow. That way, we will end up having more clubs that are community and private sector driven as against the present top clubs which are still more or less government driven.”
Popo also frowned at the registration of clubs in the name of single individuals, pointing out that the practice discourages collaborative investments into the clubs as the individual names do not sufficiently represent the communities to elicit the required emotive feelings and sense of mutual stake.