Wednesday 10 May 2023, 22:00

Nigeria gaining ground and winning hearts with FIFA Forward

  • Artificial pitch built in Kebbi, a state in northwestern Nigeria

  • Another being installed further south in Ugborodo, in Delta State

  • Projects supported by the FIFA Forward Programme

“Before it became a career, I just played football for fun. Farming was my main job. I had to finish work on the farm before I could go and play football. The only goal I had in life was to have my own farm.” Reported in the Nigerian press, those words belong to Porto and Nigeria full-back Zaidu Sanusi, who hails from the state of Kebbi. They could, however, belong to any number of young people who live in this northwestern corner of Nigeria, which is home to 4.4 million people and lies on the borders with Niger and Benin. It is a part of the world where football is secondary in importance to other matters, but where talented players like Sanusi are not in short supply. It is no surprise, then, that Birnin Kebbi, the capital of Kebbi, was chosen back in 2020 as the site for the construction of an artificial football pitch that is now available for young boys and girls to use. Meanwhile, a second pitch is under construction in Ugborodo, situated further to the south. Undertaken by the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), these two ambitious projects have received around USD 2 million in funding from FIFA through its Forward Programme.

The main goal of the programme, which is now into its third cycle, is the growth of football around the world. Forward 3.0 is giving the game’s global governing body the chance to redouble its efforts and lay down ever more solid foundations for promoting this growth, with the construction of facilities an important lever in supporting the whole process. “The aim is simply to develop football in the region,” said Alhadji Abubakar Ladan, NFF representative for the state of Kebbi. “Of the seven states in the northwestern region [Nigeria has 36 states in all], Kebbi has the largest number of amateur teams. Even so, there is no question that it also has fewer football facilities than the rest. The NFF is aware of the efforts being made to develop football here, but these efforts are being held back by the lack of facilities. This artificial pitch is a boost and a push in the right direction.”

It has certainly proved a source of motivation and delight for local young footballers, who have made it their second home as they work on the skills they hope will one day make them Super Falcons and Super Eagles. A unique pitch flanked by a stand that is regularly filled with enthusiastic supporters, it is now the scene of friendlies, competitive matches and training sessions. “Football used to be just a street sport for us, so we’re delighted to be able to play on this wonderful pitch,” said Zeynup Dauda, a teenager from Birnin Kebbi. “This sport means a lot to me. I tend to get a bit bored at home, but when I’m on the pitch, it’s magical. I forget everything. My ultimate dream would be to play for a big team in a big stadium and on a big pitch. I want to play all over the world. I want to play for the whole nation.”

Zaidu Sanusi has shown the way for his home region and has proved that nothing is impossible, that there are pathways running from the street to the football pitch, between farms and the world’s greatest stadiums, and between dreams and reality.