In Nigeria, as one great adventure comes to an end, another is just about to begin. The FIFA U-17 World Cup 2009 might well be approaching the finish line, but at the same time the new National Technical Centre is preparing to open its doors in Abuja. Built as part of FIFA's Goal Programme, this gem of sporting architecture was officially inaugurated on Wednesday 11 November 2009 in the Nigerian capital.
Located just a few hundred metres from the National Stadium and Abuja City Gate, one of the city's symbolic landmarks, the new structure was borne from a collaboration between FIFA, the Nigeria Football Association (NFF) and the National Sports Commission. The project was originally outlined back in 1999, before final approval was granted by the Goal Bureau in 2003, due in no small part to the involvement of Ibrahim Galadima, former president of the NFF and naturally present among the guests of honour at the ceremony.
Six years on, and it is clear that the results were worth waiting for – in addition to the administrative centre itself, an artificial pitch, medical facilities, an auditorium, a restaurant, a hotel and offices will now be at the disposal of all those involved in Nigerian football.
Its highest representative, Alhaji Sani Lulu Abdullahi, was not slow to highlight the potential benefits to the various national squads that the new complex could bring. "This site is an incredible treasure that any country would dream about having,” said the President of the NFF in his speech, delivered a few minutes after a show including dance and traditional music. "I must thank FIFA for its commitment and assistance via the Goal Programme, which provided financial support for this project. With God’s help and the support of all Nigerians, I trust that we will be able make best use of this infrastructure in order to develop Nigerian football to the full."
Grass roots gratitude
With three FIFA World Cups already in the trophy cabinet at U-17 level, and a potential fourth on its way, Nigerian football has demonstrated over time how capable it is at bringing through young players in a country where every inhabitant represents a passionate fan of the beautiful game. Thanks to the investment of over 1.9 million dollars, teams at all age levels, male or female, will now have the chance to improve the standard of local football and its achievements. "I would like to thank, congratulate and encourage all those working hard at the grass roots of Nigerian football,” said Issa Hayatou, CAF President and FIFA vice-president, who attended the ceremony as the representative of FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.
"The Goal and 'Win in Africa with Africa' programmes that provided the financial backing for both of these projects (the technical centre and the artificial pitch) were especially close to the heart of FIFA and its President, in terms of contributing towards football development in this country and helping it to represent the continent as best it can in FIFA competitions," explained the head of African football before moving on to the traditional ribbon-cutting inauguration duties.
His comment was apt, as in a matter of hours the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 will be held in Lagos, a few hundred kilometres from the new National Technical Centre. Nigerian supporters and NFF chiefs alike are naturally hoping the Golden Eaglets will put in a good performance.
But Issa Hayatou was already looking much further ahead for his country, and for African football as a whole. "Nigeria already possess the tools to be successful, and they now have one more in the shape of this project," he said. "I hope that it will quickly bear fruit by further improving Nigerian football, so that its players can one day – I hope – hold aloft the World Cup." This wish was met with an energetic round of applause, to which he quickly added, "This time, I’m not speaking to you in my role of representative of the President of FIFA, but as CAF President, of course!"