Thursday, September 02, 2010

INTERVIEW: Gombe Utd is seeking African ticket – Umar

It is 24 days to the start of the 2010/2011 campaign and the 20 clubs are preparing to challenge for honours. Gombe United is one of the 20 Premier League sides that will compete in the coming season and its coordinator, Mallam Farouk Umar, who also doubles as Special Assistant to the Gombe State governor on Sports, reveals the plans and ambition of the side for the new season. He speaks on the new Nigeria Premier League (NPL) under the leadership of Davidson Owumi, and his expectation from the new league board. captures the mind of the Gombe United official in a 13-minute one-on-one encounter concerning the elite division in the country:

Last season Gombe United finished outside of the continental positions in the Premier League. What are the plans in place by the club do improve on their performance of last season, as we approach a new campaign?
We finished in ninth position of the 20-team format of the Premier League last season, which is not very bad. But before the start of last season, we set for ourselves a target of getting at least a continental slot – which we didn’t get unfortunately. So we are happy and at the same time not happy. We are happy because we have not been relegated (to the Nigeria National League also known as the National Division I League). We are also not happy that we did not win any continental ticket.
So for the coming season, we have set ourselves the same target of winning a continental slot – either by winning the FA Cup (now known as the Federation Cup) or through the league. In order to achieve this, we have decided to retain 90 per cent of our players – who are young and have been with the club for a long time. I believe that the continuity in the playing staff will yield positive result for the team, and we are looking at bringing in two or three players to strengthen the team for the challenges of the coming season.

You’ve just spoken of keeping at least 90 per cent of Gombe United’s playing personnel for the new season as well as bringing new players to bolster your side for the new season. What is the club also planning in the area of players’ welfare, which has become a big issue in the Premier League today?
If you look at the welfare of our players, the (Gombe) government is doing their best in that line in terms of paying their entitlements as at when due. We have been paying N30,000 for winning bonus at home to our players as well as N60,000 for an away win and another N30,000 for an away draw. The issue of salaries, we always make sure that we pay as early as the 25th or 26th of every month, which is even before the civil servants collect their salaries. So in that aspect we do not have any problem. However, the issue of the signing-on fees is where the problem lies. The government has done its best so far and the governor has promised to settle the outstanding signing-on fees of the team hopefully before the start of the season. We do not have any doubt about the promise of the governor, as he is a man that keeps to his words. Personally for me, I take it that the issue of the signing-on fees has been settled.
At present, the (Gombe) government is building a multi-million naira stadium, which is about 82 per cent near completion. The facilities at the stadium will help Gombe United in its quest for domestic honours in the country as well as indigenes of the state. The plan of building the stadium is not to allow it lie in waste. I believe that the government will do more for the team.

The stadium you have just talked about, will it be the new home of Gombe United? And what is the name of the new stadium?
Gombe United is the darling team of the state. We do not have any other team bigger than Gombe United right now, and that is why Gombe United must be using that stadium as their home when it is finally completed. Also, the other amateur teams will be using the facilities in the stadium because if you don’t allow people use the facilities, then they will become dilapidated structures in the near future. So using the facilities will create an avenue whereby the people managing the stadium will keep checks and ensure that the facilities are well taken care of.
The name of the stadium is Pantami Township Stadium. Pantami is a quarters in Gombe, and the stadium was named after that area. The stadium is very close to the house of the governor, and it is also located in the heart of the city.

Every season, there has always been one form of complaints or the other. I am sure that you must have your own complaints as well from last season. What are those issues that you think the new Nigeria Premier League (NPL) led by Davidson Owumi should tackle headlong in improving the standards of the Nigerian elite division?
I must first say that the league board under the past chairman, Chief Oyuki Obaseki, did a lot to improve the league. That board contributed tremendously to the success of the league up till this point, they achieved a lot and now they are gone. The new board emerged and is led by Davidson Owumi. I was one of the aspirants from the northeast zone against one of the board members, and unfortunately I didn’t win the seat to become a Premier League board member. So we have a representative in the board for our zone.
I must say that I have confidence in the calibre of people that make up the current league board because I have worked with a number of them when they were managing their clubs, and I have also worked with them in different committees, and I know the capabilities of most of them. I know they are going to do more to further improve the league as it is now. But I will advise them to update their knowledge (about the administration of the game) by attending clinics and seminars because it is not possible to sit in one place managing the league, which can bring about little or no contribution to the improvement of the league. Until we start doing more for football, which is not just attending meetings or staying at home, we will find ourselves still lagging behind. So I will only advise the new board to update their knowledge from time to time so as to help the country have a good Premier League in place.
I do not have any doubt in the leadership qualities of Mr. Davidson Owumi. He has paid his dues – as a player. He has done a lot in the developing of the game in the country especially on the field. Off-the-field is a different ball game. As an ex-player, the things he did on the field cannot be the same off the field. Administration-wise, one has to learn from the mistakes of others and I believe as a very educated man that Davidson Owumi will do more to bring improve to the Premier League in Nigeria because I have that confidence in him. I also pray that the almighty God will give him the power, the focus and determination to pilot the affairs of the Nigeria Premier League to a greater height.

Back to Gombe United. What is the club planning as market strategy to start generating funds on its own apart from subvention from the Gombe State government?
If you look at the issue of marketing for clubs in the Nigeria Premier League, it is going to be a gradual process in setting up such marketing structures at the various clubs. It will also be a gradual process for the clubs to succeed with their independent marketing structure considering our kind of terrain. At present, the mother body of the league – the Nigeria Premier League – is facing its own problems in terms of sponsorship. They have problem with Globacom, who have not paid a dime for last season’s title sponsorship. Despite that the management of the league has done well by making sure that the league ended last season without problems. I believe that for us (the clubs) to have our own marketing department is a wise idea, and I believe that this will happen gradually as this cannot be achieved in a day or in a season, as we need to plan ahead. But I will only urge the corporate bodies to come out and support the clubs by investing. They should also extend a small percentage of their budget for the social responsibility to the clubs from time to time, as they will have the opportunity of advertising their products and services in return. So, the corporate bodies and the clubs need to work hand-in-hand to make things work.
If you look at what is happening in South Africa, Absa is playing a big role there. Likewise in Kenya, SuperSport are paying so much there. But the market in Nigeria is very big than that of South Africa and Kenya. So we need to start with those issues we formerly regarded as small by having standard pitches that are television-friendly. The teams need to have good jerseys and good buses, and there are a lot of things that need to be provided before the corporate bodies can come in and put in their money. First, we will need to put our house in order so that those in the corporate world will have interest by complementing the effort of the government.

Gombe United like the other 19 clubs will want to win the league trophy, but realistically what do you fancy to be your club’s best chance in the 2010/2011 season?
Like you said, we will want to win the league but if you finish in second or third position you will still get a continental slot. Like every other club, our target is to finish first, but if we cannot achieve that, we will aim for second or third. But our main target is to win the league, which is not easy. Winning the league is not on paper or by paying lip-service, it is by putting everything in place and definitely money inclusive. There is need for money to motivate the players and coaches. While as administrators we carry out our duties, the players will give their best on the field, but if this is the opposite then we cannot achieve anything. Realistically, the target of Gombe United Football Club will still be a continental ticket for the coming season.

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