Amaju Pinnick, the president of Nigeria’s soccer federation, was deprived of his 200 million countrymen in Africa’s most populous nation.
He just needed to look down at the scenes unfolding inside Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja, Nigeria, to see what it meant. Thousands of angry supporters poured into the field after the final whistle to vent their anger, knocking over the advertising boards, chasing the players from the field and clashing with security officers. “My first thought,” Pinnick said, “was to resign immediately.”
But his mind quickly drifted elsewhere, too. In those first days after Nigeria’s elimination in a home-and-home playoff against Ghana, Pinnick said he would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about another group feeling the strain of the team’s failure.
“Oh what have we done,” he said, “to Nike.”
For any country accustomed to attending the World Cup, the consequences of missing the tournament are substantial. The United States Soccer Federation stumbled through just such a soccer catastrophe in 2017, and Italy has now done it in two World Cup cycles in a row.
For Nigeria, a leading light of African soccer that until the 1994 World Cup only failed since 1994, the emotional and financial cost of elimination may be best reported on, worth millions of dollars and priceless publicity, linked to the release of a new national team jersey made by Nike.
Nigeria’s jersey for the 2018 World Cup has been a breakout star, creating a frenzy and the kind of buzz more expected from one of the game’s star players than the arrival of a piece of apparel. Brightly colored and featuring a design that sets it apart from the larger state, conservative offerings of the tournament in Russia, Nigeria’s jersey became a must-have that summer, selling out almost immediately.
Nike received at least three million orders for the $ 90 shirt even before it went on sale. Lines formed at the company flagship stores in London and other cities on the day of its release. When it was finally made available online, it sold out in three minutes.
Four years later, Nike and Nigeria – whose federation has sought to take full advantage of their brand through their relationship with the company – were hoping to build on that success with a new design this summer.
“Nike has been very religious about us,” Pinnick said. “I feel very, very bad – I feel like crying when you mention Nike. They went all the way to bring out what would have been the best jersey again in this tournament. ”
The World Cup is a major sales moment for Nike, which outfits some of the tournament’s most prominent teams, including the current champion, France, but also the United States, England and Brazil, which has won more titles than any other nation.
Designing and manufacturing World Cup jerseys is not a short process, either; it usually takes about two years before the products appear in stores. Pinnick’s reaction, then, was understandable: Nigeria’s failure to qualify will mean a colossal loss in what the soccer federation could expect to reap from its share of sales, he said.
The Nike jerseys have been sold to qualify; the company declined multiple requests to comment for this article.
Through its contract with Nike, Nigeria was entitled to a royalty of about 8 percent of each sale, Pinnick suggested. He would also have received a further $ 1 million in bonus fees from the company for making the World Cup. Those payouts, most likely would have been doubling the Nigerian federation’s annual revenues of $ 20 million – a figure that was less than a tenth soccer associations in South America and Europe generate.
Shehu Dikko, the vice president of the federation, said items such as player bonuses, tuneup matches and training camps. (The best team in North America: It lost to Mexico on Saturday in Texas and was set to play Ecuador at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey on Thursday night.) “It is a huge financial blow for us,” he said, ” and we have to recover. ”
There is another element of Nigeria’s failure, though, that is much harder to quantify. Over the decades, the Nigerian men’s soccer team, especially when it is performing at major tournaments, has become a rallying point like no other than a large number of people.
“Football in Nigeria is life – it’s more than anyone can explain with words,” Dikko said. “You have to feel it. Nigeria has over 500 tribes, so many traditions, but football is the only activity that breaks through all of our fault lines. Once there is a football, everybody is a Nigerian. Nobody cares who you are, what you do or what language you speak. So football is more than just a game for us. It’s what binds this country together. ”
That level of interest and passion, though, means there is also a sharper focus on the performance of the federation.
Under Pinnick, who assumed the role in 2014 and is the longest-serving soccer president in Nigeria’s history and who is also a member of FIFA’s governing council, Nigeria has had a mixed record. While he claims credit for modernizing the federation and attracting new sponsors, his tenure has failed to yield any major titles. A round of 16 elimination in the most recent edition of the Africa Cup of Nations – months before the team’s World Cup ouster – was its worst performance in that event since 1984. catastrophic qualification campaigns in which Nigeria lost the competition in 2015 and 2017.
Despite his initial impulse to resign in March, Pinnick now says he’ll stay on through the end of his term later this year. Not everyone supports the decision.
Days after its World Cup exit, with Pinnick at its lowest, dozens of placard-holding protesters gathered outside the Nigerian headquarters in Abuja, calling for his ouster. Pinnick said the protest was not what it appeared; The first step into office has been suggested by opponents who have been trying to stymie his efforts.
“They are professional placard carriers – you employ them, you rent them,” Pinnick said of the group that called for his ouster. “If you ask the guy why they are carrying the placards, they say they don’t know. They rent them for as low as 10 cents, 20 cents. People are hungry. ”
A few days later, there was another demonstration, more placards. This time the messages were different. They called Pinnick to stay on.