Trust: one small word, with far-reaching implications. In the end, Nigeria's latest bonus standoff -- imposed when a training session was cancelled after the players failed to arrive after a meeting called to demand the payment of their appearance fees overran -- came down to a matter of trust. Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) chiefs expected the players to trust them to do what was necessary; the players did not trust the officials enough to risk it.
And so we were left with a case of players boycotting training, and threatening to skip their World Cup round of 16 game against France. But that is putting the cart in front of the horse.
Nigeria's national football team have a rich history of airing their problems in public. Back in the day, there was hardly a tournament in which Nigeria emerged without some embarrassing episode hanging on their coattails.
Recent history is replete with the sordid details of wrangles between players and federation, but credit must be given to current federation president Aminu Maigari. Not one for talking much, he has found a way to ensure that Nigeria put their financial wranglings behind them by agreeing to everything up front.
His one stumble happened a year ago, when the cash-strapped federation decided to halve the players' bonuses without consulting them. That was what led to the near disaster of last year's Confederations Cup, with players insisting they would accept nothing less than what they were promised.
In this recent incident at this World Cup, however, it is hard to see what the NFF could have done differently. Prior to the tournament, the players demanded a share of the earnings the federation would receive from FIFA for participating at the World Cup. An agreement was reached to pay them a graduated percentage for every round they reached. For getting out of the group, they would get 30 percent of the appearance fee; that figure would rise to 40 percent if they progressed to the quarterfinals; 50 percent if they reached the semifinal; 60 percent of they made it to the final; and 70 percent if they won it.
Just to be clear, if they (somehow) won the World Cup, the players would take 70 percent of the appearance fee from FIFA, and the NFF would get only 30 percent.
This is in addition to the match-by-match bonus structure through which they get paid $10,000 U.S. for a win in the group stages, $12,500 for one in the round of 16, $15,000 for the quarterfinal, $20,000 for the semifinal and $25,000 if they reach and win the final.
That is not just a good deal, it's a great deal. The cynics would say the NFF knows the side cannot win the World Cup, but that is moot. Nothing is impossible in football, as Greece showed at Euro 2004. So where did the problem come from? Simple, the players demanded to be paid the money in advance. Maigari's NFF pushed back, saying it had not received anything from FIFA, and would not receive anything until after tournament had finished.
The players were having none of that and insisted the federation source the money, and then keep whatever comes in from FIFA. Really, this was an impossible ask for a federation that had been forced to send its general secretary back to Nigeria just to embark on the process of securing a second tranche of funds for their participation in the knockout rounds. Apparently, the Nigerian government (the NFF's major source of funds) had provided only enough money to prosecute the group stages.
And this is where trust issues come in. Scarred by years of unfulfilled promises and delayed payments, the players had begun to take anything from the federation with more than a pinch of salt.
Their appearance fees for the last World Cup took over a year to be paid. But Maigari was the man who made sure they were paid. When he came into office, the money was sitting in the bank after having been put on escrow by FIFA because of the crisis of legitimacy within the NFF.
As soon as Maigari became president, one of his first orders of business was to ensure that every player at World Cup 2010 was paid his appearance fee. Captain Joseph Yobo told ESPN FC: "Yes, it's true. We didn't get paid for months, but as soon as he came in, we got our money."
But if that was the case, why did the players not trust him to keep his word this time around? Apparently, the trust had been broken during the Confederation Cup, according to what the players told me. They expected to receive some share of the money from there, but got nothing.
It was on that basis that they felt they could take no chances, but would collect their dues each step of the way. Yet the NFF is miffed by the insinuation, insisting that there was no agreement prior to the Confederations Cup, so it had nothing to be bound by.
In the end, it has taken the intervention of Nigeria's president to resolve this and, following on the heels of similar embarrassment from Ghana and Cameroon, FIFA have also taken their own measures -- with Jerome Valcke quoted as saying: "Future World Cups will ask the national associations to provide us with their agreements with their players to make sure that this kind of episode does not happen again." Hopefully, this should spell the end of another sorry chapter in Nigerian, and African, football history, but you wouldn't want to bet on it.