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My plan is to rebuild business potentials around Kwara United Football Club -Titiloye

Who is Kumbi Titiloye?

My name is Kumbi Titiloye, the Chairman of Kwara United Football Club. I started with football at a very tender age. As a young boy, I played football as is normal with every other kid. My parents did not like me to play football, so, they did not let me go professional with the game.

They harped on education, which I thank God for today, that I faced then. But, to achieve my dream in football, since I did not play it, I decided to go into the business angle of football, which is marketing.

When I started, I had several communications with club sides and companies, both local and international, and dabbled into other sports. I was the General Manager of the first Glo International Half Marathon in Lagos. I also worked with ISL International, the official Marketers of the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) then. I started as Assistant Venue Manager, then became the Venue Manager at various Nations Cup and World Cup championships, as well as some cricket tournaments around the world.

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After that, ISL International was dissolved. I then started branding on my own. The first major event was the Kanu Heart Foundation tournament in Lagos, before the 2003 All Africa Games, (Coja 2003) in Abuja. I branded all the venues during the Games. I did not stop there, because, everyone wants to develop and continue to build business capacities. I had the opportunity of bringing Manchester United and Portsmouth, the first Premier League teams to come to Nigeria to play a tournament which was hugely successful. Unfortunately, we couldn’t carry on because of the huge financial demands of events like that.

Also, through a sports agency, I brought Jose Mourinho to Kwara state for a coaching clinic, through the Kwara state government, which was also hugely successful. After that, the then Governor of the state, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki asked me to come to Ilorin to manage Kwara Football Academy (KFA).

You have been in football for long. How much do you love football?

Apart from our faith, football is the best thing I love. It’s the next after the faith. I enjoy seeing financially challenged children becoming super stars that can feed their families and even feed the community. They had no chance to get proper education; they have nobody to show them the way, but if they have the skills, love to develop that skill, they get opportunities to turn it to making them worthy individuals in the society.

How would you describe the atmosphere surrounding football in Nigeria, particularly the contributions of major stakeholders?

Sincerely, if you look at sports generally in the country, government has tried a lot. There are huge levels of investments by several state governments, as well as the Federal Government on the advancement of sports. However, I want to believe that this is the reason why private investors shy away from sports because a lot of club sides and sports entities are being handled by the wrong people, especially when it’s government sponsored. And therefore, you see that there are no level playing fields and international best practices are not applied.

Kwara State Governor, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq presenting keys to club bus to the Chairman, Kumbi Titiloye

As such, the corporate sponsors are pushed away. That I think is one of the major reasons why sports development and growth is being stunted in Nigeria in particular. The attitudes of other stakeholders are tailored alongside this behavior because of the environment.

You were once the Administrator of KFA. What are the challenges and achievements then?

I spent roughly above a year as Administrator of the KFA. As at the time I joined the Academy, no player was sold by the institution. They were not going for international tournaments, and everybody’s morale was down. With my quick intervention and support from international community, I was able to take the institution to two European tours, and, it was during my time that the first player was sold to European club side.

We also sold players to Nigerian club sides. The most important part was that, when I got there, I inculcated in the minds of the coaches that, you do not take players based on sentiment. You take players that will make your job easy. As such, we recruited a crop of boys that, majority of them are well known in Nigeria and in the world. It was during my time that Kwara Football Academy won the first national tournament, the NNPC/Shell Cup, a competition among all Secondary Schools in Nigeria for Kwara state in 2011.

We were Kwara FA Cup champions…and we defeated Kwara United Football Club in the final in doing so. We represented the state in the national competition, and were eliminated by Kano Pillars in Minna by a lone goal, largely due to inexperience on the part of the boys.

That spurred the Academy to a higher level, and our boys gained so much confidence. Some of these boys played in the U-17 and U-20 championships and the Super Eagles, and many of them are presently in Europe.

Between when you left KFA and now that you returned to the state as Chairman of Kwara United, what have you been doing?

I was still in football…..I set up for a corporate organization the Football College, Abuja. And within seven years, the academy was able to produce huge numbers of young players, and almost all of them from serious financially challenged homes, and 39 of them were moved to Europe, out of which some are playing for the Super Eagles and big clubs around the world. The College was also known worldwide. We were champions of a competition in Zagreb, when we defeated Real Madrid U-19 team in the final. From there, doors were opened and the boys moved out.

Going by the Kwara United Football Club Management Law, you have four renewable years as Chairman. What target(s) have you drawn up?

Within the four years, I want to see that Kwara United Football Club generate revenue for Kwara state government in form of merchandising, transfer of players to Europe and increased followership. I also want to make Kwara Untied Football Club the hub of football for aspiring young stars that desire to move forward in the game. We will accommodate them based on the module we are putting in place.

Kumbi Titiloye

And also, within that period, we hope to be in the continent and spread the name of Kwara state. We also tend to go into some businesses where Kwara United Football Club will become a brand, producing bottled waters, which we have started, have a farm, and also, if it is approved by the government, we tend to list the club on the Stock Exchange and get investors to partner us. The first thing I did when I resumed was to see how we can get our own Club House and training pitch. However, we don’t have the finance to engage in that now, but it’s something we hope to do before our tenure expires.

Where is Kwara United Football Club presently and what’s the next line of action?

Presently, Kwara United Football Club is in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), and we intend to remain there. As you are aware, when we resumed, Kwara United was in the Nigeria National League (NNL). And with the support of the Executive Governor, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, we were able to take over the slot of Delta Force, and now, Kwarans can come to the stadium and watch the best of Nigerian football.

What have you been able to do as regards the relationship between the Board and the staffers, in relation to input and output, as well as welfare?

The welfare of the club is made possible by the leadership style of our Governor, because our subventions are being released as at when due. And based on this, I used to tell the players that look, you want to earn money, you have to continue to work hard and play well, and be disciplined. For the other staffers also, I am trying to inculcate in them my vision and the business module we need to make Kwara United Football Club move forward. It’s a daunting task because many people are not aware of the potentials of a football club. Many people just think it’s about taking salaries and allowances, they don’t look beyond that. Football as you know is a three trillion dollar business per annum. So, if Kwara United Football Club can tap into two or three per cent of that amount, it’s a wonderful achievement.

Presently, the Covid-19 pandemic has crippled all businesses, including football. What would be your personal advice or suggestion as to the restart of the NPFL?

Well, my personal suggestion really does not matter. It behooves on the authorities of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), the Ministry of Sports, and the League Management Company (LMC) to ensure that the league resumes or restarts at the proper time. Safety first; that’s one of the catch phrases in football. We need to apply that to this Covid-19 issue and ensure that nobody’s life is put at risk in football.

What’s your general view on the running of football in Nigerians and Africa? Do you think we are exploring the right potentials for business, for youths and development?

I am not a good statistician, but I think the potentials of the game of football and the attendant businesses around it, less than five per cent is being tapped in Africa. I will say this because if you try and count the numbers of African players in Europe, they can form leagues in every country in Africa. But you think about the home based players.

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Apart from Egypt, most other African countries bring their foreign professional players here for African championships, because they are well trained and know the rudiments of the game. However, the ones at home, it’s not that they cannot play better than the foreign based players, but the incentives, the training module, and the environmental factors will not let them know and understand how the game in being played.

Today in Europe, if you want to sell a player and he is 21 years old, his price will come down, because they believe it will be difficult to train him. but if they have players of say 17 or 18 years old, they believe they will be easy to trained, and will adapt quickly, and will understand the philosophy of the club he is going to play for. Here in Africa, it’s always win at all cost. Nobody cares how you do it; they just want you to win. In the process, we are only doing short term. We don’t look at the mid-term and long-term.

Nigeria has won U-17 World Cup championship several times, same for Ghana. But when it comes to the U-20 World Cups, we are nowhere to be found. This is because we lack developmental process. It will surprise you that most African countries don’t have a playing philosophy for their national teams. So, when one coach comes, he introduces his own, another one comes, he introduces his own.

With that, we don’t know what exactly our philosophy should be. When Clemens Westerhof came around, he gave Nigeria a playing philosophy and you could almost guess how a match would end because he had the time and he developed a plan. That was why the Super Eagles rose to number four in the world at that time. But since then, it has been trial by error and hit and miss situation.

Kumbi Titiloye discussing the way forward for Kwara United with the Deputy Governor, Mr. Kayode Alabi at the Kwara State Stadium

And for the U-17 cadres, a dead clock is correct two times a day. The coaches of the teams will always want to use purely U-17 lads, but in Nigeria, this I have witnessed, the parents comes to swear that their child is U-17, and the fellow in question is actually over 25 years old. This is because of the financial challenges facing them, which they believed, immediately their children enter that class, money will come. So, it’s always difficult to ascertain the true ages of the boys. Even the MRI is not a proper tool to ascertain ages because a colleague of mine who was around 46-years-old some years ago passed the MRI test. Also, children born in Europe came here to play for the country but failed MRI test. And these are children that have birth certificates from England. We really need serious orientation.

If we have good developmental programme, we will develop this children from primary and secondary schools, and in the process, we have a data base of players we can call for different age-grade competitions.

Anytime U-17 camp opens, you see many players from nowhere. They have no data whatsoever. We need to change our system in such a way that the grassroots competitions like the Principals Cup and others are revived. This is where the corporate bodies need to come in.

What advice do you have for the LMC?

My advice to the LMC is, they should continue to be professional, administer and adjudicate without sentiment. In that way, they will separate realities from pretence.

How has the relationship between Kwara United and stakeholders’ been?

The relationship with the stakeholders, I want to believe is cordial. However, I want to implore and tell our stakeholders that, if you want to cook a good soup, it takes time. You cannot just park the ingredients together, pour water and boil.

When we resumed, Kwara United Football Club had only five players, with the others players on loan to the club. So, imagine a team that had five players and two months to the resumption of the league. We had to bring 30 players from various parts of the country, train and develop them within that short time. And mind you, we initially registered to play in the NNL.

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Patience is what we need. On our own part, we have been meeting regularly with the technical crew on way forward towards improving on the team.

We registered young players. Anywhere in the world, it’s the young boys that play the game. If you want a quick fix, we can invite senior players to beef up the team, but we will only end up wasting resources because we cannot sell or move forward with them. And in the following year, we would spend double of what we invested again. But for the younger players, within a year, it will be difficult to challenge them.

We have also started investing in the younger generation of players. Upon my resumption, I was at one of the venues for the Kwara FA organized U-15 competition in the state, where I saw existing young players. I told the coaches and organizers to give us ten best players, not the winners, but the best ten across board. We gave them to KFA to develop them, that when they are matured enough, we inculcate them into the main team.

Fortunately for us, less than three months later, KFA went to represent the state at the Ramat Cup International in Kano, and the boys were among the team, and they won the tournament. We have boosted the morale of the boys. They came from different Local Government Areas, and had no dream of playing at the Kwara state stadium; talk less of playing in Kano. We have talents in Kwara state, and we will continue to partner relevant stakeholders to give them the opportunity they all need.

As Chairman of Kwara United Football Club, what would you want to be remembered for?

What I want to be remembered for is that, I encourage the development of young players. We play entertaining football, we ease tension of people in the town, in the state and then, young stars that are nobody became international stars that erase poverty in their environments.



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