Ebi Egbe is a renowned FIFA licenced football agent and CEO of Monimichelle Group, Nigeria’s leading sports facilities construction outfit which specialised in geotech hybrid synthetic football pitch. He spoke with SALIFU USMAN.
Mobolaji Johnson Arena project
It was not easy to put it together but we were able to do it because of the passion we have for the work. We spend many hours on the tractor to make sure that we got our level right and we have our ears on the ground for the latest innovative technology that is very close to the natural grass.
I have been in this industry for many years doing the same job. So, I have in-depth knowledge when it comes to putting pitches together.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is a maintenance culture governor. He is a very clean and well culture governor. He knows that it is very important to maintain this facility, he knows that it is important to maintain the most important part of the facility which is the pitch, and that is what I expect from all my clients in Nigeria. If you maintain the pitch, in 20 years you would not think about changing the turf.
The Lagos State commissioner for sports and DG State Sports Commission, Oluwatoyin Gafaar, is the best sports commissioner I have ever worked with. He is a very straight forward and sincere person that always wants the best.
The difference between robber grass and hybrid synthetic pitch
The rubber grass does not give a natural bio-metric, it is a bio-mechanic. Robber grass gives you an artificial foot stability and is very different from natural grass. But the bio-metric of the Mobolaji Johnson Arena, formerly known as Onikan Stadium, gives you natural fluidity and natural movement of the feet that players need. It is totally a different system. The movement of the ball, bouncing and behaviour on the hybrid synthetic pitch is very similar to natural grass.
Ex-internationals want the pitch replicated across Nigeria
They know the importance of having good pitches. They played on the pitch before and what we have now compared to their time. Every team that came to play Enyimba always applauded Nigeria for the good pitch at the Enyimba Stadium. Technology improves every day and there is advancement in this technology every year. The turf we have at the MJ Arena is an improved version of what we have at Enyimba and very close to natural grass.
The ball behaviour on the pitch is very important in the game of football. If you play on the bad pitch you can’t get a good result and that is why they want the pitch replicated everywhere in Nigeria so that we can develop our football. They understand the importance of good pitches and soft surface pitch.
We are always ready to partner with any state government, private company that wants to build sports facilities. We are here for them but will not compromise on our standard. Our floodlights are topnotch. The floodlights at the MJ Arena are one of the best money can buy in the world. Our scoreboard is P16, the brightest full colour in the world. Like I said, we don’t compromise on our quality and of course there are prices.
Blackmail. People that don’t have good products would go to tell clients different things about the good products. Blackmail and not being supportive is our major challenge in this industry.
I’m a Nigerian that is into this sector dominated by the white people. Very few of us are black men in this sector and they are not even Nigerians. I always go for different seminars and often when I walk in, I’m the only black guy from Africa in the sector. I have spent 37 years of my life in this sector and the guys who are big manufacturers know that I have in-depth knowledge in the technology. They do give me space to speak about African topography because our topography is totally different from European topography. What works in Europe cannot work here in Africa because our topography is different.
So, my concentration is the eradication of bad pitches from Africa. My concern is not to take my products to Europe but Africa. We need to build TV friendly pitches in the continent, pitches that would outlive tournaments.
Cameroon is hosting the African Nations Cup next year and they have gone for natural grass pitches but I can tell you that six months after the tournament, if you go back to Cameroon you would not see one good pitch. So, my advice to Nigeria and other African countries is that, let us start constructing sustainable pitches that would outlive tournaments.
Natural grass pitches not sustainable in Africa
It is very difficult in Africa to maintain natural grass pitches. We have tried it in some places and it is not only a Nigerian problem, it is a West, East and Central African problem. Even South Africa, their best bet is hybrid synthetic-mixed with natural grass. All the big teams in Europe are going for hybrid-natural pitches, the Europa Cup final in Turkey was played on hybrid-natural pitch, 80 percent synthetic and 20 percent natural grass. The pitches are for speed football but it is important to wet the pitches because they are not meant to be dry. If you don’t have in- depth knowledge of this industry, you will just go for the money and you will not get it right.
Moshood Abiola National Stadium
It is a complex situation and we have to wait for the opening because it is an end-users sector. If they have done a good job it is not for me to say it. The end-users will comment about it, I’m not an end-user.
The players who are going to use the pitch would tell us whether it is good or not. As you can see we have had positive feedback about the Mobolaji Johnson Arena pitch. Every team that comes here has given us thumbs up and that is what I expect from Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja because a lot of money has been spent there.
Fears for Nigeria’s football
I want Amaju Pinnick back for a third term because he is doing well and very supportive to our system.
He is bringing a lot of development to Nigeria football and we can actually see the changes in our football. Some people may not see it, we are seeing the changes.
There are a lot of advantages having a FIFA Council member, double as a CAF Executive Committee member being the NFF president. That synergy and chain must be there for us to continue to benefit from the world football ruling body and that is what we are enjoying today.
A lot of stadiums in Nigeria are not good for FIFA World Cup and CAF competitions and yet we host our matches here in Nigeria simply because we have someone who is standing for his country. This is the kind of person we need, we need a high networking individual and Amaju is one of them, you can’t take it away from that guy.
We don’t need just anybody to be NFF president, no. We need a high networking individual who cannot be intimidated or pushed down and has full confidence to go in there and talk to anybody.
Not a guy who would go in there and get intimidated, No. I, Monimichelle have that character too, whenever I go out, I go for what I want and that is why I can talk in Africa today about what I do. Nobody can intimidate me in this sector because I have in-depth knowledge of my products and what I sell to my clients. Amaju is that kind of guy and we must give it to him. He is a very high networking guy that can go anywhere and steal the show and that is what we need in the NFF.