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A call from Argentina

By Paul Bassey

For the past two weeks, my phone has been the recipient of a lot of calls from abroad. The most guilty are the journalists from Sweden in search of up dates on their country man who has been given an opportunity to coach a World Cup team.

In one instance, I asked the caller why he does not talk to Lagerback directly. I advised that it would be cheaper and more authoritative if he could speak to his compatriot instead of relying on hearsay from somebody outside the corridors of the Glass House.

He said Lagerback was nowhere to be found, that besides he does not talk to them freely about the Nigerian job. One of them, Bjorn Kirsten (Something like that) even said Lagerback had once joked that Nigerian stories change per minute and that it will be wise for them to relate with their Nigerian counterparts.
“Per minute what?” I queried. He said they had once quoted the coach copiously on a friendly match, made airline bookings to cover same only to find out that the match had been cancelled without adequate information.

Then came the South Africans as the news of the Hampshire Hotel hit front pages in the Nigerian sports media. The case of the South Africans was amusing because even when they had information at their finger tips, under their noses, they still wanted to “confirm” issues that they believed were out of this world.

Why should Nigeria for instance pay as much as US$125,000 for a contract she claimed she did not enter into?

How was it possible for the NFF to convince FIFA to accept a camp base that was not listed by them?
When they asked whether the fine would be deducted from the FIFA allocation to the NFF, I replied that it was the government that would foot the bill and they sought to know why.

The calls are still coming in, only this time from a most unlikely source, Argentina. Yes, Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Speaking through an interpreter, the journalist wanted to get details about coach Lagerback. I gave him the little I knew. He then asked about Nigeria’s pre-World Cup programme and I said I had no idea. He did not take it kindly.

How come I did not know our World Cup programme? He was ready to give me that of Argentina. I insisted I did not know. He did not believe me.

Ok, if Nigeria’s World Cup opening match was like tomorrow, who are the players Lagerback was likely to field? I said I did not know.

He then reframed the question. “As a top sports journalist in Nigeria, can you give me your likely starting eleven? Not Lagerback’s, your own”.

He could hear me laugh. I said to him that between the Nations Cup and now, so much has happened that there was even no team in sight. I said whether he believed me or not, there was no team on the ground.

That immediately after the World Cup, I would have been tempted to include players like Yobo and Mikel in my starting line up, but that while Yobo is struggling to recover from injury, Mikel is suffering and the likelihood of them attaining full fitness level before the World Cup was in the hands of soccer gods.

I cited Danny Shittu, the heavyweight of a defender who was a regular in Angola but who since then has not kicked a ball. I talked about the absence of a traditional striker in the mould of Rooney, Ribery and Higuain. What about lethal midfielders like Messi, Ronaldo, Lampard and Robben?

All this while, the Argentinian journalist was not with me. He told the interpreter to tell me that he was not impressed that I had misunderstood him. He was not telling me to reveal any secret. That in football, the mere mention of players does not amount to anything.

I quote him “….. For instance, everybody in the world knows that Messi will play against Nigeria. That Higuain and Carlos Tevez will feature does not mean that the Argentinian team has been exposed. Or, are we to say that Messi should stop playing so that the Nigerian coach and Nigerian people do not see him play?
“Football is not like that, that is why every week, Messi can afford to score goals despite the extra attention accorded him by the world’s top defenders.”

Again I laughed
I told him that I appreciate and knew all he has said, that it was difficult for him to believe me was understandable. But as a professional colleague I was giving him my word that I knew absolutely nothing about the Super Eagles World Cup team.

I then proposed some information on the players I knew will definitely be at the World Cup. “How many of them?” he asked. I started counting……Osaze, Enyeama, Mikel, Ike Uche, maybe Aiyegbeni, Taiwo, Kalu Uche, Obafemi………….

I must have paused for a long time because he now interjected. “Maybe you think I am a spy. That I am in the process of getting information for my country……..”

I stopped him. “What information can you get? Are you not the one who just told me that even if I mention a player it is of no effect since he may be playing weekly for his club?”

He said “yes”. That he will be in South Africa solely to cover Argentina. That his World Cup stay in the African country is dependent on how far Argentina will go “ ….should they leave in the first round, I leave with them.

“Before the World Cup I am to do series of features on them and their group. It is expected that before the World Cup I would have been an expert not only on Argentinian football, but also of Nigeria, Greece and South Korea.

“I am to also go further and do a research on likely second round opponents and so on till perhaps the final. You can now see why you have not been of any help to me” he literarily cried.

He now asked me to please give him the name of any other journalist that could help him since I was not ready “to cooperate” I told him I could not think of any journalist  that fits his bill.
He hung up.

I then sat back and felt bad that he had not believed me. I wished I had given him the phone number of Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi!

Sincerely, who knows about our World Cup proramme and team? Who? Because I want to call Ricardo back and make amends.
See you next week.


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