Of Mikel Obi and our League!

on   /   in Onochie Anibeze, Sports 6:14 pm   /   Comments

By Onochie Anibeze

I once read a book on journalism which warns that one may not be objective if one pretends not to have biases or sentiments on issues or towards some people.

The book teaches that it is better to note your sentiments and try to check them while analysing issues lest your biases make you subjective.

I have recalled this because of the sentiments many Nigerians expressed on the 2013 Glo-Caf Awards where Yaya Toure of Ivory Coast beat our Mikel Obi to the Best Player Award.

Nigerians hardly accept defeat. How many politicians have ever congratulated their opponents after winners emerged in elections? It rarely happens in Nigeria. They head for the court, all of them.

In football, they rarely admit superiority of opponents. If it is not Sani Kaita (remember that infamous Kong Fu in the 2010 World Cup) or a defender it is the coach. If it is not the coach, it is the federation. Nobody admits the superiority of opponents and plan to up our game, not only by better preparation but also organising a better league that could produce quality players who can win us matches at international levels including the World Cup.

I’m disappointed by the way many Nigerians raised eyebrows over the failure of Mikel Obi to emerge Africa’s Best Player. If we could set aside sentiments how would one score Mikel more than Toure?

Emma Okocha, the elder brother of Jay Jay Okocha who also played great football, said that what remained confusing were the criteria used in scoring players.

“Is it individual performance, team performance and laurels won?” Okocha said in an interview with us shortly after the awards in Eko Hotel Thursday night.

I think that Okocha’s question was pertinent but it is the same with Fifa. Fifa has not announced any criteria for their World Footballer Of The Year Awards but we know it is more about the individual performance of players heavily boosted by the class of their clubs especially when such clubs are contenders in continental diadems.

Players enjoy great rating when they play in the continents but it is not about winning laurels. To play for a team that wins laurels could help but it is not about winning laurels. Victor Ikpeba was absolutely sensational in Monaco when he won the award in 1979 but Monaco did not win the Champions League.

He was scoring great goals and was even nominated for World Footballer of the year awards. Didn’t Yekini and Kanu win these awards? Ronaldo was voted the best player in the world for the 2013 season. Did Real Madrid win the Champions League? I point this out because Nigerians have argued that Mikel won the Nations Cup with Nigeria and that he was in the team that qualified Nigeria for the World Cup. What did Argentina and Portugal win in those years Messi and Ronaldo won the awards?

Former Green Eagles captain Segun Odegbami brilliantly compared Toure and Mikel and rated Toure miles ahead. Toure defends, creates chances and scores. When he is not playing, Odegbami said, Man City misses him. One cannot say same of Mikel, Odegbami says of the Nigerian who has played about 301 matches (Odegbami mistakenly wrote 400) for Chelsea as a midfielder and has only four goals to tell his story.

I think that Nigerians appreciate the brilliance of Odegbami in his analyses on football matters and I don’t need to say more about this man who also played great football. He did not deserve the abuse unleashed on him by John Shittu, Mikel’s agent who did not only condemn Odegbami points on Mikel but also went on to argue that Odegbami lacked modern football knowledge.

It also smacked of poor knowledge of the game to compare players who played in different generations as Shittu tried to do with Mikel and Odegbami. Style, speed, skills, coaching, character and even culture change with time time. It would be naïve, for example, to compare Ronaldo and Usebio and conclude that one was better than the other.

Odegbami, set aside sentiments and compared the two players professionally and gave it to Toure. I belong to his school on this. And Paul Bassey, in his column last Monday in Vanguard, tried to educate us on how the voting is done and was done for the period in question and one could see that the votes counted. I even now believe more on the credibility of Caf Awards. Those who vote  have sentiments. They could err but the votes count. There’s no rigging. That’s on the CAF Awards.

On our league, what I planned to write has already been well articulated by Harry Iwuala in a special piece he did on the league early this week.

Some of the clubs in our Premier League said that they would boycott registration of their clubs for the new season. Their grudge is on the conditions League Management Company, LMC, set for them to be registered. Many of these conditions are what I have been canvassing for years for our league.

They have to do with playing in television friendly stadia, setting standards with remuneration and contracts of players and coaches, registering the clubs as limited liability businesses and allowing the public to own 30 percent shares, insisting on medicals for players before engaging them etc.

While I may plead with the LMC to exercise restraint on the time line for some of these conditions they must insist on their total compliance in the next one or two seasons. We must set standards for our league to grow. And the way out is to register only those clubs that meet the standards. If only ten clubs meet the standards let them play in the premier league.

That’s the way to ensure quality and to raise our football again. I whole heartedly back the LMC led by Nduka Irabor on these reforms. Nduka should know that the officials who resist positive changes and prefer what my friend Kojo Williams call Alamala league do that for their selfish interests and not for the interest of our football. He must not, therefore, give up. We support the reforms.

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