By Onochie Anibeze, just back from Brazil
Ever seen a Reggae musician without the dreadlocks?
Only Jimmy Cliff, you could probably say.
Reggae musicians are always wearing dreadlocks. And they are always deep in their Rastafarian beliefs. It is some spirit that makes them produce such great melodies but which also makes them easily lose control of their dance steps. They are always on the high. And that’s probably why you find them dancing out of the tunes of their music. They are not usually good dancers but their Rastaman vibration (God bless Bob Marley) matters. It thrills.
Okechukwu Uchebo, who, in the 66th minute, replaced Michael Babatunde (another Nigerian out of the World Cup) in the match against Argentina Wednesday was wearing his dreadlocks. And few seconds after he came in, his rhythm was not in consonance with that of his team mates. He thronged and thumped more like a Reggae musician than a footballer, funny if not awful. A Nigerian sitting near us yelled “where is this one from? Tony Nezianya of News Agency of Nigeria laughed mischievously and said “from the land of musicians but he is a Nigerian, playing in Belgium.”
Uchebo just didn’t fit in. It was either that he just didn’t deserve to be in the World Cup team or that the occasion overwhelmed him and that he could later get integrated and strike a better rhythm with time. But this is the World Cup and there may not be enough time for any player not well disposed to it. By his second touch on the ball he was still struggling and Toyin Ibitoye of Channels reminded us that he is fondly called Flavour, the name of a top Nigerian musician whose track, Adanma, is a hit.
His introduction into the match raised many questions among Nigerians on what is happening to Victor Moses. Couldn’t he have come in for Babatunde? This may look a technical matter since Moses plays wide on the left but also can attack from the right. Can he play in the middle? He may but it is left for the coaches to decide. And can he play for the team rather than for himself? This has seen him warming the bench in Brazil. Moses was killing the pace of the team by unnecessarily holding on to the ball and even failing to pass when his team mates were opening up opponents with runs in the pre-World Cup friendlies. He re-enacted this in the first match against Iran. It got so bad that Emmanuel Amenike vehemently protested against his style and Mikel Obi reportedly backed his Chelsea teammate, who is on loan to Liverpool where he sits more on the bench too. Even with his individual tendencies he did well at the last Nations Cup. However, his game has dropped and he seems to be the cause and not the loss of form. He would not release the ball in time and would easily lose it while making runs. Certainly, he has a talent that he is not utilising for the general interest of the team. It showed in the match against Iran. It was said to have angered Emenike who incidentally has also displayed the same character in some ways, although he deserves kudos for his power game that saw Nigeria beat Bosnia 1-0 when he powered past a defender to lay a perfect assist to Osaze who finished brilliantly. Emenike will be a better player if he adds some tact to his brute force. He reportedly frowned at Moses.
Coach Stephen Keshi, reportedly intervened to bring peace among the players and they are in good terms now. But can Moses change his game and have a chance to play against France? This is pertinent going by the injuries that have hit Michael Babatunde and other Nigerians like Godfrey Obaobona, Gabriel Reuben and the fact that Uchebo may be more interested in transforming to a Nwankwo Kanu than being his natural self and playing his own game. Everybody says he tries to play like Kanu . Is that helping his game? In trying to move and play like the Papilo of Nigerian football, the young man loses balance and in his struggle to get his rhythm, he strike the chime of a Reggae musician. Did I hear somebody say Ayaga yago yoo?
Uchebo could be stronger, faster and more direct than trying to be deceitful with the ball like Kanu naturally did excellently, for that was his endowment. Just as Keshi may be telling Moses to change and be more of a team player, he could also be telling Uchebo to be more direct and forceful for us to play better. I say this for I know how limited we are on the bench going by the injuries that have hit our team and the absence of the likes of Sunday Mba, Nosa Igiebor and Ikechukwu Uche. And a good bench goes a long way to determine how well a team could be. So far, Keshi has done a pretty good job and needs to be commended for leading Nigeria this far.
“I dedicate our qualification to African coaches,”he said after the match with Argentina that Eagles lost 3-2 but qualified after Bosnia beat Iran 3-1. Eagles were gallant in that defeat.
“I don’t have anything against European coaches coming to work in Africa. But African administrators should go for good ones, the top class ones and not those, who have no pedigree.” He said exactly the same thing after winning the Nations Cup in South Africa.
He plays against France on Monday and may dedicate the expected victory to African coaches again. My money is on the Eagles if Mikel can be faster on the ball and add a little marking to his game even if he cannot attack. My money will be on the Eagles if the attackers in Emenike and Moses will respect team work for I expect Moses to play. He must have learnt his lessons.