By Marcellinus Offor Igirigi
As I set out to write this little piece many titles stormed my mind. Because, it has to do with genuinely concerned thoughts about the Super Eagles and their coach, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, I chose a direct caption. The subtitle is not as misty as if to say that we are unaware that Keshi is a responsible husband and father of a proud Nigerian family.
But he got another extended family: the Super Eagles. To these guys he must learn, not just how to teach the tricks of football and the joy of winning, but how to redirect the stray and bandage the wounded. The charismatic José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix (of Chelsea) is eulogized, even by opponents, for bearing the weaknesses of his players and protecting them before the prying eyes of the public.
Looking back a bit, it’s hurting that the unfortunate absence of the Super Eagles from the AFCON 1996 in South Africa was heavily retrogressive in all sectors of Nigerian Football. Yes, few went to the Olympics in Atlanta and got us the soccer gold, but the NFA collapsed. The rising profile of our players ran down while many were frustrated into early retirement.
Had the Nigerian league been up to standards, I don’t see while Daniel Amokachie, Sunday Oliseh, Okocha etc should release the throttle when they did. It tickles my fancy to watch Zé Roberto, Nelson de Jesus Silva (Dida), Gilberto Silva, Clarence Clyde Seedorf and the multi talented Ronaldinho (Gaúcho) among so many others still very active in highly technical Campeonato Brasileiro. These guys are still competing and boosting the image and popularity of the entire country.
However, it was a Brasilian born Italian journalist who drew my attention to the soccer prodigy personified in the one and only Mario Barwuah Balotelli when, in questioning the glaring absence of Joseph Yobo at the Fifa Confederations Cup held here in Brasil, I told him that the Eagles Captain has some ‘grouse’ to settle with his coach. Whatever is the content of the grouse, I couldn’t offer him.
He gasped in utter consternation. What unsettled grouse could keep an in-form captain from his army, away from an International duty? He simply told me that the Italian coaches and the entire Federation know what they want from Balotelli: “a bola na rede” – put the ball inside the net. Kabisa! And he has not let them down. Any other Balotelli ‘insanity’ outside the 18-yard box is in powder content, and thus, can be dissolved. Ok?
Mesut Özil, no matter the reason behind his sale by the President of Real Madrid, remains, in a recent opinion sampling in Spain, the only Madrid player Barcelona fans would love to have in their ‘pukuse’ dancing Catalan Club. Yet, this is the man accused of incurable night-crawling. But the German Football Federation would have none of those gabs, neither the professor at the Emirates, Arsene Wenger.
It is on record that Mesut made more passes than any player in Europe in the last season. His left foot has a magnetic apparatus to which balls surrender with total obeisance. His passes have dept and reach targeted death-ends. What about soccer vision? His eyeballs define it. That’s where nature lavishes gifts to a seeming little body frame which distinguishes the mid-field maestro’s unequalled sublime soccer savoir-faire. Ronaldo may be the king in Real Madrid. Certainly, Özil was the kingmaker. And, for African traditional culturists, the kingmaker is the one that matters. Remove him; the king is ‘mumu-fied’.
Sometimes I query myself: what crimes do the Super Eagles players commit? The only thing I can point at is this ransom for money which was even engrafted during Keshi’s era. Mario Balotelli, Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo, and our beloved Luís Soares are stars in the game of soccer and represent the youthful energy and craze of their prime.
Sometimes, we’re overawed at what they do on and off the pitch, nevertheless, we enjoy their classy entertainment and pay to watch their ‘atilogwu’. Don’t be surprised I added beloved for Soares. Am living in South America where football is a carnival and its artists called ‘carnavalescos’. In fact, football is a show of a sort where every art has colour, and every colour has value.
Consequently, looking at the Nigerian puritan posture, I am forced to ask: when has football training camps turned into seminaries, nunneries or monasteries where you hone out monks and other celibate men and women? No one should make the mistake of trying to sanctify indiscipline, worse, in the public purview. This article does not. The point is that professionals should be employed to manage a highly professional vocation like footballers, and by extension, all sports.
Time has gone when sports are called mere ‘passatempos’ (hobbies). Today, every form of sports means wealth, national pride, good public image and surely, enviable career. Keshi is professional enough to imbibe and inculcate in the Super Eagles the spirit of solidarity and the time-tested African ‘Ujamaa’ spirit marketed to the world by Julius ‘Mwalimu’ Nyerere. This is what we expect ‘Father’ Stephen Keshi to do with his family in the National Outfit. After all, who is so sinless as to cast the first stone?
That’s brings me to the issue of creating and breaking records. Keshi is a fellow Nigerian. We don’t like to create good records but to set ablaze the entire building where good records are saved. Now, we are happy that the national team gaffer is setting good ones for himself. He is the second African to win the Nations Cup as player and coach, and has age and ability on his side. He has attended to most AFCON both as Assistant and Manager.
Please, Messrs Paul Bassey and Onochie Anibeze, tell him not to set Yobo’s (nay, Nigeria’s) record ablaze. The world is watching this ugly drama, this vain administrative I-go-show-you-pepper. It’s a little above witch-hunting. We are interested that one Nigerian player is honoured in the Fifa records as embracing the tape of 100th mark of international appearances. Please give it to Yobo. “We are the him o.”
No one should forget in a hurry the 100th appearances of the Uruguayan predator Diego Forlan and the Italian mid-field conductor Andrea Pirlo at the last Fifa Confederations Cup in Brasil. They were celebrated in the world media with well publicized interviews by Fifa itself. In fact, the timings were remarkable because both did so with goals to consummate their international team spotlight.
However, no Nigerian should forget, at least so soon, that Forlan celebrated national team centenary show with a piercing one-time shot that shook the inside of Enyeama’s net. That rocket from the Uruguayan boot could have as well been launched from NASA. So in every setting, records are created, broken and celebrated. Unfortunately, we shun these types of records in Nigeria. They call it the Nigerian factor, the ‘Naija haram’.
Thus, I refuse to believe that Joseph Yobo is still the Captain of the Super Eagles as he was not invited for the Fifa Confederations Cup even when the coaches knew well ahead about the genuine absenteeism of some regulars. I refuse to believe that Yobo is not in any socio-political quagmire as he is not even considered for friendly games. Be it said that Keshi has revealed Oboabona/Omeruo combination at the central defense. But I refuse to believe that Yobo can’t even break-in if any of the Os is unavailable.
I thank Keshi for the revelation called Egwuekwe, but I sincerely refuse to believe that he’s better than Yobo, and with due respect, in all aspects of soccer. I weep and refuse to agree to the plot that Yobo may be schemed out from filling an important lacuna in the national soccer history – after Okocha and Kanu unbuckled their boots – as the first and only Nigerian to have successfully completed his century appearance in the national colors.
I refuse to believe that it’s only Keshi’s Ouija that is blowing off Yobo. But whoever is rocking the boat, a true Nigerian history is on the abyss. I refuse to agree that Yobo can’t even break into the bench of the present crop of Eagles. When the coaches talk about inviting a Captain and benching him, it flies in the face of TRUTH. Surely, it happens all over the world. After all, we know who captained the final match against the Kalusha-led Zambian Chikpolokpolo in Tunisia ’94. We know how the Trophy was lifted. Please let’s stop all this “politicagem”, as Brasilians would say.
I make this little contribution in honour of Nigerian soccer fans whose spirit selected Keshi. I make this case in respect to the Vanguard and some sports journalists who stood solidly behind the coach against NFA’s endemic ruckus.
I move this motion in honour of the Late Pini Jason (God rest his soul) whose revealing articles (February 19, 26/2013) on the straying NFA drew the world’s attention while Nigerians were still on honeymoon with the AFCON Trophy.
Doubtless, the Eagles must give Keshi and his crew unalloyed respect as the father of the house. Keshi himself as a good father should not treat his players as common roadside panhandlers in front of a giant Shylock. These Eagles need neither mafia players nor coaching cabals. All we are saying is that we are Nigerians. Let there be one family. I take refuge in the old Warri cliché: monkey no fine but him mama like am. Like Keshi, so also like Osaze, Yobo and others. We like them all. Let Yobo break this seeming jinx. Let Keshi create records. At the end, Nigeria wins. Brasil, here we come!