By Patrick Omorodion
My Pastor at the Living Faith Church, a.k.a. Winners, Bishop David Oyedepo always inspires me with messages like this one: “You’ll never arrive at a future you’re not prepared for.” That is the truth of life. You must work out results, they just don’t happen and never falls from heaven like manna.
For you to achieve success in life, you have to first believe that you can achieve it, then you put your heart to it and start working towards achieving it.
That is the lesson the victory of little known Leicester City in the 2015/2016 English Premier League has thought most people. The same lesson the successful run so far of Iceland in the ongoing 2016 Euro Championship is teaching football managers, fans and laymen in the beautiful game of football. Wales added their name Friday night with the 3-1 demolition of Belgium.
For Leicester City who struggled the previous season and survived relegation, nobody gave them any chance of even finishing at the middle of the table how much more a top four place or the title itself. But they believed in themselves and pushed hard to get into the top four bracket and hardest to remain top after climbing there.
When the so-called big four realised that Leicester where truly pushing for the title, the fight became tougher as the minnows fired on all cylinders, churning out victories even if it was just a 1-0 margin. Today they are champions because one man, Claudio Ranieri believed in the small names like Jamie Vardy he assembled and moulded into a superb blend.
Shortly after the Leicester fairy tale story, another rookie team, Iceland, a country of about 330,000 people are causing ripples at the ongoing Euro Championship in France. The team did not lose any of their group games, holding Portugal with ‘almighty’ Cristiano Ronaldo to a 1-1 draw.
After beating Austria 2-1 in their last group match to top their group, a country like England should have taken them more seriously. But I don’t think they did. They also didn’t remember, maybe, that the same team stopped another big team, The Netherlands from the Euro football party.
Host and former world champions, France play them in the quarter finals today at the Stade de France and have stated through one of their top players, Patrice Evra, that they will respect the Icelanders, a thing he thinks England failed to do. I hope they do.
This small country is making waves because they believe in themselves and play their game without looking at big names. Today because of their self-belief, they have become impregnable and the big teams are now scared. So even if they lose against France today, they would go home with their heads held high because no one gave them any chance to get out of their group how much more, get to the quarter-finals.
It was baffling when our country men, both home and in the diaspora were tensed up when the draws for the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers were about to be made in Cairo, Egypt penultimate Friday. There was so much anxiety in the land that one began to ask if suddenly Nigeria has become a minnow in football that the people should get migraine over the opponents the Super Eagles would be drawn against.
And when the draws were finally made, shouts of “Group of Death’ from all and sundry including the usual arm chair analysts on the various news channels almost burst my ear drums. Thoughts and comments like these are capable of killing the morale of the team and their technical crew even before a ball is kicked in the qualifiers scheduled to begin later this year.
What the players and whoever would be their coach should have behind their minds is self-belief. They should also see themselves as champions going into any game. To be a champion, you must be ready to beat the best and not to pray for ‘soft’ draw or an avenue devoid of the so-called strong teams. If Leicester City and Iceland were thinking like this, they would not have done exploits and be crowned champions(Leicester) or playing in the quarter finals (Iceland) of a very big championship like the European version of the Nations Cup.
The time to begin preparing to take on everybody is now for the Super Eagles. That is why the NFF should stop the cat and mouse game over the issue of hiring a coach of whatever hue for the team so that he begins early to plot strategies for the qualifiers. Nigerians cannot afford to sit back and watch the 2018 World Cup without the Eagles. They endured in the 2015 Africa Nations Cup without their team, they will endure again when the 2017 Africa Nations Cup hold next year. If they miss the World Cup in 2018, it will be adding salt to the injury already caused by two Nations Cup misses. And they will never forgive the Amaju Pinnick-led Nigeria Football Federation.
Down to the Olympics, Nigerian athletes have always believed in themselves and have gone out of their way to prepare themselves for competitions due mostly to the late release of funds from the government. Otherwise, no Nigerian athlete would qualify for any international event, how much more winning any medal.
If we go by the way they prepared for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, USA, Chioma Ajunwa would not have been a gold medallist today. The football team would not have been the first African team to win an Olympic gold medal in football.
I believe the Nigerian authorities have relied too much on the ‘Nigerian you-can-do-it-spirit’ mentality to deny our athletes quality preparations. If that is what the minister of sports, Solomon Dalung is waiting to rely on for this summer’s Rio Olympics, he will be shocked to go into history books as the worst minister to have administered sports in Nigeria. And this will equally rub off on the Muhammadu Buhari Presidency whether we like it or not