Sylvanus Okpala, the man that was known as ‘Quicksilver’ in his playing days, wanted action so bad, pre-match formalities were a waste of time to him.
Going down memory lane with Vanguard, Quicksilver said once his was kitted up and left the tunnel, all he wanted was action.
Sylvanus Okpala was the first captain of the U-20 national team — Flying Eagles. He joined the Green Eagles (now Super Eagles) from secondary school and when Nigeria won the Nations Cup in 1980, Okpala was there alongside greats like Odegbami, Okala, Chukwu, Ogedegbe, Amiesimaka, Atuegbu, Owolabi, Muda Lawal, among others.
He told Vanguard: “In my active days, once we came out of the tunnel and lined up on the pitch, I would be yearning for action.
“I hated all the pre-match formalities, such as guest of honour shaking hands with players, taking photograph and so on.
“For me, they were time-wasting. I couldn’t wait to start.”
He also spoke about his post-match mentality: “Once I finished playing a match, I put that behind me and don’t even talk about how I played that game.
“Instead, I would be thinking about what I am going to do in the next game. I don’t know where I got that spirit from.
“When we won the Nations Cup (1980), after the celebration that followed on the field, for me that was over. It had become history; I was only looking forward to what I would do next in my career.”
He recalled an important qualifier against Tunisia, in which the rampaging left-footed Dhiab Tarak, was running rings around the Nigerian defence.
“At half time,” Okpala reminisced, “the Tunisians were leading us 2-0. I walked up to Coach Otto Gloria and told him I wanted to play. He removed one player and brought me in.
“He instructed me to go in there and stop Tarak. I assured him I would, but made one demand — I would be going forward as well. He said he had no problem with that.
“When I went in, I did the job I was asked to. I stopped Tarak from surging forward through the flanks. I did it so well that Tarak said to me, in smattering English, ‘me, you…friend … friend… easy…easy’.
“I told him ‘Get away, who is your friend?’ As far as I was concerned, we were enemies on the pitch. I did not even look at his face.”
And, by the way, he earned the nickname — Quicksilver — because of his natural ability to overlap and still hold down his extant wing.
So Coach Gloria knew better than denying Quicksilver that one condition.