The World Cup gets underway this week, with all eyes on Russia as the country readies to stage the greatest show on earth. Of course, any World Cup would not be compete without a distinctively corny/glamorous opening ceremony to kick things off. On the theme of referees, this World Cup is set to be the…
“Modern sport is international politics. To lose is like losing a war. Thank you, Enugu Rangers. The Nigerian Embassy at the Algerian hilly suburb of Blaise is in a festive mood. A Nigerian soccer side has come all the way south of the Sahara to destroy for the first time the Algerian invincibility at home.”
– Sam Edem, Senior Councillor, Nigerian Embassy, Pascal, Algiers, rejoicing over the victory of Rangers International against Kouba FC, 1982.
(See Rangers International FC … A History of a People, Lagos 2017)
After reversing the 32-year trophy drought and finally beating the jinx, Rangers were crowned the 2016 National League Champions. Automatically, they qualified to represent Nigeria in the Africa Champions Cup, seeded to play in the Super Four and the Charity Cup.
Like Leicester Club, Champions of the English Premier League, Rangers have been humiliated and have become the beating pan of the other struggling contenders. The Rangers, according to veteran broadcaster and sports commentator, Nurudeen Gasali Babatunde of the Kwara State Broadcasting Corporation, are losing it: “Emma, see how our darling team has become swollen-headed, messing up in every match. They lost the Super Four and got killed in the Charity Cup. As if that was not enough, Abia Warriors, under former Rangers man, Okey Emordi, travelled all the way from Umuahia and at the Cathedral handed a disastrous home defeat to Enugu Rangers.”
Since that opener, the Rangers have walked a tightrope, either losing or managing draws. The losses were becoming unacceptable as the African championship campaign was impending. At their last league encounter at Nnewi, Rangers again lost to Ifeanyi Uba FC. Just as we were about descending on the coach, the team, the management, Christian Chukwu called: “G.O.C. Give us a break; calm down, Rangers will return.”
He was returning my call over some questions and research issues. Throughout our enquiries, he was not saying much about himself nor was he the one who revealed his new appointment to me. On the other hand, it was his former playmate, Pat Iluno, who disclosed that Chairman Chukwu had been appointed the new General Manager of the Rangers International FC.
This was the man who, in a Timesport piece in Daily Times on Algiers ’78, Salute To Chukwu…. Toyin Makanju, Sports Editor, Daily Times, wrote on his return from Algeria: “Let’s all salute a man who has led the Nigerian national team to the top bracket in African football, a man who rose from virtually nowhere to become respected and regarded as one of the best in the continent. He has seen hard times, he has seen good times. He has experienced all the joy and agony of the football game, bearing all with Spartan discipline. Yes, I am referring to skipper Christian Chukwuemeka Chukwu. Indeed, no accolade would be too much to bestow on this energetic footballer.
As captain for his club, Rangers International of Enugu, Chukwu came within reach of the continent’s most prestigious soccer trophy, the African Cup of Champion Clubs, several times, including the historic 1976 final tussle with the dreaded Hafia of Guinea. However, fortune smiled on him late last year when he led Rangers to capture the sister Cup Winners’ Cup at their very first try. At the national level, Chukwu led the Eagles to the 1976 African Nations Cup tournament in Ethiopia and came away third best. Same year, the turn of the Olympic qualifying series came. Again, Chairman, as he later became known, was in the thick of affairs, piloting his mates through the storm to win a place in the Games football final.”
Never given to losing his composure, even before a most rowdy crowd under the most massive pressure in the field or outside the arena, before very hostile fans or even when ruling against his own teammates and rallying them to continue after a harsh and difficult ruling from a referee, Chukwu in the words of his own dependable double centre, Francis “German Wall” Nwosu, “is my continental Commander!” (See Rangers International FC … History of a People)
I have stated it and we have given the coach, Imama Amapakabo, his credit, his deserved rewards. He more than anybody else contributed in breaking the 32 years old jinx. All the same, the aftermath of that victory is the determinant test to his greatness. His move to camp in Benin, Nigeria’s central footballing zone, was not strategic. Benin opened up all the floodgates and before he knew it all the serious clubs were sending scouts, coaches etc. to watch his camp and the boys he was screening and at the same time training. Whatever happened to the hilly topography of Nsukka, Awgu and the hidden plains of Ada-Ada River?
Understandably, when he called his squad there was nothing secret and all the opponents already knew the team’s strength, system and, of course, the new signings. For the first time in the Championship history of the team, Rangers were going to battle deprived of the potent weapon of surprise.
The recent appointment of Chairman Christian Chukwu as the General Manager to the Rangers would no doubt help restore to the shaky clubside the needed confidence and calm but would also bring to the management and to the coach the eroding fighting spirit and winning “onwu nadu” determination, which to many fans have been abandoned by the staff and boys of Rangers International FC. The draw in faraway Algeria is a good thing that must be kept alive. Rangers should immediately decide whether to play all the continental matches in Enugu or at the Federal Capital. Whichever field they choose to play, (the Cathedral has not proved to be most productive at this time) they must go ahead immediately and restore that field as the home base. Bring all the boys together in that location, inspire the chosen city and make sure they have all the advantages to serve as a fan base for the club. The Algerian breakthrough was not expected but the result proved that the fighting spirit and the determination to win have returned to the club.