“Only very rare in football does a player come along who belongs not to a club or a country, but to the world, a player so talented and such a joy to watch that he inspires admiration, universality, irrespective of the chauvinistic allegiance. The crowds turn up to see his performance, and partisan feelings are forgotten. Pele of course was such a star and so was Stanley Matthews, and in his brief career, Duncan Edwards, and Diego Maradona, the gift of the gods.”
– Jay-Jay Okocha … Farewell to the Last Paragon, Emma Okocha, Vanguard, Letters from Washington, on the retirement of Jay-Jay Augustine Okocha from the Super Eagles.
Those of you the new generation, mesmerized by the ethane artistry of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, those of you of the old school, who saw Albert Onyeanwuna take on three or four defenders at a time, witnessed the football poetry of the London Boy, the dancing effervescence of Jay-Jay the last matador, please wait for the Daily Times story of soccer’s most pulsating decade.
The Daily Times, which started covering football since June 6, 1925, had reported and seen a lot of the world’s greatest footballers. When Godwin Ogbueze performed his epic at Onikan, the Times went for the absolute and referred to the “fantasy” that happened as magic. The paper called him by that superlative for the fact that the lad conjured magic in the open arena.
After earning a hat trick, Ogbueze decided on that day to knock at the World Guinness Book of Records. He took the entire football team of the Lagos Academicals, starring: Emilio John, Tunde Martins, Tony Amayo … one by one, he dribbled down the field, approaching the goalkeeper, Manuwa, Ogbueze raised his head and smiled at the goalkeeper. The onrushing goalkeeper was neatly displaced and instead of tapping in the ball to an empty net, the magician retreated, carrying the ball on his back he started the Atilogwu dance!
This totally embarrassed the Lagos squad who moved back to the sidelines and Ogbueze still not tired of entertaining the now boisterous crowd, shoved the ball from his back to his shoulder, gently caressing the leather ball, interchangeably thrusting the ball to his head and to his neck in marked gentle kisses and embrace.
In perfect control of his one-man theater act, Godwin Ogbueze swaggered to the centre line. The referee, who in that instance had lost his authority, went after the Magician and was about snatching the ball from Ogbueze when the Magician sold him his own dummy! His whistle fell from his hands and for the first time there was pin drop silence. Without the opponents contesting the ball, in a field of play where the referee had lost his command, Godwin Ogbueze sat on the ball and with both hands up, he beckoned on the Lagos crowd to come for the ball! That crowd would forever relate the story of that epic not only to those who missed the match but would go on forever to tell the story of Ogbueze and his magic at Onikan from generation to generation. After the civil war, Ogbueze was the unsung revelation whose artistry on that day shut down a volatile crowd, dismissed the authority of the referee, dribbled down an entire team and sat down on the ball to end a game. No other player has or will ever conjure the field like the magic of Godwin Ogbueze. (See Rangers International Football Club … History of a People, pg 19, 95)
It is a pity that Magic Ogbueze was not staged before the world camera playing in the Olympics or at the World Cup. Therein springs the major difference between journalism and the mass communications world! Godwin Ogbueze, according to the Nigerian Daily Times, dribbled to stupor everybody in the field including the referee, the newspaper reported that wonder as news.
Journalism! Limited by its operating technology and limited by its national circulation, the Daily Times is a localised national medium. The Onikan Stadium and its sitting terraces is not the world and that stage is incomparable to the Olympic Heights. The World Cup arenas prepared diligently for years to accommodate the intoxicating fascinations of the sporting gods.
Very soon, the celebrities would, by their total domination of the new media, extinguish the old theories of the press and society and give the mass communication industry new theories in order to relate pointedly the timeliness of the news to our new giddy generation.
On this premise, we cannot but observe that the World Cup extravaganza played so far in different cities in Russia belong to three countries, Mexico, Iceland and Switzerland. These are underdog nations who came to town to play Jiso, unlike Nigeria who arrived, thinking of a fashion parade, spewing a lot of tommyrots and distractions. When I was the helmsman in Delta Sports, our Nhrumastic sports policy and motto was “Win Delta Win.” If you are not fit enough to compete to win, abort the event.
This Nigerian team may not have trained or prepared to win the World Cup. However, that team is strong enough to scale into the second round. It is not late to cut down the number of officials and coaches. All the dozens of coaches including goalkeepers’ coaches cannot guide our goalkeeper on the need to do a clean goal kick to initiate offensive play. The defence of Balogun and Ekong should be reshuffled at once. Nigeria’s double defence lines since Victor Oduah, Chukwu to Keshi provide a rock of Gibraltar line.
The Libero interchanges with his No. 6 depending on the nature of the opponents’ attacking forays. The confidence, including the ruggedness of that defence line-up, reflects and gives due confidence to the entire team; Balogun finds it difficult to make a true pass across the midfield and Ekong so far is panic-stricken.
Push Balogun to his No. 2 natural wing and he will effectively block and tackle our opponents who have discovered our missing link. Restore Omerue to No. 5. He was our defence kingpin at the last World Cup against Argentina. Against any pressure he can easily make an offensive down the field cross.
Once the defence, Super Eagles greatest armour, plays its native role, the midfield will then settle down to move into the offensive. The midfield cannot permanently stay back to help a porous defence. We were lucky Croatia did not score more than two goals.
Finally, the World Cup so far is the triumphant story of Cristiano Ronaldo and the anguish of Argentina’s champion contender, Lionel Messi.
Ronaldo’s last-minute free kick against Spain catapulted Portugal to summit reckoning, proclaiming his superdon. While Messi was falling apart, grazing in common with the Iceland probables, a bemused world came together with Ronaldo’s acknowledging peers and crowned a new King of Football. Cristiano Ronaldo is the goal!