Ayo Oyoze Baje
Individuals don’t win, teams do -Sam Walton
The ultimate goal of every soccer-loving nation is to win the much-coveted and prestigious World Cup. For the next one month starting from June 14, 2018 global attention will be riveted on Russia, the host country for the 21st edition of the World Cup. There, the brightest and the best that the football world has to offer will have the veritable platform to showcase their phenomenal soccer skills. They would exhibit such at ball juggling, deft passes, scintillating swerves, mesmerizing dribbles, defending hot shots and eventually to score the vital goals. The salutary aim of course, is to attain fame and fortune and make their countries proud.
As usual, old scores will be settled on the field of play. New friendships will be forged as broken fences are mended. More money would be made for individuals, countries and FIFA, the organizing body. For instance, prior to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Sepp Blatter, then FIFA President revealed that income revenues that accrued from ticket sales and advert placements doubled from that of 2002 edition, even before the first shot was taken. FIFA also reportedly made a $631 million profit from the 2007-10 World Cup cycle and earned income of $3.65 billion from 2010 World Cup contracts. The 2014 World Cup which took place in Brazil generated $4.8 billion in revenue for FIFA compared to $2.2 billion in expenses. That was 100 per cent profit! Over the four-year cycle, the event turned a $2.6 billion profit.
This year’s edition may not be any different. Truth is, the world is simply crazy about soccer which has become the opium of the masses. That is football for you. But in more ways than one, some interesting parallels could be drawn between the round leather game and life itself. Like life, it is a battle of brains and brawn. It evokes passion, pleasure and pain, with its thrills and frills. More significantly however, soccer is a team game. The success a team achieves is always directly proportional to the unfailing factors of hard work, honesty and unity of purpose, understanding, communication skills, commitment and cooperation exhibited by its members.
When for instance, football pundits point to Brazil, Spain, Germany and Argentina, the last incidentally one of Nigeria’s opponents as the likely teams to beat (as it was in Korea-Japan 2002, South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014) it is all because of the high quality of players and team spirit prevalent amongst the players. However, though Brazil has Neymar, Portugal the skillful Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina the magical Messi, they alone cannot win matches without the avid support of their team mates. A tree, as the wise ones say, does not make a forest.
As with life too, we must realize that to succeed there should be strict adherence to the rules of the game. The referees are there, more like the security forces to enforce the rule of law. Any player who commits a premeditated attack on his opponent first earns a yellow card as a warning signal. A repeat of such risks a red card that sends him out of the game at hand. That would serve as a clear deterrence to others. Even as the games progress there must be total focus. Members should not be swayed or discouraged by the jeers of the over -zealous crowd when they lose any match or, be overwhelmed by the cheers when they score vital victory over any other team.
Like life, there is always the unknown Factor-X. Players and countries should, therefore, brace up for the unexpected. There would be twists and turns; surprises to send shockwaves down the spine of players, coaches and countries alike. Russia, for instance, may be the lowest ranked of the participating countries but it is the host and anything can happen. Being prepared for such eventualities would always stand them in good stead.
While it is inspiring to have heroes who have attained the lofty heights we aspire to reach, we must realize that no two people are ever the same, no matter how hard we try. Nigeria cannot have another Rashidi Yekini, Nwankwo Kanu or J.J. Okocha. But we can identify even more brilliant stars and showcase them to the world through global tournaments such as this. For now, we look up to the Mikel Obis, the Iwobis, the Moses and the Musas to make us proud. What really matters is continuous improvement on the structures, programmes and processes that threw them up, so as to discover and nurture new talents.
That makes the grooming of the Under-21 teams vital. With that, the issue of smooth succession which has remained the bane of our country’s football development would be sorted out.
Success is also about creating value as Candice Carpenter, a world-renowned marketer rightly observed. It is about doing something new, something unique and valuable which would solve the problems of mankind. In the light of that, what new ideas and strategies would Gernot Rohr-led coaching crew bring to the global stage to perform much better than our previous outings? These would include discipline, patriotic fervor and youthful energy. And of course, the typical fighting spirit for survival and success, against all odds of the average Nigerian.
Life, like football is give and take. Sometimes you win, at other times you lose. But we should not grieve because of our losses, or that our dreams have not seen the light of day. No! Instead, we should learn from our failures and foibles and bear them with equanimity and fortitude. Then march confidently into the future. After all, the joy of life is not just about winning but being an active participant in the struggle for success.
The greatest of men and women are not those who never faltered but those who, with sheer determination, have risen stoutly to take their stumbling blocks as their stepping stones to greater heights.
Indeed, yours truly believes that God, our all-knowing creator must have inspired the game of football to teach us about the brotherhood of man. For, as long as the 2018 World Cup lasts such man-made challenges as war and terrorism, racism and religious bigotry will take the spectator’s seat. So would our differences of creed, colour and political persuasion. Certainly, football fosters full fun, fantasy, freedom, friendship. And fashion too.
N.B. This piece is specially dedicated to our Super Eagles team and the coaching crew. We pray for their victory and also for our world to become a safer and more fruitful place to live in. Ultimately, that is what would make football the beautiful game.
Baje writes from Lagos