By Ade Ojeikere
Moments after the Crocodiles of Lesotho opened scoring on Sunday in Maseru in one of the qualification games against Nigeria’s Super Eagles for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations’ ticket, with Eagles wearing the all-green jersey, a superstitious friend of mine said: ‘’ Go and write it down, Lesotho will shock Nigeria with this green jersey. It brings bad luck to the Eagles.’’ I was dumbfounded.
I promised him not to watch soccer again, should Lesotho beat Nigeria with our armada of stars. What has a jersey got to do with winning soccer matches? What won’t some fans say in the name of football?
I didn’t call my friend after Nigeria whipped Lesotho 4-2. For sure, voodoo has no role to play in football. I can understand jinxes (having jinx teams), not juju or anything else influencing the outcome of matches. I was disturbed that Lesotho could open scoring against a star-studded Eagles side.
But that underlined the character of our team’s defence, which has many bench warmers and a few others who make cameo appearances for their European clubs. I’m still puzzled about Gernot Rohr talking about the inactivity in the domestic league. Yet, he keeps inviting benchwarmers and/or recuperating players from European teams to man the Eagles’ defence.
The National team isn’t meant for average players, but the exceptional ones who make their marks once they are fielded.Players, such as Daniel Akpeyi, Chidozie Awaziem, Brian Idowu, Tyronne Ebuehi, Shehu Abdullahi, Jamiu Collins, et al, should be eased out to allow for new recruits, preferably from the local league. Why not? Friday Elaho, Benedict Iroha, Uche Okechukwu, Isaac Semitoje, Finidi George et al played for the Eagles as home-grown prospects before Clemens Westerhof took them to Europe to sharpen their skills. Westerhof took most of them to Europe where they became instant success stories.
What the Westerhof experiment did to the domestic league was very instructive. It challenged the equally talented boys in the league to aspire to playing for the country. Unlike now when they know that sneaking out to any country qualifies them to be invited to the national teams since their designation will read foreign-based – even if they play in Ghana or some of these novelty leagues in Europe.
The national team isn’t a rehabilitation camp for recuperating players who don’t play regularly for their European teams. Injury-prone players should be allowed to remain with their clubs instead of using Nigeria’s matches to get new clubs. The National team isn’t the platform to teach players the basics of the game.
It is the platform for the very best who do things on the bench on impulse to the delight of fans. A classical example of a national team player is Victor Osimhen, whose performance with the Eagles has been exciting, beginning with his ball skills and the seamless manner in which he has struck an unbelievable understanding with established stars in the team , such as Wilfred Ndidi, Troost-Ekong, Samuel Chuwkuweze, Joe Aribo and Alex Iwobi.
It hurts when one sounds like a cracked record weekly, looking at the Eagles and not finding the squad to take our football to the level where only big football nations will scramble to have international friendly games with them. We cannot continue to develop our game from Europe and expect to dominate soccer competitions in the continent and the world.
The Eagles side is handicapped by the few good players in the team and with our population of over 200 million, Rohr doesn’t need to stay permanently in Europe to monitor Nigeria-born lads when they exist in the 774 local government areas here.
The Humbled One indeed!
Jose Mourinho is an enigma. He knows how to raise the stakes during press conferences, leaving his critics admiring him after such sessions. Mourinho knows his rights and insists that his boundaries are kept when it comes to evaluating his coaching achievements. He knows when he is being ridiculed and isn’t scared to walk off such press conferences to press home his conviction.
Mourinho’s theatrics on-and-off the pitch makes him the reporters’ delight. He throws jabs as much as he receives. But, he appears wiser now, given his utterances on Thursday.
Mourinho’s English isn’t the best. But he leaves you without any iota of doubt what his mission is. He has no space for apologies. But he surprised many on Thursday when he accepted some mistakes while at Manchester United. The football community welcomes Mourinho to the most popular European football league.
Tottenham Hotspurs have chosen the right coach, if their target is to win trophies. Mourinho is a serial winner, no matter what anyone says about the way his team plays. What counts in football is the result – winners are always celebrated. No excuses for Mourinho.
Indeed, Spurs’ stock will increase geometrically, except that the club’s management must be prepared to meet Mourinho’s ambitions by splashing good cash on talented players. Coaches are as good as their last game and Mourinho knows this doctrine so well.
Celebrity managers, such as Mourinho, are bound to ruffle feathers, thereby incurring the wrath of the owners of the game. Many call Mourinho controversial, but one would rather see him as the catalyst needed to raise the game’s profile. On Thursday, in his typical manner, Mourinho declared himself The Humbled One, with many doubting if he can ever be humbled. Many have predicted that he would be sacked soon, when things go awry for him and Spurs’ owners won’t be looking the other way, having spent a fortune.
The pain on Tottenham’s owner would be the nuisance value Mourinho’s utterances would bring on the team, unwittingly. Press conferences will be battlefields for the owner, if he isn’t given grand rules on how to approach such situations.
Asked on Thursday if he had learned from his Manchester United spell, Mourinho said: ‘I think so. These last 11 months have been used to think and to prepare. You never lose your DNA.
‘’You are what you are – for the good things and the bad things. I know in my career that I’ve made mistakes. I am humble. I am humble enough to try to analyse my career. Not just the last year but the problems and the solutions. The principle of my analysis was not to blame anyone else. I was always humble. The problem was that you didn’t understand that. I was always humble but it was in my way.’’
He was then asked if he had his ‘mojo back’ . Mourinho jokingly replied: ‘’I have to go to Google translate to know what “mojo” is.’’
He went on: ‘’When I don’t win I’m not happy. I cannot change that. If you are happy by losing football matches, it’s difficult to be a winner in any moment of your career. But the emotional control to keep the self-esteem and confidence and in those around you is very important.’’
One thing no one can take away from Mourinho is his resolve to do things he is convinced about. Since his appointment as Tottenham boss, the ever critical English press have made an issue about how the Portuguese takes the jobs of his friends. Could this be a coincidence? Why have his friends not taken his?
Well, Mourinho said at Thursday’s press conference when this matter was raised: ‘’I do it with a bit of sadness but I have to speak about Mauricio. I have to congratulate him for the work he has done. This club will always be his home. This training ground will always be his training ground. The door will always be open for him. He (Pochettino) will find happiness again. He will find another club again.’’
Mourinho won’t leave such a momentous event without throwing jibes at those who made him uncomfortable in his last job. He said sarcastically: ‘’Yes, that was before I was sacked! I hope there is not a bigger [Spurs] fan than myself. Chelsea is past – just the past. Two periods of titles but that is past. No one will want to win more than me.’’
Isn’t Mourinho an interesting character? He is. His appointment at Tottenham signifies new things for the London side, especially after losing in the finals of the most prestigious European football competition, UEFA Champions League. Spurs lost 2-0 to Liverpool in the final game.
Ade Ojeikere is an award-winning Sports journalist.
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