Wednesday, May 8, 2013

“Grammatical” Segun Odegbami, MON

MY JURY is out on whether former Green Eagles (now Super Eagles) captain Chief Segun Odegbami was a better footballer than he is a writer. When a young journalist asked for my comment on Odegbami’s latest book presentation last week at the Anchor Event Place in Ikeja, Lagos, that was my reaction. “I am beginning to conclude that Chief Odegbami is a better writer than he was a footballer,” I said to the journalist.

On the surface, of course that is a wild, even reckless proposition to be dismissed with a wave of the hand, isn’t it? But hey, wait a minute and reflect on it. My proposition is certainly not a baseless proposition. And the latest evidence is “Me, Football and More,” the title of Odegbami’s latest work.

Being a “Selection of the Media Writings of Mathematical Segun Odegbami, MON,” the book is not totally “new” in the sense that the contents have been published before by the writer in the various publications that he has written for since he started out at Sunday Tribune in 1979. But when you have some of the articles put together in one collection and you can read them one after the other like a novel, you start appreciating better the consistency and depth of the writer’s literary skills.

I was privileged to read through the manuscript of the book and that was the kind of impact it had on me. That is what informed my proposition that Odegbami might well be a better writer than he was a footballer. Now that the work is published, I am sure that the impact on a reader will be even greater than what I experienced.

Book reviewer, Mr. Segun Adeniyi, Chairman, Editorial Board of ThisDay newspapers, admitted as much during his erudite presentation. He didn’t realize earlier that the “book” was “just a collection of old articles,” to paraphrase his initial disappointment, somewhat. But by the time he settled down to reviewing it, he became completely enraptured. His only regret now is that the book did not include some other Odegbami Classics that he had read previously.

Adeniyi described Odegbami as a “Storyteller.” It is a very apt description. The “Me and Football” articles in the book may be taken for granted because we are all familiar with the author and his football exploits and analytical prowess are well documented. It is the “More” articles in the book that however demonstrates his writing skills the best, and shows him up as a consummate and talented storyteller. The “More” articles transport you into Odegbami’s world, and paint you vivid pictures of his life encounters in excellent prose. Had writing, rather than football, been Odegbami’s first calling, he would certainly have become a very famous novelist.

We would never know whether Segun Odegbami would have won an African Nations Literary Cup for Nigeria in 1980 or led a Writing Club (Writing Stars?) to dominate the Nigerian domestic literary scene.

We also would never know whether he would have followed in the footsteps of the great Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, and brought global recognition for Nigerian literature. What we do know, however, is that, with four books now on the shelves, Segun Odegbami is Nigeria’s most prolific footballer-writer ever. What we do know is that as a trained mechanical engineer and former captain of the national football team, Odegbami is the quintessential illustration of the scholar-footballer and perfect model for Football And Education campaigners of which he himself is one in words and in deeds.

Many years ago in the late 1970s, the late football commentator, Earnest Okonkwo, gave Odegbami the nickname “Mathematical” in recognition of the player’s dexterity on the right wing, his calculative dribbles, complicated leg shuffles and step-overs, lightening speed, tape-measured crosses and breath-taking goals. While making his opening speech last week, chairman of the book launching, the venerable wordsmith, Mr. Gamaliel Onosode, described the author as the “Grammatical Segun Odegbami” in praise of his profound literary skills.

Last weekend, Odegbami himself said in an interview with Sunday Punch that he could no longer kick the ball because his knees have grown weak. The “Mathematical Odegbami” may have been forced into retirement, but the “Grammatical Odegbami” is just starting!

More ink to your pen, Big Sheg.

Me, An Ex-International?

I WAS confused when the master of ceremony at Odegbami’s book launching, Mr. Soni Irabor, called me to the podium alongside some former Nigerian internationals. As I walked up, Peter Rufai, Henry Nwosu, Clement Temile, Sam Okpodu and Idowu Otubusin were already standing there. The next second, the paparazzi started showering us with their flashlights. It was my moment in the sun. Ex-international Mumini Alao?

I was still in wonderland when Rufai reminded me of the “Television Goal” that I scored for Complete Sports against Brila FM during last year’s Lagos SWAN Cup. Rufai was in the crowd on that day and since then, has called me by the nickname “Skilful.” To be honest, I didn’t realize that I had become an “ex-international” by virtue of the goal. Now, I know.

Yekini’s Anniversary

IT WAS a year last week since former Super Eagles “Goalsfather” Rashidi Yekini passed on. How time flies.
A couple of weeks back, I received a telephone call from Yekini’s lawyer, Mohammed Jibril, inviting me to the first post-humous lecture and book presentation in Yekini’s memory in Ibadan. But I couldn’t attend the event last week because it clashed with Odegbami’s book presentation in Lagos.

Yekini’s former teammate Samson Siasia’s disappointment at the poor turn-out in Ibadan has been widely reported in the media. I spoke to Jibril after the Ibadan programme and he expressed a similar sentiment. But he admitted that the clash with Odegbami’s event played a part in the low turn-out.

The “good news” according to Jibril, however, is that the Yekini programme went very well, nevertheless. A muslim prayer was held at Yekini’s house for the continued repose of his soul; the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) bought 20 copies of the book on Yekini written by Jibril for N1million, and a post-humous testimonial game played last Friday attracted many of Yekini’s former teammates and friends.
Jibril says that the money realised from the book presentation will go to cover the costs of production, support Yekini’s family as well as fund a Rashidi Yekini Foundation which aims to continue Yekini’s lifetime legacy of helping the needy in society.  The Yekini Foundation plans to sponsor an annual trophy for the highest goalscorer in the Nigerian league and organize an annual grassroots soccer tournament in Yekini’s name.

These are lofty programmes to make Yekini indelible in our memories. As a personal friend of Yekini, I have assured Jibril of my full support provided the Yekini Foundation is properly set up and is accountable. If all goes well, Nigerian soccer fans who also loved Yekini shall soon be invited to contribute their widow’s mite to the Foundation.

In the meantime, let us continue to remember “Ye-King” in our prayers for bringing us so much joy with his goals. May his generous soul (a truism, NOT a cliche) continue to rest in peace, amen.

Win Odegbami & Yekini’s Books

I AM giving away two copies of Segun Odegbami’s latest book as well as 10 copies of Jibril’s book on Rashidi Yekini to a dozen readers of this column.

To grab one of the prizes, just predict the score of the UEFA Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Borrusia Dortmund to be played at Wembley on May 25th, 2013.

Send your entries to my platforms via sms text message, e-mail or on my blog. If there are more than 12 correct entries, there will be a lucky draw.


I DON’T KNOW how Lionel Messi’s Barcelona teammates are feeling at the moment. But if I was in their shoes, I would be thoroughly embarrassed.

During the past three weeks or so, the great FC Barcelona that have delighted us so much for four years have been brutally exposed as a one-man team; that is Messi and the others. Spanish internationals Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta in particular are extremely gifted players in their own right. But it now appears that their midfield magic is worthless to Barcelona without Messi on the field.

In two successive league matches against Athletic Bilbao and Real Betis, it took the introduction of a half-fit Messi to turn the tide in Barca’s favour and keep their La Liga title dreams on course. And in the European Champions League, it was a half-fit Messi that inspired the quarter-final aggregate win over Paris St. Germain before Bayern Munich finally routed them 7-0 over two legs in the semis when Messi couldn’t come to his team’s rescue.

Apart from the embarrassment to his colleagues, I guess what the Barcelona meltdown has reaffirmed is Messi’s unique talent. In fairness to Xavi, Iniesta and company, they have always said in media interviews how special Messi is to them and the club. But if we thought they were just being modest, the events of the last three weeks have confirmed that they were merely stating the fact.

Indeed, Barcelona couldn’t have achieved so much in recent years without Lionel Messi. That is why he is currently the best player in the world and probably the best ever.

My Final Prediction

PRIOR to the Champions League semi-finals, I predicted that Bayern would defeat Barcelona while Real Madrid would beat Borussia Dortmund. Apparently, I scored one out of two predictions which is an improvement on last year when I scored zero out of two.

As we count down to Wembley for a German Classico Final on May 25, my money is on Bayern to win the trophy that they lost agonizingly to Chelsea in Munich last year. If anyone can upset the Bavarians, it has to be Dortmund because domestic rivalry has a peculiar way of boiling over with surprises. But I will stick to Bayern to triumph anyway.

What do you think, dear readers? Remember, there are books to be won for making the right calls.


  1. Bayern remain favourites, but only just.
    Bayern's pros:
    Wembley being a neutral venue cancels out the domestic rivalry angle, and favours Bayern's rich European pedigree.
    Bayern's cons:
    Bayern struggle when their physical game fails to exert sufficient dominance on the opposition. Juventus and Barcelona were bullied into submission, but Dortmund possess enough physical attributes to provide defiance.
    Other key factors include Gotze's fitness, Bayern's central defensive pairing, and Ledawonski's conversion rate on the day.
    Still, the title is Bayern's to lose.

  2. Congrats to Chief Odegbami on this unique feat.

    Alongside your humble self & Kunle Solaja, he remains one of the great role model who has been a source of inspiration to me & I hope to follow you guys footsteps in not too distant future by launching my own book as well. By the way, where can we get the book and how much? Or better still, let me predict the match first & hope to win. However, I wish you could base your criteria on other things apart from prediction as I have not been lucky with things like this. Am sticking with Bayern for a 2-0 win though my heart is telling me they may yet be shocked again!

    By the way, does the Europa League final not deserve a mention here as well? Hope you will treat this next Wednesday (match day) & possibly put more books on the table for us to win! (lol)

    On Yekini, it was a shame as Siasia said witnessing such a low turnout for his one year remembrance (for whatever reason). I trust you to be at the forefront to ensure that this great Nigerian will remain in our consciousness for ever. May his soul continue to rest in perfect peace. Amen.

    The 7-0 bashing more than confirmed that the fact = Messi + others (with due apology) at Barca. Messi, whether he wins the world cup or not is in my own estimation the GREATEST FOOTBALLER OF ALL TIME!

  3. Messi is absolutely not the best player ever. Not until he wins a World Cup, the best footballer ever stil remains Edson ArantesDo Nacimento.(Pele).

  4. The books are a welcome development for the new generations of sports lovers in respect to the wonderful and unforgettable events in the nigeria history.
    In respect to the champions league final. My crystal balls is seeing a 3 - 1 victory for Borrusia dortmund. My name is johnpaul aka oracle

  5. I hardly participate in prediction games, but the prize at stake here is too great for me to ignore. So I will predict Bayern 3 Dortmund 2.

  6. My money is with Borussia Dortmund, 2-1. Dortmund wants this cup more than Bayern. Bayern will approach this match as an entitlement.

  7. Nigerian Football team has finest players in the world -