Wednesday, June 5, 2013

An Encounter With Legends

IT is too late for me to write any lengthy update on the Kenya-Nigeria World Cup qualifier  in Nairobi because, by the time you read this, the match would either be only a few hours away or it would have been concluded.

(But, for the record, I wish to state that playing to the gallery like the Super Eagles  did against 10-man Mexico in a warm-up game last Friday in Houston, Texas is quite unprofessional. Rather than struggling in the end to come out with a 2-2 draw, Wthat was a match the Eagles should have won with their numerical advantage had they been more businesslike and focused. We’ll talk more about that another day).

Last week, I already expressed my “fears” about the Kenya match and I can only hope that the result proves that my fears were misplaced. If not, that’s trouble.

I received a brilliant response to that article on my blog from a certain  Ada Orile which I felt would be useful to the Super Eagles. Immediately, I forwarded it to the team’s media officer Ben Alaiya who assured me he would deliver it to coach Stephen Keshi and I believe he did. What more could I do after that but pray.

Rather than resort to blind speculation or cancel the column completely for this week, I have decided to run the conversation that I joined other journalists from around the world to have with two legends of Liverpool Football Club at the club’s Academy during my recent trip to Anfield.

Ian Rush (1980-1996: 660 games, 346 goals) is the highest goal scorer in Liverpool history, while John Barnes (1987-1997: 407 games, 108 goals) is one of the greatest wingers the club ever had. Rush is from Wales while Barnes is originally from Jamaica, although he naturalized to play for England. This introduction is for the benefit of younger readers many of whom (like my son, Abdulmueez) were not even born when these players turned Liverpool into the greatest football club in Europe.

DSTV’s SuperSport has made Barnes to be very well known by the young and old in Nigeria. But I still discovered from the hint that I dropped here last week that even many senior soccer fans who had watched Rush and Barnes in their glory days were eager to read about my encounter with them. So, here we go...

QUESTION: Firstly, the question we’re going to kick off today with, is for you, Ian. You scored 346 goals in 660 appearances for Liverpool, a record which will take some beating. How does it feel to hold that record? Do you think it will ever be broken ?

IAN   RUSH: No, I think anything records having to do with Liverpool Football Club makes you proud in itself. So, to be the record goal scorer, you know, makes you feel very proud.

For me, I think if you’re going to beat it, you have to stay loyal to a club and sometimes luck does not happen as much these days, as it did when I played. (Maybe it will be broken). But I don’t think  it will be broken in my lifetime anyway. I don’t think it will be broken in my lifetime and that’s a proud record to hold on to.

JOHN BARNES:  I’ll add to that, because Ian obviously is a bit too humble to say that there’s no possibility of it being broken. It’ll never be broken and (that is) not because Liverpool are not going to have great goal scorers but because, as Ian said, you’re not going to get a player staying at any club long enough to score that many goals. But that’s just a feature of modern football, it’s not just Liverpool. So, I think that Ian can safely say it will be there forever.

QUESTION: What was it like in the dressing room back when you were both playing in
the 80’s and 90’s?

BARNES: Well, it was strange because, obviously Ian came to Liverpool as a young boy but I came after playing for Watford for six years. Also, I came as an international player, and of course then coming to Liverpool, which at that particular time was the best club in Europe, definitely the best club in the country and one of the best clubs in Europe where all of the top players in England - because then you didn’t have a lot of foreign players coming in - wanted to come.

So, I came with Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge; Peter  was the record signing. So the best players in England were coming to Liverpool and it was strange because you come to an institution like Liverpool where you've  heard the stories about what a great club it was from Bill Shankley and you wondered what the secret was.

So it was a bit  nerve wracking because you expect some kind of indoctrination into the Liverpool way, because it was a closed secret as to why Liverpool were so good. But of course, when you came in, you saw that they just had great players with a great staff and they just made everybody feel so welcome. There was no secret ingredient and that was the most surprising thing. So we came in and they just said, these are the lads, go out and play with them and enjoy yourselves. So that was surprising but it was very, very

RUSH: I take it from there. I think the team spirit in the dressing room was it for me. I think that made the difference and you don’t realize it at the time but I think (the manager) Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Roy Evans, they just made you feel that you  weren’t special. Everyone was exactly the same and even great players in the world, Kenny Daglish and others, they were just made normal in the dressing room.

BARNES: Yeah! You see, Ian made a point there; I suppose it’s hard for you to understand. Just to explain what he said, when he said they made you to feel  like you weren’t special. You thought, well, how can you play if they make you feel like you are not special?

Well, they make you feel that you are part of a special team, part of a special club and the club and  team is more important than you are. That is what all players need to really keep that humility and the respect for the club and for the city and for the family that is Liverpool.

For me, Barcelona is the closest club to that now. Whereas now, everybody says that you have to make the players feel special. Well, when you make players feel more special than the club or their teammates, then that’s a recipe for disaster. I can tell you now that - I’m sure Ian feels the same - Ian was a superstar goalscorer. We never felt any more special than our team mates and not just the teammates, the other superstar teammates, Gary Abblett - not here anymore - or the substitutes. So we all felt the same, we weren’t separate in terms of the prestige that we felt and that was what’s special about football in Liverpool.

QUESTION: Ian, you mentioned the goal against Manchester United that got you the goal
scoring record. Is there any particular one goal that stands out, that gives you a
feeling of warmth?

RUSH: No, I don’t think. People always ask me that question and I think, no, not for me, because it is my job to score goals. If I scored one, then I'd want to score two, I am going to score three, I am going to score from twenty yards out or two yards out, they all have the same feeling. So, I would say I don’t have a special goal but I have a special game and the special game for me, would most probably be an odd one.

Yes, the 1986 FA Cup when we beat Everton 3-1, because we just won the league the week before and for me, Liverpool and Everton were the best two teams in Europe then, not just England. It was a great fight against them too. My dream came true that day because when I was a kid I dreamt about scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup final. It’s most probably the Champions League final for kids now. But in my time, it was the FA Cup final and my dream came true. You know, again we beat (our city rivals) Everton and I scored two, two in a Cup final. You know, we had done the double, so my special game would be that one in 1986 but there was no special goal.

QUESTION: John, do you have one goal that is more special than others?

BARNES: No, but I’ll tell you the goal I remember most. Ian mentioned Manchester United, and my biggest memory  is talking about what it means  to be a team player,  which is the most important thing. Ian scored his record-breaking goal in a game against Manchester United but he should have scored it earlier because I remember that I had scored two against Manchester United and I’d gone through (with the ball) and I should have passed for him to score and it would have been his first. It was a tight angle and I tried to score because I wanted a hat-trick. But really, I could have just passed it to him to score and he hadn’t scored yet. So I really regret that
because - you know - that wasn’t the right thing to do because I was being greedy and - you know, of course Ian - you won't let me forget it either.


BARNES: I think greedy bastard was some memory (All round laughter).

QUESTION: Did both of you have any rituals before a game? Did you both touch the pitch, Anfield sign, things like that?

RUSH: Well, I think, from my point of view, yes. Obviously everyone, most people touched the Anfield sign but for me, I think it was in 1984 and it was a very cold day. And my word! My boots were rock hard and I think it’s a bit different now, all the boots are really soft now. But in those days, the boots were rock hard. So I went and dipped my boots in water and we played the game, we beat Luton 6-0 and I scored five goals. So ever since then, every game since then I normally  wet my boots,  even when I play now I still wet my boots! I don’t score as many goals again, but I don’t mind.

BARNES: I don’t have any (ritual) because I think that  - how they start - superstition starts  when you are a young player at a club. You look at older players at a club and then what they do - and they have all these things that they do - and then you follow them, you copy them but I never ever did that. I would look at the older players and they would do something, because like Ian said, he did this and then he scored five goals but then he did it again and he didn’t score. What they do
is that they change them. Now superstition is really something that you do all the time but a lot of players, they say "I’ll have this superstition until  something happens, then I’ll change it."  For me, that does not make sense. You have to keep it all the way through. So I decided at a young age that I wouldn’t have any superstition, so I didn’t do anything at all, no.

QUESTION: What do you miss about playing football, John?

BARNES: Well, you know, you miss the camaraderie, you miss the team spirit, you miss being able to play football, being able to run around. So I suppose I did miss playing for the first, probably four years, because then you probably think, can I still play? Have I finished too soon? But then obviously after ten years, you  realize that, you know, you can’t play anymore. And I think that if I were still able to play and still young enough to be fit to play, even  not retired,  there’s no point thinking about it. I wouldn’t like to be out there but I don’t want to train. I
want to go out at night and drink and have a nice party and eat. Though I want to go and play on Saturday because it’s great, you know, if you’re not willing to put that work in or to keep fit to play, then there’s no point missing it. You know, so I very quickly got over it. I missed it for a couple of years but then afterwards I just moved on.

QUESTION:  What changes have you seen in the  game since you retired, Ian?
RUSH: Well, I  just think everything. The pitches are better now,  the balls are lighter, the boots are softer, certainly means the game is quicker. You know, I think people ask: could you play today?  You have to be a lot fitter. Yeah, but I think the pitches are perfect today and the balls are lighter, there’s a lot of foreign contingent coming into the game, you know,  the last ten/fifteen years. Players and managers and everything. When I was in Italy, they were doing it then and I think a lot of foreign elements have come in. You know, you talk about the tackling and everything, you know they can really tackle, it would be easier for us now - for strikers - to play, because another player can’t really touch you. So, I think that aspect of the game, has changed.  I feel the game is much more quicker. People ask me could so and so play in this era and I think great players like Stanley Matthews or anyone  can play in any era, because they would adapt themselves to that.

BARNES: (Interjects) And they are much more professional now. So in terms of the lifestyle the players lead, when people talk about playing in different eras, Ian asks could we play now, could we play now? We would be modern players, so, of course we would have lived the lifestyle that we have and the players in the fifties won't have. You know, you're not going to take a player from the fifties, Stanley Matthews in 50s and say could he play now? Bring Stanley Matthews from the 50s but he is still a 50s player although he may be 25 years. It is ridiculous. He will then have the same training regime, that they have now, the diets and all that kind of stuff.

So I think the professionalism for me, obviously the money is bigger; but the professionalism is  unchanged and I think the laws of the game have changed to make the game less attractive. I think the laws were fine before, you knew what offside was, you knew what a fair tackle was. Whereas now, you’re just booking players. So I don’t blame the players or the referees. I blame the laws being changed now to make the game less attractive.

Anwar-ul-Islam Champions Again!

LAST year, my alma-mater, Anwar-ul-Islam College, Agege (ACA), won the inaugural
GTBank Heritage Cup for first generation secondary schools in Lagos State by beating Kings College 1-0 in the final. Well, our boys have done it again this year, beating the same Kings College in the final, this time by a more emphatic score line: 3-1. If you are a Kings College old boy and you’re reading this, stand up for the champions! Na we be your husband.

In the run-up to the match last Friday at Onikan Stadium, Lagos I received an e-mail from Rahman Alarape, a former captain of our school football team in the late 1970s, rallying all old students (ACAOSA) to turn out en masse to motivate the present team.

I couldn’t make it to Onikan, but Complete Sports grassroots reporter Kayode Ogunbanwo was there to bring me the good news. I’m still ‘washing’ it.

I hope the sponsors, GT Bank, are already looking for money to replace the Heritage trophy because Anwar-ul-Islam are poised to win it for the third time and for keeps next year.

I say congratulations to the Principal, staff and students of my great old school. We are the champions! Up School!

*A quick clarification. I only did my ‘A’ level programme at Anwar-ul-Islam College between 1981 and 1983. My ‘O’ level alma-mater remains Iganmode Grammar School, Ota, Ogun State where I was between 1975 and 1980.


  1. Seeing how the SE defense got confused against the Mexicans shows that you need more than grit, determination and youthfulness to wither tough match situations. You need experience.
    Yobo is still the most experienced and active defender Nigeria has and he ought to be in the team. I never supported Keshi freezing out his captain especially during these very critical WC qualifiers. Whatever understanding they came to at South Africa eventually helped delivered the cup and should have been jealously guided by both party. Nigeria at the end is bigger than both of them. Its too bad that the fans in their euphoria acted as if Keshi alone played all the roles of the coach, NFA and players combined and single-handedly delivered the cup.
    If they had not, the whole post-AFCON issues could have been more maturely handled by all stakeholders.
    My post is not about Yobo but I fear how our defense would cope under the sure pressure the Kenyans and Namibians would pile on them coupled with the weight of task ahead.
    At the risk of being attacked as anti-Keshi, I hope we would realize quickly that Keshi needs help especially in terms of managing his relationship with players and other key actors.
    The SE also still don't have a complete team. It shows in the match against Mexico. Elderson was not doing well but he seemed the only good option. Ogu was forced out and the midfield suffered. Irrespective of who is not available or injured before or during games, our explanation for poor result should not be because 2 - 3 players are absent. To me, it simply means the team has no depth. We will not always have our first 11 for every game.
    Lastly, I feel Keshi should try and maintain the crux of his AFCON winning team for the time being with minimal changes here and there - especially on the bench. Having too much new faces sitting on the bench would not help the team chemistry. Such players may be ineffective when you have to bring them in during critical match situations as their ability to integrate flawlessly with teammates could be difficult.
    I pray today's match would give us the result we want, but the team should respect their opponent and not overestimate themselves. They nearly defeated the African champion in their backyard and that is no mean feat.

  2. Oga Mumuni,
    I feel humbled that you feel my little opinion merits some degree of acknowledgement to some of the folks that matter at the Super Eagles.
    This is simply another instance why Oga Mumuni will continue to deserve respect as a sports journalist.
    As I write, the Match starts in a few hours. Any counsel tendered at this late hour may not carry sufficient weight, but the simple fact is that the Eagles have absolutely nothing to fear.
    History and Pedigree are on the side of Nigeria.
    Most important, Quality is on the side of Nigeria.
    Forget all the fighting-talk, the Kenyans know it.
    Kenya knows they haven't got a prayer if Nigeria brings her A-Game.
    So as the Eagles march onto that pitch, they must exude Confidence. And as the first ball is kicked, they must set the tone for the game.
    That means "Keep Ball", even if the ball possession is not threatening(simple and sure passing; no speculative 50-50 balls that give the opposition the chance to nick the ball)
    For the first 15 minutes, ensure high-percentage ball possession, keep the home crowd quiet, and half the battle is won.
    We must not repeat our recent errors of our erratic play permitting the under-dog home team build confidence.
    The player I expect to grow into a "Battle-Commander" is Ogenyi Onazi. He showed glimpses of cockiness at AFCON 2013, and many more international caps shall guarantee his stature as a leader in this squad.
    But as the fulcrum of our play, Mikel is key to victory.
    Good luck to the Eagles!
    The Liverpool squad of 1986-1989 were the best side in the world.
    The Heysel Disaster and the Euro ban that followed denied European Cup glory to the Liverpool of John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, Jan Molby, et al, to the benefit of the likes of Porto (1987), PSV(1988).

  3. Rahman Alarape, the big striker was a Principals Cup hero: I remember he was the Didier Drogba of the great IC Rockets team, or better put, Didier Drogba was the Alarape of Chelsea.
    Kind's College for life!

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