Wednesday, August 7, 2013

i-Soccer @ 3

THE 2013/2014 European football season effectively gets under way this weekend with the German Bundesliga firing the first gun among the Big Four: English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, the Italian Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga. Perhaps rightly so that the Bundesliga is kicking the first ball: they are home to the current champions of Europe, Bayern Munich, remember?

So, I had decided to devote this week’s column to the big European kick-off. When Kayode Ogundare, assistant editor of our sister publication, International Soccer (i-Soccer for short), walked into my office to request for an interview, he only ended up scooping Soccertalk for his paper.

Nothing spoil, though. I could always run the interview in my column, I decided.
For the uninitiated, i-Soccer is a stable-mate of Complete Sports. The bi-weekly paper (on sale Tuesdays and Fridays) focuses exclusively on international football.

This week, i-Soccer clocks three years on the newsstands and the editors will be hosting some of their lucky readers to celebrate the anniversary this weekend at our offices in Lagos. Kayode decided that, for a change, I should be the interviewee, rather than the interviewer that I am used to. He got me to talk about  “i-Soccer@3” as well as my views about the upcoming European football season.

I am used to firing questions at people. I hope I didn’t do too badly in this session where questions were fired at me. Enjoy the conversation…

KAYODE: Just like yesterday when i-soccer hit the newsstand and it’s three years already. What brought about the idea for the paper?

MUMINI: I think straightaway, I’ll give the credit for the introduction of i-Soccer to our readers. The first time we introduced a magazine devoted entirely to international football was in 1990 and it was called International Soccer Review (ISR). At the time, followership of international football was not as widespread as it is today in Nigeria because we didn’t have the internet and DSTV back then. Back then, we didn’t have all of these tools to work with and Complete Football Magazine focused on Nigerian football, primarily the Super Eagles, so we introduced ISR at the time to cater for international football exclusively even though the followership wasn’t much. We ran it for three or four years before we rested it and reverted to Complete Football and its international edition, CFI.

However, three years ago, it was our readers who requested that we should start a magazine devoted entirely to international football. We toyed with the idea of reviving the old ISR format or to do something entirely new that will be contemporary with the time. Eventually we decided on the second option and that was how i-Soccer was born. We just removed the ‘Review’ from the old name to make it expansive.

KAYODE: I recall that when we were starting out, you gave us a mandate that we should make the paper as interactive as possible with the readers (I remember you even sent a memo to that effect). Looking back, are you satisfied with the level of interaction with our readers?
MUMINI: Absolutely! In fact, I must confess that the first column I read every Tuesday and Friday is the Fan mails. I think the readers have taken over the paper from the editors which was the original intention when we started out. Now, the readers even set agenda for debate. Sometimes, when I read Qasim or Kayode’s column, I notice that in the responses to the columns, the readers also raise fresh issues which other readers now react to.

For me, that is the most interesting part of it because it means the readers are now setting their own agenda beyond the agenda that the editors have set for them. For me, it makes the paper interesting and wonderful because at the end of the day, this publication is for the readers. We are just privileged to be the ones presenting the paper to them because they are also very well-informed.

I’m very happy at the way the Fan mail column has grown from just two or three mails to a quarter page, half a page and now, a full page. I’m sure if you devote the entire paper to fan mails, you still won’t be able to publish every mail. This makes me happy because we have very loyal fans. So, to answer your question, yes I have been very pleased with the interactivity between the readers and ourselves.

KAYODE: Let me put you in the position of a reader now. Will you say you are satisfied with the output of the crew or are there some areas you think we should improve upon?

MUMINI: First, let me say I’m a reader. I don’t write any column in i-Soccer so I’m a reader although you would be correct to call me an insider. May be somebody reading this could say, ‘what do you expect Mumini to say? Of course, he’s biased’ but because I don’t know how you guys operate, how you decide on story ideas and planning, I don’t have any part in the production process, that makes me an outsider, though, I’m on the inside.

I’m a reader and I believe I’m qualified to make a comment so, with all due respect to my professionalism, I think I will score the i-Soccer crew 80%. You have done an absolutely fantastic job. Of course, someone out there could say I’m being biased in my evaluation but you know me, if I didn’t think you guys were doing well, I would have been the first to criticize you and even issue you a query by virtue of my position here.

But I’ve not had any cause to do that because every week, you guys just keep blowing our minds (by ‘we’, I mean the readers) so, I say keep it up. Well done, guys!

KAYODE: As we countdown to the 3rd Anniversary get-together, most of our readers have expressed their displeasure that we are only inviting 25 of them to our Meet & Greet. What do you want to tell such people?

MUMINI: Well, I can only plead with them that it’s inevitable that we have to limit the number of people that will attend the event because if we left it open for everybody to come, I’m sure even the National Stadium in Abuja would not be able to contain us all. I crave their understanding because even if you look around at the promotional events of other companies, it’s always exclusive. They always say you can enter but only such and such number will be chosen for whatever the prizes are. The numbers are always limited because there’s no room to take everybody who would want to be present. I can only appeal to our readers to bear with us. The 25 that we’ve picked will be the representatives of those who are unable to attend. I’m also sure that the 25 attendees will also count themselves lucky because every reader would love the opportunity to meet Qasim, Kay and the rest of the crew.

However, I appeal to those who won’t be there that we will keep doing this every year and it could be their turn next year.

KAYODE: Let’s move to international football. Can you give us an overview of last season in Europe?

MUMINI: I think last season ended dramatically because, for instance, nobody could have predicted that Bayern Munich would be the team of Europe with their treble-winning performance. You know everybody was looking forward to Spain as usual so, I would say the season ended dramatically, especially the way Bayern defeated Barcelona in the semi-finals. For me, that was the high point of the season as everybody was shocked by the result.

Otherwise, I would say the major leagues lived up to expectations in terms of drama, although some people might think the outcomes were too one-sided like in the Bundesliga where Bayern won by close to 30 points ahead of Dortmund; in LaLiga where Barca wrapped up the title long before the end of the season. In Italy, it was a bit tight, even though, Juventus were always going to win; England was also tight but Man United were always going to win. I think it was only in France that the race was a bit close before PSG eventually won. The big teams actually did well although I was disappointed in Man City because with the quality of players in that team, they should have pushed United all the way  and made it a contest like the previous season.
I wasn’t surprised that Roberto Mancini was fired because I had always felt that he wasn’t making the best use of the talents at his disposal. All the talk about not being backed by the club did not wash with me because considering the quality of his team, he wasn’t doing well at all. I hope Manuel Pellegrini who has taken over would do better.

In Spain, the fact that we saw the post-Guardiola Barcelona was another point of drama for soccer fans who wanted to see if it was the Guardiola magic that made Barcelona dominate for so long while he was in charge or if there was something that they were just doing right at the club.

KAYODE: With last season done and dusted, what is your impression of the big clubs during this pre-season preparations so far?

MUMINI: I think the new season started with the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson at the tail end of last season. In fact, the off-season started with the news of his retirement and we have been treated to a lot of drama since then. And in the transfer market, the kind of figures that are being mentioned are absolutely mind-boggling and I think the reason for that is because more and more big clubs are joining the fray. Before now, it was only in Spain and England that we had the big money moves but now, the French clubs are making a big statement with PSG and Monaco now basking in Arab money to outbid the traditional big names. Napoli are also spending big in Italy to challenge Juve and the Milan teams.

The movement of managers, apart from Sir Alex’s retirement, also affected other top coaches with Jose Mourinho moving to Chelsea and Carlo Ancelotti leaving PSG for Real Madrid. Also, Tito Vilanova leaving Barcelona due to health reasons, Tata Martino (somebody we didn’t see on the radar at all) taking over at the Camp Nou and Pep Guardiola returning to football to join Bayern. Big managers’ movement coupled with big players’ movement will hopefully translate to a very big season ahead.

It might be difficult to make predictions at this time as to which club will win which league as there is still a whole lot happening in the transfer market. Man United still courting Cesc Fabregas, so many clubs still after Luis Suarez and for now, we can’t have a perfect idea of what each club would look like. We need to wait for the close of the transfer window when we see the real complexion of all the teams before we make any informed predictions as to who will win what and where.

KAYODE: Let me put you on the spot here. As a Liverpool fan, what do you think is going to be the realistic target for your club?

MUMINI: For Liverpool, I think getting into the top four will be a reasonable target for next season, putting into consideration the fact that we have not made the top four in the past three or four seasons. And judging by what Arsene Wenger said last season that top four is like a trophy after Tottenham had pushed them so hard, I’ll be very happy if we make the top four. Once we achieve that, our season is done, as far as I’m concerned.

KAYODE: Due to the managerial changes at other top clubs, do you see Arsenal ending their trophy drought?

MUMINI: It’s hard to tell. Like I said, I’ll like to see what they buy at the end of the transfer window to make an informed opinion. If you ask me to make a preliminary projection ahead of the season, I foresee a difficult campaign ahead for Man United. When you consider the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson who was at Man United for 27 years and had become an icon or a sort of enigma (If I may use the Yoruba expression: Orisa) has left, you need to accept that his impact will be sorely felt by Man United. What effect his absence will have on the players, the club structure, the referees and the league as a whole, we have to wait and see. But, fact is, Fergie has taken away a part of the club.

Then with Mourinho returning to Chelsea at the same time Fergie was leaving United, that could only raise the stakes further. So it’s going to be a very competitive season in England and, to go back to your question about Arsenal, Wenger should be encouraged by the fact that his main challenger has left United and if he cannot deal with David Moyes in terms of mind games, then he should just forget it. I’m sure he will be licking his lips that this is a great opportunity for Arsenal to win something and I want to say, yes, Arsenal can fancy themselves winning a trophy. Arsenal have been very good in the pre-season while Man United have struggled. 

KAYODE: What do you think Mourinho will bring to Chelsea and England as a whole?
MUMINI: Mourinho, being a media-loving person, brings a lot of razzmatazz to the EPL with a lot of expectations and controversies which the media and fans also like. Added to all of these, Mourinho is a damn good coach and we will see a different Chelsea side on the pitch but whether they will win a trophy is another issue. He seems to possess the magic wand and he might just end up with a trophy, probably, the Capital One or FA Cup.

KAYODE: Let’s talk about Europe. Who do you fancy winning the Champions League?

MUMINI: To be honest with you, Kayode, the Champions League is a very difficult trophy to win. In the last four or five years, about four or five good teams came close to winning it and any of them would have been worthy champions. Real Madrid, under Mourinho, got to three semi-finals and Bayern also lost in the final before eventually winning the last edition. It’s always been very close for all of those teams. I have also observed that a team that loses in the final wins it within the next two or three seasons. Check out the stats. It’s like if you lose it, just hang in there and you will soon win. So, if you follow that analysis, this season’s title could probably go to Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund. I don’t think the Italian clubs will be in the picture yet again. I see the trophy going to an English, Spanish or German club.

KAYODE: Finally, Sir, what do you have for our readers?

MUMINI: I want to thank them first and foremost for making us their number one international football journal in Nigeria within the first few months of the re-introduction of i-Soccer and they’ve kept us ahead in the last three years. From the evidence we have from our vendors, agents and distributors, we know we are the largest-selling international football newspaper in the country with a very high patronage. I thank our readers for all their support and promise that we’ll continue to excite them because our job is to find out what makes them happy and to give them their money’s worth.

(Culled from i-Soccer, Tuesday, August 6, 2013).


  1. First and foremost, Belated congratulations on the 3rd anniversary of i-soccer and kudos to all staff who are really doing a good job. I must say that Quasim, Kay's and your column remain my attraction to CCL stables today. I trust you guys will keep passing the fire to your other colleagues in-house as there is too much “cut and paste” , especially in CS these days. I personally want to see more of those good old days espionage, analytical and special features writings of those days.

    The biggest room in the world that is never full is the room for improvement. I will like you to SUSTAIN & IMPROVE on the FLASHBACK COLUMN you introduced sometimes ago and PICK & REWARD THE STAR MAIL WRITER. I join millions of readers to pray that your pens never runs dry and may you continue to increase and expand.

    Am sorry I have chosen this medium to air my voice but I want to assure you, it will add to your bottom line if carefully thought out and implemented.

    "First and foremost, Belated congratulations on the 3rd anniversary of i-soccer and kudos to all staff who are really doing a good job. I must say that Quasim, Kay's and your (oga Mumini) columns remain my attraction to CCL stables today. I trust you guys will keep passing the fire to your other colleagues in-house as there is too much “cut and paste” , especially in COMPLETE SPORTS these days. I personally want to see more of those good old days espionage, analytical and special features writings of those days."

    From my quote above, I expected to see a special feature on the all-conquering Baby Eagles who won Nigeria her first FIFA trophy on August 11, 1985; Samuel Okwaraji, whose 24th anniversary was on 12th August (I don’t know if your guys in CS did anything spectacular or perhaps waiting for next year 25th anniversary of his death – what’s happening to the mother and the family, what happened to promises made to the family,etc.). Similarly, it will be 20 years this year September when Kanu & co also won the trophy in an exemplary fashion, the same for the all-conquering Eagles class of 1994 next year (which also marks their 20th). I expect you guys to do a special on these for us to see how far each member of those teams went in their career, where are they now, what are they presently doing, etc. THOSE ARE WHAT MAKE YOUR PUBLICATIONS OF OLD TICK & ALWAYS SOLD OUT! I hope you will pay me for consultancy.

  3. Nigerian team has proved that they are best in African continent -