Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Rohr Got It Wrong Against Bafana Bafana




Watch the famous Soccer Talk exponent,  Mumini Alao, doing a post-mortem analysis of the Super Eagles Vs Bafana Bafana matchday-one clash in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
South Africa thumped Nigeria 2-0 in Uyo on Saturday, June 10 2017 to force the three-time African champions down to the third position in the Group E table after matchday-one. Libya lead the group,  South in the second spot,  while Seychelles bring up the rear. 
Alao says that the Eagles defeat in Uyo was just like a 'bad day in the office'. He insists that the coach,  Gernot Rohr should be professional enough to accept full responsibility for that bad day, though there are enough reasons for the blame to go round. See this video for details
Are the Super Eagles in the threshold on a third consecutive AFCON miss after that routing by South Africa? 
Alao does not believe it's over for the Eagles, but he also posits that the loss to Bafana happened at the 'best time', that he would rather have chosen that matchday-one for the home defeat if South Africa must beat Nigeria in the 2019 AFCON qualifiers. Watch this video and hear the guru's full reasons for this. 
Click here to watch:  https://youtu.be/KWlSV2BYHsY

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ayew Kidding Me?



THE 2016/2017 English Premier League ended last Sunday with Chelsea’s coronation as champions of England. It was a coronation because “The Blues” had mathematically won the title two weeks before and the final day 5-1 thrashing of bottom team Sunderland was simply a befitting celebration party at Stamford Bridge. I say a big congratulations to all Nigerian supporters of Chelsea and congratulations to the “Nigerian ambassador” at the club, Victor Moses.

At the beginning of the season, I predicted that this year’s title run would be a contest of the managers, and so it turned out. Antonio Conte (Chelsea), Pep Guardiola (Manchester City), Jose Mourinho (Manchester United), Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) and Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool) are all very accomplished managers with impressive records of achievement and their clubs had money to spend. Add to the list the rising Mauricho Pochettino (Tottenham Hotspur) and it was clear from the start that some managerial egos would be boosted or bruised and some reputations would be enhanced, damaged or destroyed.

Unfortunately, it would appear that Wenger has emerged as the most brutalized. Although only Conte won the title, Pochettino, Guardiola and Klopp secured European Champions League places for next season while Mourinho could join them if United beat Ajax Amsterdam in the Europa League final. That would leave Wenger in the cold and it’s no surprise that the vast majority of Arsenal fans are demanding for his departure.

I sympathize with Wenger but I couldn’t wish him luck in the race for the “Top Four” because that would have jeopardized my own Liverpool’s chances. Now, the best I can wish him and all Arsenal fans is victory in the FA Cup final against Chelsea on Sunday so that they don’t finish the season completely empty-handed. Concerning the Cup final, I say to Chelsea fans, be patient with your Arsenal neighbor and don’t be greedy. Remember, sharing is caring!


As for Liverpool, I am simply relieved that we finally secured fourth place, never mind that it’s only good enough for the qualifying stage of the Champions League. Our performances were so unpredictable that even after surprisingly beating West Ham 4-0 away in the penultimate week which consolidated our fourth place, I couldn’t celebrate anything until we were up 3-0 against Middleborough at Anfield last Sunday. Klopp must significantly reinforce his team, otherwise, Liverpool fans are in for more hypertensive days next season.
In the meantime, though, I will like to enjoy the moment by tracking back to that pivotal game against West Ham at the London Stadium where Arsenal were hoping Liverpool would slip up. 

At 0-0 and with the game still wide open, West Ham’s Andre Ayew hit the Liverpool post not once, but twice in succession within seconds from three yards out when it was apparently easier to score. That double miss has been penciled down as a strong candidate for Miss-of-the-Season in the EPL and it also provided the title for Soccertalk this week.

While soccer fans were commenting on Ayew’s outrageous miss on Twitter, someone who identified himself simply as @Sennesation also couldn’t hide his disbelief. It was he who asked incredulously: Ayew Kidding Me?” 

3SC, Ayew Kidding Me?

WHILE I was celebrating my favourite foreign club Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Middlesbrough as the EPL rounded off last Sunday, my favourite local club side, Shooting Stars dampened my spirits when they lost by the same 3-0 margin at home to FC IfeanyiUbah as the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) resumed for the second half of the season also last Sunday.

When I heard the shock result, I couldn’t help but ask my informer: “Are you kidding me?” As incredible as it sounded, it turned out the result was true.
How could it happen? When 3SC lost 2-1 to two late penalty kicks at IfeanyiUbah towards the end of the first stanza of the league, there were serious suspicions that they were robbed by the referee as at least one of the penalties was very, very questionable. But with last Sunday’s comprehensive defeat in Ibadan, 3SC must admit that the Onitsha boys are superior.

My friends in Ibadan couldn’t explain the scandalous defeat when I spoke to them. But word coming out unofficially from team camp is that the players are hungry and angry because they are owed a backlog of salaries and allowances.

My plea to the Oyo State government is to come to the club’s aid urgently and lift the players’ spirits. Last season, 3SC escaped relegation from the NPFL only by the skin of the teeth. They may not be second-time lucky this season as they’re already sitting again in the relegation zone.



NPFL Back On DSTV Soon

THE Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) resumed for the second half of the season last Sunday still without the matches being shown on television.

I don’t know how the League Management Company (LMC) and broadcast partners DSTV Super Sport have been able to achieve a near total blackout of news concerning the contentious broadcast rights for several weeks since coverage was suspended and rumour of their impending break-up emerged. But if that (news black-out) would eventually result in the parties reaching an amicable resolution for the resumption of coverage, it’s all well and good.


Indeed, I have been sniffing around since I first wrote about the subject three weeks ago and my findings suggest that a resolution is close. Very soon, the NPFL will be back on DSTV SuperSport… For the Good of the Game. More details later.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dan Ajibode – A Tribute




LATE DANIEL OLUWOLE AJIBODE was one of the early generation of footballers to etch their name in Nigerian football folklore during the 1960s. In continuation of my occasional series to document and honour our past sports heroes, I hereby dedicate today’s column in his memory. 
The tribute is written by veteran journalist SEGUN ADENUGA…
THE remains of soccer icon Daniel Oluwole Ajibode, will be committed to mother earth at his Ilaro home, Ogun State, on Friday, May 26, 2017.
The adorable football coach, who passed on at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba on Friday, April 25, 2017 after a brief illness was born at Ilaro, the commercial nerve centre of Yewa province of Ogun State on June 7, 1943 by Pa Joseph and Mama Anna Ajibode.

He attended both Ilaro Grammar School and Egbado College between 1956 – 1959. He took an early interest in sports and rapidly became noticeable in football in many competitions.

He received the attention of the football authorities in the old Nigerian Western Region when late soccer impressario Tesilimi Akanni “Thunder” Balogun was directed to go on recruitment tour of the state, preparatory to the formation of a solid football team for the region.

Interestingly, Dan was playing in an F.A. Cup match involving Ilaro and Ibadan, where “Thunder” Balogun was the guest of honour. The result of the match notwithstanding, slim-built Daniel Ajibode, shone like a northern star and sold himself to stardom as he became the only player picked by the soccer-wizard Tesilimi Balogun.

Dan eventually landed at the bustling city of Ibadan on a soccer voyage. He navigated his way into a popular city club, known as Republicans FC, where he steadily carved a niche as a fearless and dependable player.
Becoming very popular with the Oluyole football fans, the lithe and skinny Ajibode, desperately in search of the “golden fleece” arrived in Lagos and moved expectantly to the camp of Stationery Stores Football Club, arguably Nigeria’s most supported football club in 1964.
Playing the role of a fringe member of the famous Stationery Stores for some considerable period, Dan Ajibode became a house-hold name when he was left behind to lead Stores in 1968.

How did it happen? Ajibode was not fit enough to be selected amongst the 12 players picked from Stationery Stores to represent Nigeria at the 1968 Olympics Games in Mexico and had to contend with the challenges the absence of the team’s regulars posed to him in local league matches. He became like the fabled Rock of Gibraltar in the defence of a depleted Stores side that played five matches without defeat in a spate of one month.

Though, with a very lean frame, Dan was sturdy and robust in the Stores defence as he led the team to victories in the absence of the team’s regulars. As a befitting tribute to his courage and steadfastness, Ajibode was given the accolade “THE LANDLORD” by the teeming supporters of the “Flaming Flamingoes” for holding forte so successfully.

Having served Stores meritoriously for almost a decade, Ajibode retired and veered into another area of football, this time into coaching profession.

He took the gauntlets and carried the banners of a relatively unknown National Bank Football Club of Lagos where he made name by producing star players like Paul Okoku, Bremner Aladat, Yemi Adebanjo, Yemi Odubanjo, Taiwo Afinni, Andrew Aikhomogbe, Deinde Akinlotan, Waliu Aiye, Jabar Shomade, Segun and Femi Olukanmi, Waidi Akanni, Taju Disu, Godwin Okoloba, Nathaniel Ogedengbe, Yakubu Agboluaje, Lati Daramola, Emmanuel Martins, Carlos Onisemo, Muri Onigbanjo, Sobande Adeniyi and Macmillan Ogbomo, to mention only a few. Many of these players would go on to represent Nigeria at the international level.
For almost 17 years, Dan led National Bank FC to a respectable position in Lagos football league and became a torn in the flesh of notable teams like Stationery Stores and NEPA FC. He led his steam popularly known as Nat-Bank to an Oba Cup victory in 1983 at UAC Stadium against the hot-favourite Stationery Stores backed by a vociferous crowd of chanting and ranting supporters.

There was an incident in 1979, when Ajibode ordered his boys not to honour a match against Stores if adequate security was not put in place. The match had to be postponed and Ajibode earned the scorn of Stores supporters, who later branded him with the tag, “AJIBODE NO SECURITY” that lasted long in Lagos football folklore.

A no-nonsense coach, Ajibode would never accept any form of laxity from any member of his team, no matter how seemingly indispensable the player might be. There was no way Dan could divorce himself from football, as he personified the game he loved with an unbridled passion.
From coaching to administration, Dan regularly answered clarion calls from Lagos State football authorities for his expertise in the quest for honours at the national level. He was at various times a member of the State Sports Council and a respected football buff until his death on Friday, 28 April, 2017 at the age of 74.

He had established an evergreen sport equipment shop at Iponri market under the brand name Dan Ajib Sports Shop since 1991 and the business is still flourishing.
To my generous and kind-hearted Daniel Oluwole Ajibode, I say good night and good bye until we meet to part no more.









Caption




1.    DAN THE TECHNICAL ADVISER: Dan Oluwole Ajibode (first left) with coach Abdullahi “Bebe” Salisu (2nd left) and Augustine Ofuokwu (2nd right) on the bench for Stationery Stores when they won the Nigerian League title in 1992.






2.    DAN THE DEFENDER: Ajibode shaking hands with former governor of Western Nigeria, Major Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo before a match for Stationery Stores against Asante Kotoko of Ghana at Liberty Stadium, Ibadan in 1969. To the left is Augustine Ofuokwu and to the right is Peter “Eusebio” Anieke.




3.   STATIONERY STORES, 1969, ONIKAN, LAGOS:
STANDING L–R: Peter Eto Amaechina (coach), Segun Olumodeji, Sam Opone, Mohammed Lawal, Peter Fregene, Willie Andrews, Augustine Ofuokwu, Tony Igwe.
STANDING R–L: Peter Anieke, Dan Ajibode, Edward Boateng, Sunny Ine, Avii Awotoro, Muyiwa Oshode.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Eagles Call-up: Did Rohr Succumb To Pressure?




SUPER Eagles manager Gernot Rohr on Monday released a 25-man list of players for camping ahead of Nigeria's opening 2019 AFCON qualifier against South Africa in Uyo next month.

Prominent on the list dominated as usual by foreign-based players were the home-based trio of Stephen Odey (MFM FC), Sikiru Olatunbosun (MFM FC) and Alhassan Ibrahim (Akwa United FC). A fourth home-boy is goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa of FC IfeanyiUbah, but he had always been part of the squad.

The debuting home-based outfield players are in focus because of the outcry that greeted their total exclusion from Rohr's squad during the Eagles recent friendly game against Senegal in London. A section of the media were so stringent and so persistent in their criticism that it is plausible that the German coach succumbed to their pressure this time around.

Rohr had maintained that home boys should cut their teeth in the African Nations Championship (CHAN) with the Eagles Team 'B' before they could be considered for Team 'A.' The only reason I can fathom for his sudden change of mind is the pressure that he came under the last time.

Nigeria is a very interesting country. Not so long ago, we all were lamenting the dwindling fortunes of the Super Eagles, how they were playing so poorly, how they had failed to qualify for two AFCONs back-to-back and how we feared they stood no chance in a 2018 World Cup qualifying draw that had Algeria and Cameroun.

Rohr fortuitously arrived on the scene, restored our confidence in the team, introduced fresh ideas, and won his first two World Cup qualifiers to turn Nigeria from group underdogs to group favourites. Rather than give him more elbow room to continue with his revival of the team, “we” decided to launch the needless, weather-beaten home-based players campaign. 

First, it was a troop of British-born Nigerians footballers invading the Eagles camp in London with their fathers in open connivance with NFF officials while a helpless Rohr looked on. Now this! Well, our wishes have been granted and my sincere prayer is that all should turn out well.

I can surmise what's playing in Rohr's mind regarding all these external pressures. “It's their country anyway. If that's what they want, let them have it so I can have my peace.” I pray sincerely that this peace of the graveyard will not result in a fatal derailment of our collective desire of qualifying for Russia 2018 and Cameroun 2019.



Honestly speaking, I have no problem with our home boys being part of the Super Eagles Team 'A.' Many of them have great talent and that is why they immediately excel when they move abroad and are exposed to better coaching. But I have a big problem with officials, media or fans pressurizing the coach to include certain players in his team. Such pressures only lead to distractions that can undermine the team.

Now that Rohr has given Odey and Co. their chance to “experience” the national team, shall we allow him to concentrate on the task ahead against South Africa, please? Thank you very much!


NFF's Integrity Reforms
LAST week, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) secretary general Dr. Mohammed Sanusi issued a circular requesting its affiliate members to desist from holding dual positions, appointments or other responsibilities constituting conflicts of interest. For example, state FA chairmen doubling as football club chairmen, club officials serving as match commissioners/referees assessors, or NFF executive committee members and management staff working clandestinely as player agents! Altogether, eight such conflicting roles were listed in the circular. 

I wonder how these unethical practices have survived for so long in our football. But now that the NFF has seemingly woken up to correct the serious anomaly, I hope Sanusi will ensure that all those affected abide by the so-called integrity reforms. 

Unfortunately, the circular did not spell out any sanctions for anyone ignoring the directive. It's not too late to introduce the sanctions in order to give the directive some real bite. Otherwise, we should regard the whole exercise as a mere window-dressing.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Has DSTV (Finally) Dumped NPFL?



IT ALL STARTED like a "credible rumour" about two weeks ago. The "incredible news" that pay TV broadcaster Digital Satellite Television (DSTV) had withdrawn from the broadcast sponsorship of the Nigeria Professional Football League, NPFL.

But, let's deal with the semantics first. Can a rumor be credible? Yes, if the primary source is credible but the news itself is unconfirmed by official sources. My primary source was very credible, but all efforts to confirm or rebut the story from official sources at both DSTV and the League Management Committee (LMC) have proved abortive so far. So, the story remains only a "credible rumour."

"Has DSTV (Finally) Dumped NPFL?" I have included the word "finally" in parenthesis in my headline in case the reader has also heard about the rumour before now, in which case this article represents only an update. Indeed, the rumour has circulated widely particularly on social media platforms. But in case you haven't heard about it at all, here you are.
Despite the uncertainties surrounding this story, I have decided to comment on it publicly because of the seriousness that I attach to the subject matter. I could have written only about last weekend's action-packed matches in the top football Leagues of Europe, the semi-finals of the Champions League and Europa League happening this mid-week or, indeed, Anthony Joshua's remarkable world heavyweight boxing triumph over Wladimir Klitschko also last weekend in England. But the NPFL/DSTV matter needs to be nipped in the bud or dealt with decisively as quickly as possible.

To refresh our memories, DSTV signed a $34million US Dollars deal with the LMC for exclusive coverage and broadcast of the NPFL matches in August 2013. The contract was to run for five years, 2015 to 2019. As a sign of good faith, DSTV made advance payment of about $2million US Dollars to LMC in 2013 even when the contract had not started to run officially. LMC chairman Nduka Irabor was so elated that he described the payment as a "sweetener." "We can run the league very well now," he had said.

Since the official commencement of the contract in 2015, there have been a marked improvement in the management of the league for which the LMC has received lots of kudos from stakeholders, thanks to the funding from DSTV. Prize monies have been introduced for the 20 teams taking part depending on how they finished on the table, payment of referees indemnities have been taken over fully by the LMC, followership of the league has spiked since the matches started showing regularly on television, other sponsors have been attracted because of the TV coverage, and there is a general perception that the league brand was going growing in the right direction. 

About three weeks ago, current LMC chairman Shehu Dikko confirmed on Segun Odegbami's The Sports Parliament on the NTA that the TV broadcast rights money constituted nearly 90 percent of the league's total revenue. Therefore, we can imagine the damage that a withdrawal of that TV money will do to the finances and management of the league if it comes to pass. Such damage will be incalculable and take the league back 20 years or more unless a new broadcast partner is found very quickly.

My investigations reveal that DSTV "decided" to pull out from the NPFL partnership for economic reasons. Just like most other businesses operating in Nigeria, the South African company have been negatively affected by the recession, the inflationary trends and the scarcity of foreign exchange. The company has also reportedly suffered a dip in subscription as customers struggle to pay. All these factors have collectively affected their profitability and the reasonable thing for the management was to introduce cost-cutting measures which included a review of their sponsorships and partnerships. That was how the NPFL contract came into consideration.



Unfortunately for DSTV, the NPFL contract runs until 2019, so there is no easy way to bail out without being slapped with a breach. And that is why the company has been unable to make a unilateral announcement of its intention to pull out. On its part, the LMC wisely decided to keep mum about the DSTV withdrawal rumour, since they had not been officially notified.

However, the latest "rumour" about the rumour is that both sides are now talking behind closed doors. DSTV has reportedly finally made contact the LMC and a meeting is said to have been scheduled for this weekend in South Africa. My contacts tell me that rather than a total withdrawal from the Nigeria league broadcast, DSTV will be pushing for a renegotiation of the contract from exclusive coverage rights, which they currently hold, to a shared coverage rights with other interested broadcasters whereby the broadcast fees will also be shared. This will make business sense since they (DSTV) have never been able to cover all the matches in an entire league season anyway.

Another request that DSTV could be making is to be allowed to pay for the shared broadcast rights in Naira, going forward. When the original contract was signed in 2013, the official exchange rate was about N160/$1, but that has gone up now to about N315/$1. To make matters worse, the dollar is not easily accessible. Meanwhile, DSTV collect subscriptions in Naira, so it makes economic sense to pay for their local services and sponsorships in Naira. But for the LMC, obviously, they would rather stick to the original contract both in terms of cost and mode of payment.

Whether DSTV will get all or some of their wishes during discussions with the LMC depends on the value that the LMC attaches to the relationship with their broadcast partner, and how bright they think their chances are of securing a new broadcast partner if they break ranks with DSTV. Dikko and his team are well grounded in this affair and are in the best position to weigh up Nigeria's options. I'm trusting them to make the right decisions....For the Good of the Game!

I have been a very keen observer of the benefits that the league has derived from having our league matches shown regularly on television in recent years. Therefore, my only admonition to the LMC is that, whatever they do, they must ensure that the league continues to be shown on television because, all over the world, sport and television go hand-in-hand. They thrive together. No compromise is too great to keep the league showing on our television screens. On no account should the LMC allow the league to return to the dark days of yore.



Made in China
“MADE IN CHINA.” That is the title of the latest edition of Complete Football digital magazine (www.yumpu.com/kiosk/completefootball). It is a compendium on Nigerian footballers, past and present, that have displayed and continue to display their skills and talent in the Chinese League. Super Eagles captain John Mikel Obi is the current leader of the men’s battalion while Super Falcons top scorer Asisat Oshoala leads the women’s ensemble. You can’t afford to miss what they have to say about football’s new big money spenders.
Beyond the money, however, is the action which is also getting more interesting. Luckily for Nigerian fans, it’s now possible to follow that action on STARTIMES pay TV which shows matches of the Chinese League.
Not too long ago, a shirt made in China was considered to be inferior. But today, China is clothing the whole world. The Chinese have promised a similar revolution in football. You under-estimate them at your own peril. Don’t miss the Chinese League action this weekend. Stay tuned.





Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How Madrid Made Messi Shine



SIX HUNDRED AND FIFTY million people from 185 countries around the world were reported to have watched last Sunday night's latest installment of the El-Clasico drama series between Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Spanish La Liga.

After 94 pulsating minutes inside the famous Santiago Bernabeu, Real's home ground, it was Barcelona that ran away with a 3-2 victory, thanks to their talisman Lionel Messi who scored two of Barca's goals, the second coming from the very last kick of the game.

Truly, it was another master class performance by the little Argentine which predictably set the football world drooling again about his genius. But rather than Messi, I think the Real Deal last Sunday were Real Madrid for giving us the opportunity to see and enjoy a truly spectacular game of football.

Putting Messi's performance into perspective, the truth is that he didn't execute any skills that we hadn't seen him do before with wanton regularity. His first goal for Barca when he darted into Real's central defence and took out two opponents with two swift moves before slamming a low drive under the goalkeeper was a typical Messi move.

His winning goal in the last second of the game was even more straight-forward as he arrived late at the edge of the Real box to slot home after three of his teammates had done all the hard work to set him up for the goal. In fact, Messi's younger compatriot, Paulo Dybala had scored a similar goal for Juventus less than two weeks before in the first leg of the European Champions League quarter-final in Turin when the Italians defeated Barcelona 3-0 to knock them out ultimately.

What made the second Messi goal against Real special was not the technical execution, but the context and the history surrounding it. It was Messi's 500th goal for Barcelona; it reignited the 2016/2017 La Liga title race between both rivals; and it was scored at the ultimate enemy territory, Santiago Bernabue, which was stunned into silence, except for the pocket of Barca's travelling fans.

All these drama which made the game a spectacle wouldn't have happened had Real Madrid not played a big starring role. Thanks to coach Zinedine Zidane, Madrid filed out with a clear intent to win and therefore left Messi free to roam in midfield and in attack. After Real captain Sergio Ramos was red-carded for a double-foot challenge on Messi with Barca already 2-1 ahead in the second half,

Zidane threw in James Rodriguez who grabbed a surprise equalizer for 10-man Real to peg the game back to 2-2 with five minutes remaining in regulation time. At that stage, you would think Real would lock up their defence, take the one point from a drawn game and keep their place at the top of the table with another game in hand. But Zidane asked his men to press for a winner and that proved costly when Barca snatched the ball and counter-attacked deep into added time.

Even then, Marcelo of Real had a chance to terminate the counter with a “professional foul” on the rampaging Sergie Roberto of Barcelona. A simple tag on the shoulder would have brought the Spaniard down and fetched the Brazilian defender a yellow card at the worst. The resultant free kick in Barca's half of the field would have been the last act of the game and it would have ended at 2-2. But Marcelo generously (and regrettably, he would think) allowed Roberto to run through and the end result was a quick exchange of Barca passes, the last of which fell into the path of the advancing Messi of all people! Keylor Navas in the Real goal stood no chance.

Contrast Zidane and Madrid's “generosity” (some would call it tactical “naivity”) with the impregnable defensive tactics that Juventus adopted to stifle Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the Champions League just a few days earlier, then you would understand why neutral fans should be “grateful” to Madrid for the spectacle that we saw at the Bernabeu. Juventus were so solid that their coach Massimiliano Alegri boasted that Barca would not have scored even if the match was played for ever. How can 650million fans experience a spectacle from that kind of approach?

Unfortunately for Barcelona, most teams in La Liga play like Juve (defend in numbers, then counter attack) when they face Barca and that is why Messi, Neymar and Suarez have struggled for goals, in some key games. If other La Liga teams were as bold (or na├»ve!) as Real to go toe-to-toe with Barca in every game even with one man down, Barca would have won the title even long before now. But as things stand, despite Barca's victory last Sunday, the La Liga title is still Madrid's to lose. If they win or draw their game in hand and match Barcelona's results in the remaining games of the season, they will be  Spanish champions.



Messi Versus Ronaldo Latest

AFTER last Sunday's showdown, there can be no argument about who the current best individual player on the planet is between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Before the game, Ronaldo was riding high. Last summer, he won the Europeans Championship with Portugal, while Messi lost another Copa America final with Argentina. Last January, Ronaldo won his 4th Ballon D'Or while Messi could not even show up at the ceremony. And last week, Ronaldo became the first player to score 100 European Champions League goals, grabbing a hat-trick against Bayern Munich as Real advanced to the semi-finals, while Messi shot blanks against Juventus as Barcelona crashed out of the competition.

I suspected that Messi, even if he wouldn't admit it, would have been jealous of Ronaldo's recent rising profile and would be determined to make a statement that, on the same pitch, he (Messi) was still the best of the two. Therefore, I was not surprised to see him all over the pack, dictating play in midfield, dragging his markers back and forth, firing shots from every angle, drawing the foul that fetched Sergio Ramos the red card, and driving the knife into Madrid hearts with the winning goal in the final second of the game.
By sharp contrast, Ronaldo struggled to make an impact throughout and was completely out-shone by his rival.

I would say that my pre-match suspicion about Messi's psychology to “make a statement” was confirmed when he held up his jersey to the Madrid crowd after scoring the winner. He turned the back of the jersey to the fans, showing them the name on it: Messi.

I wish I could get into his mind at that very moment to steal what was there and report it as a world exclusive. But I will make a fine guess here. Messi must have been saying in his mind: “Just in case you're in doubt, yes it's me; I am Messi, the best player in the world!”



Who Can Stop The Old Lady?

MY FAVOURITE club in the Italian Serie A are AC Milan. I started following them in the late 1980s and early 1990s when they were dominant in Italy and in Europe as well. The super stars of that era were Milan's three Dutchmen Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten. Together they led the Rossonerri to several Serie A and European Cup triumphs
As a demonstration of my support, I have paid a couple of visits to the magnificent Giuseppe Meazza stadium in San Siro district of Milan.

Unfortunately, Milan have fallen on hard times in recent time, no thanks to the troubles of former owner and ex-Italian president Silvio Berlusconi. He has finally sold the club to Chinese investors and we the faithful are hoping for a resurgence, amen.

In the meantime, Juventus have taken over as the team to beat in Italy. They have won the last four Serie A titles and are on course for a fifth successive title this season. And, last week, they knocked out the mighty Barcelona of Spain 3-0 on aggregate to book their place in the Champions League semi-final where they will face Monaco of France.

Last Sunday, Juventus slammed Genoa 4-0 as they continued their march to the Serie A title. Their closest rivals, Roma, responded with their own 4-1 away victory at Pescara to keep the points gap at eight with five games to go.

The question everyone is asking in Italy is “who can stop Juventus?” Fifth-placed Atalanta are the next opponent hoping to find an answer to that quiz on Friday this week as Juve play early in order to have more time to prepare for their Champions League semi-final against Monaco next week. You don't want to miss the Serie A action until the title is decided.



Hats Up To Dalung

MINISTER of Sports Solomon Dalung deserves commendation for accepting wise counsel on the guidelines for the Sports Federations Elections released by his ministry penultimate week.
This column recommended to him last week to extend the tenure limit for presidents of the federations from two terms to three terms of four years each. I also suggested that incumbent presidents rather than being disqualified, should be eligible to test their popularity in free and fair polls, despite being on the executive of international federations.

Incidentally, Dalung was on Segun Odegbami's Sports Parliament on NTA Network TV on Thursday night where he was similarly advised not to do anything contrary to International Olympic Committee (IOC) Charter. Less than 24 hours later on Friday, the minister met with the leadership of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) to announce the amendment to the election guidelines as suggested in this column and on the floor of the Sports Parliament.

Now all is set for the elections to hold on May 30 tentatively.
One other thing, though. Can the decision to limit the tenure of our federation presidents to three terms be gazzetted by the Federal Government? I ask this question because, in four years time, Dalung will not be in office to enforce the resolution and I fear that sit-tight presidents will seek to blackmail whoever is the new sports minister by citing again the IOC Statutes on “non-interference!” Can Dalung ensure that this and other resolutions are properly documented and standardized to avoid future manipulation? Over to you, Mr. Minister.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Politics of Sports Federations Elections






THE FOUR-YEARLY ritual of elections into the governing boards of Nigeria’s sports federations is here again. And with it has come the usual controversy.

Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung, set the ball rolling last week when he announced the “approved guidelines” for the elections scheduled for June 2017 at a “stakeholders” meeting in Abuja. The most contentious aspects of the guidelines are sections 3.2(i) and 3.2(ii).
Section 3.2(i) bars presidents and vice presidents of international sports bodies from seeking election to the office of the president or vice president of any national federation. Section 3.2(ii) states that persons who have served as presidents of federations for two consecutive terms are not eligible to seek re-election for a third term.

If these two provisions are upheld, sports federation giants such as International Olympic Committee (IOC) member and Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) president Engineer Habu Gumel who is president of the Nigeria Volleyball Federation will be the biggest casualty. He will be joined on the sidelines by a former sports minister Sanusi Ndanusa (Tennis), Tijani Umar (Basketball), Solomon Ogba (Athletics), Enitan Oshodi (Table Tennis) and Yusuf Dauda (Hand ball), among others.

Predictably, the disqualification of these heavyweights has sharply divided the Nigerian sports fraternity. While a section hails Dalung for taking a “bold step” to throw out those the minister himself described as “emperors” because they’ve been in charge of their federations for so long, others lambaste the minister for alleged interference in the affairs of the federations.

My take on the matter is multi-dimensional. On section 3.2(i), I do not support the idea of disqualifying candidates who hold continental and/or international positions. Those offices can actually be complimentary for a Nigerian rather than be a hindrance and should therefore be encouraged. On section 3.2 (ii), my view is that while tenure limit is desirable, it should only become effective in 2021 when all stakeholders in the federations would have been given adequate notice. Imposing the tenure limit now, just months away from the 2017 elections indicates clearly that the minister is on a mission to eliminate some individuals from contesting the elections.

My advice to Dalung is to allow all interested candidates participate in these elections so that the stakeholders can choose freely whom they want to lead them. Meritocracy will be the determinant factor as each federation can decide which of the sitting presidents deserves another term in office. Some of the so-called “emperors” have done well for their sport and it would be unfair to bar them alongside those who have nothing to show for their years in office. The blanket ban proposed by the minister may result in throwing the baby away with the bath water.

However, the leaderships of the federations must also learn a lesson from this episode. Many of them are intolerant of opposing views in their federations and they use all manners of tactics to persecute their opponents. In such situation, the opponents are forced to seek succor where ever they can find it and, this year, Dalung is their hero. That is why they’re hailing the sports minister while the “emperors” are shouting about interference. Had the “emperors” made everybody (supporters and opponents alike) feel welcome within their federations, nobody will be lining up behind Dalung today.

That said, I don’t expect the “emperors” to surrender their offices without a fight. It’s not for nothing that Gumel in particular has been boss of volleyball for so long. He’s well connected and he will pull strings in high places to retain his coveted seat. Ditto for several of the sitting chairmen Dalung has disqualified. They will fight back. This matter is not over by a mile. Watch out!



Can Monaco Hold Off PSG?
THE BIG question in the French Ligue 1 as the 2016/2017 season enters the home stretch is whether table toppers AS Monaco can hold off defending champions Paris Saint Germain (PSG) to win their first title since year 2000.
PSG have won the last four titles and are looking for the fifth on the trot. They became dominant overnight in France when Arab oil money was pumped into their coffers, but Monaco have grown more organically and I will love to see them rewarded for their patience.

Actually, I have followed Monaco with more than a passing interest since Victor Ikpeba won the League 1 title with them in 1997 en route to being crowned as African Footballer of the Year. I was editor of Complete Football International at the time and I had to go to Monaco to interview Ikpeba for the magazine’s cover story. The opulence that I saw all over the Municipality and in which Ikpeba lived made me give him the nickname, Prince of Monaco which has stuck with him ever since.

This season, I have been following Monaco’s performances as usual. A look at all the tables of the five major leagues in Europe shows that they are only behind Barcelona on the goal-scoring charts with 90 goals after 32 games. That fire-power has been the major secret of their current season. Therefore, it is not by coincidence that they have reached the quarter-finals of the European Champions League with the likelihood of reaching the semi-finals, at least.

Last weekend, Monaco had to come from behind to beat relegation battlers Dijon 2-1 as the pressure of the title race began to tell. The match winner was, of course, Radamel Falcao whose 18 goals overall places him third on the French scoring charts behind PSG’s Edison Cavani and Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette.

If you thought all the action and drama are restricted to the EPL, you’re mistaken. A closer look at the French Ligue 1 this weekend will certainly excite you.  I’m cheering for Monaco to win their eighth title in history. The question is can they hold off the aristocrats of PSG till the end of the season?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Juve 3-0 Barca: The Prediction I Never Made



MY WIFE is my only witness that I predicted a 3-0 victory for Juventus over Barcelona in the first leg of their European Champions League quarter-final clash in Turin on Tuesday night.

When SuperSport pundits John Barnes, Sammy Kuffor and Benny McCarthy made their forecasts suggesting a draw or even a narrow win for Barcelona, I told my wife they all were in for a surprise. The only reason I refrained from tweeting my gut feeling was bias! I am a Barcelona fan and I didn't want my prediction to come to pass.

In my estimation, the signs of the fate that awaited Barca against Juve emerged last Saturday when they crumbled to a 2-0 defeat to Malaga in La Liga. With Real Madrid having dropped points in a 1-1 derby draw with Atletico Madrid earlier in the day, Barca had enough motivation to win in Malaga and draw level with Real at the top of the table. But they simply couldn't do it against a super-organized opponent.

In fact, Barca were more thoroughly outclassed by Malaga than the 2-0 scoreline suggested. I contrasted that with a Juve juggernaut that has kept steam-rolling all opposition consistently in the Serie A, and the only result that kept popping up in my crystal ball was a bashing for Barcelona, 3-0 to be exact.

Of course, the outcome in Turin could have been totally different had Andres Iniesta scored an equalizer from that glorious Lionel Messi pass midway into the first half after Paulo Dybala had given Juve an early lead. Unfortunately for Barca, veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon made a reflex save and, moments after, Dybala doubled Juve's lead at the other end with a brilliant finish. At that point, I knew that my crystal ball was working to perfection. Giorgio Chiellini's third goal for Juve in the second half was inevitable.

The growing problem with Barca, as we have seen repeatedly in recent time, is that their famed forward line of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar are finding it more difficult to penetrate well organized and disciplined opposition defenses. Malaga had a perfect plan in place to frustrate them and they succeeded so much that Neymar even bagged a red card. I knew Juventus would have been watching the Malaga display and Italian defenses have a reputation to be even meaner. It wasn't difficult to foresee a beating awaiting Barca in Turin.

The question on the lips of soccer fans worldwide is whether the Catalans can perform another miracle like they did in coming back from a 4-0 first leg deficit against Paris Saint Germain to win 6-5 on aggregate in the last round. As much as I want it, I can't see it happening. Lightening hardly strikes twice in the same spot and it is very unlikely that Barcelona will get out of the Old Lady's jail this time around. But then, I wish they will prove me wrong!

Check out my predictions for  Wednesday's matches. Be warned, I provide no guarantees:
*Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Monaco
*Bayern Munich 2-1 Real Madrid
*Atletico Madrid 2-0 Leicester City.