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Sports

Memory Lane with Edgar Davids

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speaks One-on-One with FourFourTwo

 

Edgar ‘The Pitbull’ Davids, no-nonsense midfielder for Holland, Ajax, Juventus and more, answers questions from FourFourTwo readers – and threatens one of them – back in the New Year 2010 issue.

 

“Are you gay?” growls Edgar Davids, 
radiating a palpable sense of menace as Soccer AM concludes an interview for its ‘Team Mates’ feature with the usual final question: “Who’s the longest in the shower?” Clearly not a viewer of the show, the Dutchman misses the humour, bristling at the thought 
of being the butt of some unexplained joke.

The drama unfolds in the atrium of a top London eatery, as FFT waits to speak to the former Juventus, Tottenham and Barcelona midfielder with a growing sense of trepidation. After all, the spiky midfield enforcer has just spent the past 15 minutes returning each question with a cold stare before barking back a sharp answer. Armed with your questions – some that touch on the more controversial moments of his career – FFT fears it could be next to be mauled by The Pitbull.

But then this seems to be his default mode. His natural aggression – combined with boundless energy and drive – was key to his success has a player, helping Ajax to three titles and a European Cup, plus three Serie A titles with Juventus, leading Marcello Lippi to call him “my one man engine-room”.

And as he takes a seat, Davids still looks capable of shaping a midfield to his will. He offers a gruff acknowledgement and pauses to send a text as we explain our readers provided the questions. “What, for me?” he says, temporarily softening at the idea that the British public take an interest in his career. Not that this compels him to answer everything: he dismisses queries on Euro 96 (where he was expelled from the Dutch squad) and bust-ups with Robbie Keane and Marco van Basten.

We start on less shaky ground as we question him on his role as a judge for Red Bull’s Street Style UK Final, a competition to find the country’s top freestyle footballer. “Some of these guys can do amazing things – I was nowhere near as good,” says the former Dutch international, eyeing up your questions as we brace ourselves for a prickly encounter.

 

Is it true that growing up you got the nickname ‘The King of the Street’ because of your prowess as a freestyle footballer?
Stuart Hardy, Bristol
I was the ‘Mayor of the Street’, never the king. The name was not because of freestyle football. It was because I used to play street soccer 
– games of three-against-three and five-against-five – with my brother. My brother was better when we were younger, but 
I went past him because I was with the Ajax Academy, so I was playing with the 
country’s best players every day.

 

What is it about Suriname that helps to produce players like yourself, Clarence Seedorf, Ruud Gullit, Patrick Kluivert and other top Dutch players? 
Matt Boyle, via e-mail 
I think it was the genes, the DNA. I was born there and came over when I was two, and Clarence was born there – but Patrick was born in Holland, so it’s the genes. Also the food. There is a vegetable like a bitter cucumber, which is steamed. Everyone eats that – it gives you power to keep going in games.

 

Why was the Ajax Academy so successful? You were schooled at the club, too; which player was the worst at getting their homework in on time? 
Sarah Poole, via e-mail
The club had the best scouts, so they would go out and attract the best young players in Holland. Then they would teach us how to amplify our skill level by getting us to play two-touch football. We had a specific athletic coach, a running coach, a fitness coach. We would play a lot of games but also a lot of position play. As for school, there was no time to mess about: it was school then football, school and football.

 

You started at Ajax as a left-winger and struggled. How did you make the transition to midfield? 
Andrew Edmonds, via e-mail
I started as a left-winger and second striker: a No.10. What is different in the Ajax system for a midfielder is that they can attack and also defend, so it is maybe that you have the holding player on the outside who is always protecting or defending. That’s the system. It was Louis van Gaal’s idea to move my position. Marc Overmars started playing on the left and was really good, so he had to adapt the situation to where I played in the midfield. On the left wing I felt isolated, but in the middle I was more part of the game.

 

Where did your nickname ‘The Pitbull’ come from? Is it true you’re also nicknamed ‘The Piranha’? Where did that come from and which do you prefer?
Kirsty Cartwright, via e-mail
Van Gaal gave me the name Pitbull at Ajax. He said that on the defensive side, I was always on the forward – at his ankles. The name Piranha came from one of the former Ajax team managers. It’s a metaphor – a fish that bites ankles and does damage. In South America they call me Tubarao – The Shark. Do I have a favourite? Pitbull.

Like a lot of the team that beat AC Milan in the 1995 Champions League Final, you were in your early 20s. Were you nervous playing on such a big stage? 
Stevie Jo Fowler, Gillingham
Of course, though we already beat them twice [Ajax beat AC Milan home and away in the group stages] so if you beat somebody twice you know that you only need to play well. They’d already won a couple of Champions League titles, so they were still a very good team. I was nervous myself and we weren’t really confident we’d win – I was glad we scored late in the game. When we won, it was like the whole of Holland came out. Looking back, you see that it was a part of history – a great achievement.

 

Is it true you once approached former Dutch tennis player Richard Krajicek and said: “Hello, my name is Edgar Davids. You’ll be hearing a lot about me soon”?
Chris Brown, via e-mail
I don’t think I was that cocky. I knew him because we have the same physio. [FFT: So that story isn’t true then?] Not entirely true, but also in that time it could be true. I was young and reckless. Has anyone done that to me? Yeah, but I’m not going to tell.

 

 

What were you thinking when England beat Holland 4-1 in Euro 1996 and you’d been sent home? Do you think that defeat highlighted your importance?
Chris Beland, Leatherhead
[Bristling] I don’t know. It was a very long time ago.

 

You joined AC Milan in 1996 and broke your leg soon after. Was it hard being injured in a new country and at a new club?
David Standing, Grimsby
That was one of the worst times I’ve ever had because you don’t speak the language very well; you’re sitting at home with your television, but you can’t really understand it. The first couple of weeks you can’t move with your leg because you are afraid of thrombosis. It was bad. It helped that every couple of weeks, I was driven to Amsterdam because that’s where I was recuperating.

 

When Juventus came in for you after your time at AC Milan, were you hesitant about joining another Italian side? 
Dan Watton, Plymouth
Never. I was happy because I’ve followed Juventus all my life and at that moment they were second in the league and AC Milan were eighth, so it was like a gift from heaven. It was when everything fell into place. [FFT: What was the key to settling?] 
I was fit. At Milan I was injured. A lot of it was down to Lippi. He had confidence in me, and when he has confidence in someone he puts them in straight away.

 

At Juventus you were diagnosed with glaucoma. Were you worried that you might have to retire? 
Ben Berry, Newcastle
Yeah, it was quite a big blow. I was worried and I did think I might have to retire. But then I found out there were options: wear goggles. It was strange the first time I had to play in them: they would steam up so it took time to adjust, but I don’t think it affected my performances. [FFT: Did anyone make fun of you for wearing them?] Yeah. [FFT: Who?] I don’t want to say.

 

At Juventus, you formed one of the best midfield partnerships ever with Zidane. What was the key to the relationship?
Chris Ward, via e-mail
Trust. It’s about trust and about energy. If you have this connection with someone anyway, then you know what’s going to happen. It’s about feelings; about knowing football on a certain level. And we both understood football on the same level.

 

Is it true someone once tried to nick your car while you were still in it, so you chased them off? Does anything scare you? Heights? The dark? Clowns?
Chris Peck, Bath
No, that’s not true. [FFT: Are you scared of anything?] No, not really. I guess if I’m on top of a really tall building without a parachute, I would be scared.

 

Thierry Henry once said that you used to walk around the house and make tea while juggling a football…
Nathan Bonney, Manchester
Yeah. In all rooms of my house I had a ball. So if I saw a ball was there, I would juggle with it. [FFT: Ever spill tea while juggling a ball in the house?]. It could be. If I did it would only have caused minor burns. [FFT: Ever do anything else while juggling a ball?] Yeah, brush my teeth.

 

You’ve said that after Juve’s Champions League defeat to Manchester United in the 1999 Champions League Semi-Final, you should have won the first leg? Did Juve travel to Old Trafford with too much respect for United? 
Aron Braund, via e-mail
No, I don’t think so. It’s difficult to win at Old Trafford. You have to be confident because Old Trafford is Old Trafford; you’re playing against Manchester United. We were the better team but the better team doesn’t always win. The second leg, it was some game, but frustrating. A lot of our players didn’t reach their potential. But there are no regrets. They played well and you have to give credit where it’s due.

 

With Holland you reached both the semi-finals of World Cup 98 and Euro 2000. Which Dutch team was better?
Dan Metherell, via e-mail
The ’98 team was better because of the atmosphere, the players. The team was really balanced. But it is what it is – it’s 
one of the best teams I’ve played in, but 
it’s not a disappointment. What can you say? In Euro 2000, we missed two penalties in a semi-final defeat to Italy. I’ve never played in a game when there are two missed penalties. So, it is what it is.

 

Both times you got to the Champions League final with Juve you lost to teams that included Clarence Seedorf. Does he ever bring that up? I know I would!
Gregory Giles, via e-mail
He would? If he knew me he wouldn’t. Clarence knows me – so he didn’t say anything.

 

At 5ft 7in, you’re smaller than a lot of the other hardmen midfielders of your era. Did your size mean that, from an early age, you’d fight harder on the pitch? Who’s the hardest player you’ve faced?
Lee Smith, via e-mail
It’s not all about size; it’s about positioning. I think it’s a harder job playing against players like Iniesta and Xavi because you have to stay in your position and read the game. It’s not about hard work and getting back; it’s about when you get back. Van 
Gaal taught me to play tactically. The hardest player? I like Keane. I also like Dennis Wise. And listen, Paul Scholes was very tough too.

 

Is it true that while at Barça, you and Ronaldinho had skills competitions and you’d win most of the time? Who’s the most skilful player you’ve played with?
James Williamson, Portsmouth
It was not like that, never. It’s more like you do skills in the park and try to come up with new things. For skills and tricks, Ronaldinho was the best player I’ve played with. The other was Peter Hoekstra; he used to play for Ajax and Stoke City.

 

You won over a lot of Spurs fans during a game against Middlesbrough when you clattered into former Arsenal player Ray Parlour. Do you remember that game? Did you enjoy playing in England? 
Glen Bickle, via e-mail
Yeah, I knew about Ray Parlour; I knew he was a former Arsenal player. But once on the pitch I couldn’t care less who the player is. Every tackle is the same. The game in England was more physical and fast. Did 
I enjoy this? Yes and no, because sometimes when you play in the middle of the park, you just put the team into place and play the ball. In England, people are like “you have to run box-to-box”. Why do you have to run box-to-box if it’s not necessary?

Martin Jol said he wanted you to bring a ‘winning mentality’ to Tottenham. Did you find that hard?
Liam Sandercock, via e-mail
Yeah. If you are a top side it’s normal that you try to win every game. It’s not only that you have to change the mentality of the team, but also you have to change the club because if you want to play with the big boys, you have to play like the big boys. They don’t. Some players, if you draw, used to act in a certain way that wasn’t in line with a top team. If you draw you can say: “Yeah, it’s OK” but no… you have to win.

 

The papers said you and Robbie Keane were involved in a bust-up. What was he thinking going up against you!?
Colin Mere, London
That was nothing…

 

How close were you to joining Leicester City this summer? Why didn’t the move happen? Were there any other English clubs trying to sign you?
John Marsh, via e-mail
I heard they enquired and spoke to certain people but I never talked to them. There was a chance of joining an English team at the start of the season, but I never spoke to anyone. I wanted to train with a team – I haven’t officially retired yet – but a lot of clubs saw it as a threat because of the media attention my signing brings. It puts pressure on the team and the players.

 

Source:  FourFourTwo

Interview: Hitesh Ratna. Portrait: Richie Hopson. 

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Leaders

HON. GBENGA ELEGBELEYE – OTOLORIN

“Further motivated by the desire to serve in higher capacity, he resigned his appointment as Chairman Ondo Waste Management Board in 2006, to contest elections into the Federal House of Representatives. Between June 2007 and June 2011, Hon. Elegbeleye was a member of the Federal House of Representatives representing Akoko North East/North West Federal Constituency of Ondo State, where he served as Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Sports;”

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Hon. Gbenga Otolorin Elegbeleye, popularly called “Otolorin” by his admirers was born in Ikare, Akoko North East Local Government Area of Ondo State. His educational background is made up as A.U.D Primary School, Ikare, St. Patrick’s’ Secondary School, Iwaro-Oka, University of Ife (Now Obafemi  Awolowo University) Ile Ife and  Ondo State University, Ado-Ekiti.

He obtained the following qualifications in his educational sojourn:

  • Primary School Leaving Certificate
  • West African School Certificate
  • B.A. (Ife), Ile-Ife
  • MPA (UNAD), Ado-Ekiti
Elegbeleye, Vice Chairman, House Committee on Sports

Gbenga Elegbeleye

As a result of his exemplary leadership qualities, in the Nigeria Youth Service Scheme, Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye was made the Administrative Officer of the Federal Road Safety Commission, Zone RS3 Kaduna, between 1988 and 1989, from where he ventured into private business.

Motivated by the desire to serve humanity, Hon. Gbenga in 1997 contested and won election as the youngest Chairman, Akoko North East Local Government Council in Ondo State.  As a Local Government Chairman, he was also a member of Board of Ondo State Primary Education Board between 1997-98. Before this period, Hon Gbenga Elegbeleye was the Assistant State Secretary of the National Republican Convention, NRC for the old Ondo State between 1990 – 1993.

Impressed by his achievements as Local Government Chairman and his successful exploits in other areas of human endeavour, the then Governor of Ondo State, Late Chief Olusegun Agagu in 2003 appointed him Chairman, Ondo State Waste Management Authority, and under his erudite leadership, Akure was adjudged by the then Federal Ministry of Inter-Government Affairs, the second cleanest State Capital in Nigeria, after Calabar, in 2004.

Further motivated by the desire to serve in higher capacity, he resigned his appointment as Chairman Ondo Waste Management Board in 2006, to contest elections into the Federal House of Representatives. Between June 2007 and June 2011, Hon. Elegbeleye was a member of the Federal House of Representatives representing Akoko North East/North West Federal Constituency of Ondo State, where he served as Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Sports; Member House Committees on Defence, Appropriation, Works, Environment, Rural Development, Inter-parliamentary Affairs and Solid Minerals. As a member of the House of Representatives, he attracted several projects to his Federal Constituency. These includes the following: Neighbourhood Sports Centre Iye road, Arigidi; Sports Stadium at Oyinmo st, Ikare; National Library Ikare; Extension of electrification poles to Ojeka camp road; Odo Irun  electrification, Oyimo, Ogunsusi road, Ilepa Ikare; erosion control and school furniture in Ogbagi, Block of classrooms in the following schools, St George’s Pry School, Okeagbe, Salem School, Ekan Ikare, AUD School V Ishakunmi, Ikare, AUD School 2, Iku, Ikare, Local Govt Pry School Ajowa, Ebenezer Pry School Okorun, Ikare; several boreholes in most towns and villages, among many others

Hon. Elegbeleye was a member of the Ondo State Football Association between  1998 and 2000, Chairman Ondo State Table Tennis Association (2004-2007), Vice Chairman Ondo State Sports Development Committee (2005-2009) and Chairman Rising Stars Football Club, Akure  from 2004-2007, Proprietor, Ikare United Football Club, Member, NFA Fair-Play Committee, from 2004-2007, President Youths Sports Federation of Nigeria, Ondo State Chapter from 2003-2009. He also served as a member of the Ministerial Committee on the Reform of Football Administration in Nigeria between August and November 2011 and Member, Board of Directors, Abuja Investment Company between 2011 and 2013.

On May 15th 2013, the then President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Dr. Goodluck  Ebele Jonathan, found his rich credentials in Sports Administration irresistible and appointed him, the Director General of the National Sports Commission. President Jonathan made the announcement during the Federal Executive Council meeting of May 15th, 2014.

During his stewardship as the Director General of the National Sports Commission, the Commission has experienced a change in fortune as Nigerian athletes, sportsmen and women have been winning international laurels across the globe.

On Friday 8th November 2013 at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria defeated Mexico 3-0 to win the FIFA U- 17 World Cup a record fourth time having won it in 1985, 1993 and 2007 to emerge as the most successful country in the competition up to date.

This was also followed by another laudable achievement in the 2013 Commonwealth weightlifting game tagged Malaysia 2013 where the Nigerian female lifters won the women’s category of the competition with 8 golds, 3 silvers and 3 bronze medals in the competition held in Malaysia in November 2013. This was also followed up with a 3rd placement of the Home based Super Eagles in the African Nations Championship (CHAN) held in South Africa. Nigeria had never qualified for the competition, but the Eagles not only qualified but went as far as winning the bronze medal of the competition after beating hard-fighting Zimbabwe 1-0 in the 3rd place match decided at the Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town on Saturday February 1st, 2014.

He was Head of Delegation, Nigeria U-17 African Youth Games in Botswana, tagged “Gaborone 2014” where Nigeria gathered a massive 41 medals the best outing so far against the record of 10 medals, to emerge overall 3rd best in the Games after winning 19 gold, 10 silver and 12 bronze medals.

Still under the leadership and stewardship of Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye, also as Head of Delegation, Team Nigeria also finished strong in  the Glasgow,  Commonwealth Games  in Scotland. It was Nigeria’s best outing in the history of the Commonwealth , winning 11 golds, 11 silvers and 14 Bronze medals in the 20th edition  of the Games held between July 23 and August 3rd, 2014. Team Nigeria also emerged the best team at the 2014 Marrakech Africa Athletics Championships held in Marrakech, Morocco in August, 2014. The Super Falcons beat all African countries to emerge Champions of Africa Women’s Championship (AWC) held in Namibia in October 2014.

Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye was recently appointed as a Member of the CAF Disciplinary Board.   He is a member of IBB Golf Club and a  recipient of several awards and honours. These includes, Fellow of the Nigeria Institute of Local Govt and Public Administration; Fellow, Chattered  Institute of Public Administration; Fellow African Business School; Fellow, Certified Institute of Sales Management; Patron, SWAN, FCT; Patron SWAN, Ondo State; Patron NUJ, Ondo State; Gold Personality Award by Skye Sports; African Film Academy Award for Sports Development; National Youth Council Award for National Development; City People Award for Excellence in Politics; African Leadership Award for Sports Development among several others,    Hon Gbenga Elegbeleye is married to Solape, they are blessed with four children

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Sports

BROWN IDEYE: TRANSFER FLOP OF THE SEASON?

“With barely 10 rounds of games played in the EPL, Ideye is already feeling the heat. And with just 3 league games to his name, he is yet to find the back of the net. His solitary strike came in the league cup game against Hull”

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Nothing builds up excitement and expectations of avid followers of the English Premier League to a crescendo, than the transfer window.  Consisting of two streams: Pre-season (9 June – 1 September) and Mid-season (1 January – 1 February), the transfer window offers clubs a veritable breather to bolster their ranks and offload players surplus to requirements.

In recent seasons, it has assumed a reputation of springing up surprises and shocks; or rather EPL clubs, luxuriously swathed with the financial clout of record breaking television deal, have been indulging in big budget recruitments of players across the globe.

 

Date Name Moving from Moving to Fee
Summer 2014 Brown Ideye Dynamo Kiev West Brom Abion £10 million
Summer 2014 James McArthur Wigan Athletic Crystal Palace £7 million
Summer 2014 Romelu Lukaku Chelsea Everton £28 million
Summer 2014 Abel Hernandez Palermo Hull City £10 million
Summer 2014 Leonardo Ulloa Brighton Leicester City £8 million
Summer 2014 Angel di Maria Real Madrid Manchester United £59.7 million
Summer 2013 Mesut Özil Real Madrid Arsenal £42.5 million
Summer 2013 Pablo Osvaldo Roma Southampton £15 million
Summer 2013 Wilfried Bony Vitesse Swansea City £12 million
Summer 2013 Erik Lamela Roma Tottenham £30 million
Summer 2013 Andy Carroll Liverpool West Ham United £15 million
Summer 2012 Steven Fletcher Wolves Sunderland £14 million
Summer 2011 Sergio Aguero Atletico Madrid Manchester City £38 million
Summer 2011 Peter Crouch Tottenham Stoke City £10 million
January 2011 Darren Bent Sunderland Aston Villa £24 million
January 2011 Fernando Torres Liverpool Chelsea £50 million
January 2011 Andy Carroll Newcastle Liverpool £35 million

The last transfer window (Pre-season) saw the arrival of Alexis Sanchez to Arsenal FC, a move widely acclaimed as a major coup, considering the Chilean returns of 10 EPL goals/assists in as many games for the Gunners.

What perhaps came as the biggest surprise of the 2014 summer window was West Brom’s £10m record signing of Nigerian International Brown Ideye who joined the Baggies from Dynamo Kyiv in a 3year deal, with optional one year extension.

From a player whose international career suffered a critical coma after he was dropped by coach Stephen Keshi from the Super Eagles party to Brazil for the FIFA World Cup 2014, to a player who is currently WBA record signing, Ideye’s story is a classical case of career resuscitation, one the seasoned football analyst, Oma Akatugba would term “the Darman Miracle.”

From the Creeks to the Peak

Ideye started his professional football career in Bayelsa FC, and later switched to sister club Ocean Boys of Brass, where he won the Nigerian Premier League in 2006. Like many Nigerian footballers, he pursued his dreams of European football when he signed with Neuchâtel Xamax (Switzerland) in 2008, notching up 23 goals in 55 appearances during a 3year stay at the club. He had a modest stint with Sochaux-Montbeliard (France) which he joined in 2010, with a haul of 17 goals in 52 matches.

Unarguably, the highlight of his club career till date was his transfer to Dynamo Kyiv in 2011, raking in 33 goals in 74 appearances. It was at the Ukrainian club that scouts of some top European clubs began to pay serious attention to the strong, pacy striker.

As fate would have it, Ideye got his first senior international call from Swedish tactician Lars Lagerback following Mikel’s injury-induced withdrawal from the 23-man Nigerian squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Three years later, he achieved the most significant high point of his career as a member of the Super Eagles team that won the Africa Cup of Nations.

The Darman Miracle

At club level, the Bayelsa born striker was dislodged by Dieumerci Mbokani, thus began his travails and search for a new club.

Following Nigeria’s group stage elimination at the 2013 Confederations Cup, Ideye was heavily criticised by a large section of the fans for his poor and lacklustre performance. It therefore came as no surprise when he was dropped from the 2014 World Cup team.

Though that would have made it extremely difficult for him to secure a dream move to the Premier League, but his agent, Hootan Ahmadi of Collective Sports Management pulled off the surprise deal of the season to secure Ideye’s record move to the Hawthorns, in what could be seen as a new breath of life to his hitherto dying career.

After the Joy comes the Pressure

With barely 10 rounds of games played in the EPL, Ideye is already feeling the heat. And with just 3 league games to his name, he is yet to find the back of the net. His solitary strike came in the league cup game against Hull. That certainly has not helped to ease the pressure from the fans who are desperate to see him justify the huge transfer fee on his head. He is beginning to find himself frozen out of the first team, and there are even rumours making the rounds that WBA coach Alan Irvine is willing to let him leave in the January transfer window.

West Brom Player

Ideye

A stitch in time saves NINE

‘A lot of people are writing on my Instagram and Twitter page saying “you’re s***” or “you’re not worth the money”

‘You can’t criticise me, I’ve not been playing. How can you criticise somebody who has not been playing?

‘I am just unlucky, it was unfortunate I got injured and when I was out the team was doing very well.’ 

In a series of tweets posted on his wall, Ideye lashed back at his critics, but went further to reaffirm his resolve to put his injury woes behind him to prove his worth on the pitch. Whether that will buy him game time remains to be seen. What he’s yet to appreciate, is that in the English Premier League patience is a luxury that cannot be afforded, and the faster he gets up and running in delivering the much-needed goods like the likes of Diego Costa, Diafra Sahko etc, the better for his bleak-looking career at the Hawthorns. A stitch in time saves NINE.

By Melly Da Epic Pen

You can follow Melly Da Epic Pen on his twitter handle @IMELIKACHIEKENE or send in your comments/messages via ekene.imelikachi@gmail.com

© 2014

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Sports

AN OPEN LETTER TO MIKEL JOHN OBI

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It is with a concerned heart that I write this open letter to you. Like most Nigerians, if not all, I mourn not only because the Super Eagles failed, in the third time of asking, to progress beyond the 2nd round hurdle at the FIFA 2014 World Cup, but also because the team put up an unconvincing performance which culminated in a comprehensive 2-nil defeat to Le Blues. When the jury was out on the Eagles disastrous campaign, the first name that easily came to mind for execution was Mikel. The reason is not far-fetched: a player of your stature, possessing the essentials to influence matches, and who plays for no less a club than Chelsea should definitely lead the Super Eagles beyond the previously attained round of 16.

Mikel Obi

Chelsea Midfielder

There is no gainsaying the obvious that currently you are the most vilified player of the ill-fated Super Eagles. From rib-cracking caricatures to stinging personalisations, you are being depicted in such a way that would make Sanni Keita and Yakubu Aiyegbeni turn overnight living legends of the round leather game. For once, I am compelled to agree with the army of disappointed fans. I have followed your career with keen interest, beginning from when I first watched you in action during the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship in Netherland. Boy, how you exhibited flair, vision and confidence that belied your age! You held the world spell bound with your passing range, composure and coordination in midfield, providing the impetus for the attack to flourish. Though the Flying Eagles gallantly lost in the final to Argentina in a pulsating 1:2 scoreline, you left no one in doubt that of your potentials and greatness. And when you mounted the podium as recipient of the Silver Ball, alongside the precocious Lionel Messi, who won the Golden Ball, the world rose on its feet to applaud a star not just in the making, but for the taking. I recall hearing Nigerians mused that the Super Eagles have got a successor to, if not an upgrade of the mercurial Jay Jay Okocha. That you had two giants of the English Premier League battling for your signature was indicative that the footballing world has taken notice of your talent, and the unquantifiable potentials inside of you, bursting for expression at the grandest of global football stage. You finally settled for Chelsea, the rest they say is history. At the national level, your reputation as the real deal was further boosted by the returns you posted in your AFCON debut in Egypt 2006 against Zimbabwe: 1 assist, 1 goal. It could not have gone any better.

Chelsea Midfielder

Chelsea Midfielder

A career that really kick-started eight years ago with 10 major trophies, including Premier League title, Champions League crown, and African Cup of Nations, is really one to be reckoned with. However, these club/national team honours could be flattering and deceptive. This same period has also seen a gradual retrogression in your game in terms of growth/progression towards attaining peak, influence on matches through direct & indirect assists and goals, and personal recognition. It would not be helpful to roll out the stats table, likewise to compare you to your peer, Messi, who has gone on to break numerous records, collected individual prizes and club trophies, and even took the Albiceleste to the final of the FIFA WC. But one undeniable reality has been the wide margin of difference ever since the two of you broke into world’s stage at the same time.  Many would argue that a lot of factors are responsible for this chasm, the constant however remains that Messi perhaps is more fired to improve and succeed. The alarm has started ringing. Last season saw you in a more limited role for Chelsea, especially in the Premier League. This incoming season, could see you down below the pecking order with the emergence and arrival of the duo of Matic and Fabregas. Football, as you know, has evolved to the point where deep lying midfielders aside executing to perfection their defensive responsibilities must also provide impetus to the attackers. Jose Mourinho, who coincidentally altered your game to suit his defensive style, shares this view. Now is the time to rise up to the occasion; now is the time to live up your real potentials. Go Mikel, it’s still in you!

By Da Epic Pen

You can follow Da Epic Pen on his twitter handle @IMELIKACHIEKENE or email: ekene.imelikachi@gmail.com

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