Monday, 11 November 2013

Arsenal's Plan B may cost them silverware...again.

In biblical times, there were certain men called the Mighty Men of David. These guys were warriors - infantry swordsmen you don't want to come against on the battlefield. One key thing about their swordsmanship was that they were ambidextrous. After slashing, stabbing and cutting down with one hand, when the nerves connected to the muscles in their arm begins to send signals to their brains that it has been stretched, they switch to their other arm and slash, stab and cut with the same accuracy, strength and skill. That's the recipe for a winning team. Your options when fatigued should be as potent as your first choice.
At a goal down away at Old Trafford, Arsene Wenger threw caution to the wind and decided to double-up in the striking department. The worst that could happen would be Manchester United getting a second goal but it will still be a loss of 3 points. No questions about that. But when you decide to do that, one would expect that the striker to come on - the strengthener - would be someone just as good as the misfiring individual on the pitch - at least. Not Niklas Bendtner.

Such has been Arsenal's dilemma so far in their 8 trophyless seasons. And if the pattern is not rectified by January, we might just extrapolate the graph of silverware-barreness for an additional season. 
I was watching the game yesterday with some colleagues who were a mix of Liverpool, Chelsea and United fans. At the point when it seemed Szczesny could not continue, they were super excited that Arsenal will be forced to bring on Fabiansky based on the schtick Spurs received from handling Hugo Lloris' case last week. Another less mighty-man in goal it would seem. When the news broke about Per Mertesacker not being able to start, there were already concerns about Thomas Vermaeleen's composure not to gift Robin van Persie the ball again like he did last season.  And when you consider that a knock to Sagna would mean Carl Jenkinson would be the Frenchman's replacement, then you really have to ask how serious Arsenal really are in their bid to go all the way. An injury to either Vermaeleen or Koscielny would mean 18 year old Isaac Hayden would be called into action against what is arguably the most intelligent strike-partnership in the league (compared to the young, prolific but individualistic SAS of Liverpool)

However, you have to give the team some credit for being 2 points clear on the league table and on top of their Champions League Group standings despite these short-comings and the number of choice-players they have on the treatment table. With 3 heavy fixtures back-to-back, Arsenal amassed an impressive 6 points -  one of which was stolen at the Signal Iduna Park in Germany to become the first English side to beat the UCL runners-up on their turf. Also, when you consider that Serge Gnabry almost made an instant impact when he replaced Mikel Arteta at Old Trafford, one cannot but imagine what could have been if Theo Walcott had been available for the length of the game and made such runs throughout the 90 minutes. Podolski, with 2 goals already despite being out for almost 3 months, will also be a boost when he returns. Likewise Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Nevertheless, the 2005 FA Cup champions need quality options to take-on quality opposition in one of the most improved and competitive leagues in the world.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Counting Down...

“I know you’re angry right now...” Elvis began in a futile attempt to pacify his friend who just kept on walking in front of him without saying a word. “I know you are angry right now...” he tried again but this time Igho turned on his heels and gave him a fierce look which lasted about 3 seconds. 3 seconds that seemed like an eternity. A look that spoke volumes. A million words said in a 3-second stare through blood-shot eyes. Elvis looked back but couldn’t find a placating stare to match the words that had just come out of his mouth. He didn’t know which was worse. Not having the right words to calm down his friend in his time of anger and grief or not having the right physical emotions and timbre of voice to match the words that were coming out of his mouth. He felt as though Igho could sense that he was just playing the role of being a friend in time of grief and not really sharing in the grief. Igho had kept on walking towards the car and was about to open the doors when Elvis suddenly realised he had to stop him. He was in no condition to drive on the back of what had just happened. He picked up his pace and caught him just as he was about to open the door to the driver’s side. Igho gave him that look again, only this time Elvis had seen it before and was prepared.

“You can’ this....condition”, Elvis finally had the courage to say. Anger, like every other emotion, has a little window open all the time where reason can find some space to express itself and even perhaps take over. In this situation, and knowing Igho, Elvis knew all he might have may be a few seconds. And as soon as he felt the grip on Igho’s hands loosen, he gently retrieved the keys to the starlet and eased Igho’s fingers from the door. There was a brief pause. Another eternity. Some light breathing. Time seemed to stop and suddenly it didn’t seem so warm outside. The air felt eerily chilly...the kind of chill that you like to be under, like room temperature brought about by the perfect settings on a split air-conditioning unit with an in-built air purifiying system. The two young men rested their backs on the hatch-back petite automobile, thoughts racing, thoughts wandering, reasoning occupying more and more space, displacing anger. Someone sniffed. Someone heaved. Or was it the same person. It didn’t matter. They couldn’t be bothered. Then, like a precious diamond coming out of the rough cut the next set of words that came defined the next moment and made it seem a man’s heart had not almost been ripped out of his chest a few moments ago. It changed everything. A new chapter wasn’t created. The old book was burnt beyond ashes and from the nothing, only a leaflet remained.

Staring into nothing, Igho said, “I’m hungry. Let’s get something to eat”


“I neva finish nah. Abeg, lee de water” the not so gentle man was saying to the stewardess two tables away. A common stewardess’s error at your neighbourhood cafeteria? Or a subtle message to the customer to hurry up and make space for prospective customers who - peeking into the poorly lit wooden enclosure - are put off by the lack of sitting space and as such walk-on by. Igho and Elvis were under no such pressure of being relieved of their hand-wash bowls of water. First, they had ordered plates of rice and not swallows. Two: they had just ordered. And finally, they were not regulars and as such had not crossed that line from being “guests” to being “oh, it’s you again”. The food was crap but it didn’t seem to matter because all that secretion of bile and adrenaline had somehow vapourised what little energy Igho had left. Elvis, on the other hand, kept his “good friend” routine. This shack was no different from the others most especially in odour. It had that characteristic smell of stew made from “weak” pepper and tomatoes. Add some body odour from the road-side auto-mechanics who are the regular customers and the smell of over preserved and re-fried meat and fish and you have that distinct smell which your brain tends to tune away from because of the hunger pangs that are high up in the pecking order of priorities for your brain.

“Auntie” Elvis calls out to the stewardess, “wey our minerals nah?”

“I dey come”, she answers without looking up from whatever it Is she was doing on the other side of the kitchen.

“Na wa o”, Elvis says under his breath but a little audible to be heard almost across the room.

“If de mineral no come before we finish dis food, I swear to God we no ‘o gi you money”, Igho says in between mouthfuls - no facial expression, no emotion and not looking at anyone in particular. It seemed like a threat, but Elvis knew his friend was serious, especially in light of what had just happened. It was at that point Elvis knew the phoenix had risen from the ashes. The book was back. He needed to light a match and re-create that leaflet. He needed to create a distraction in the present - a distraction that will probably last a lifetime. “Anger is good”, Elvis began. “What you do with it and how you use it to your advantage is what matters”. He had just swallowed a spoonful of white rice and stew and was staring at Igho who was seating across the table. Feeling the pressure of Elvis’ eyes on him, Igho looks up from his meal. There was something in Elvis’ eyes this time that wasn’t there earlier. “Maybe it’s Providence’s way of helping you not make a mistake in future”, Elvis continued. Igho was about to snap and say something about Providence minding his or her business, but he knew better. He knew Elvis was in some parts right. He knew his friend always has his back - right from primary school. Now they are university undergraduates with only a few days left to graduation. He knew he had to keep it together and be focused on the rest of his life. He knew he couldn’t afford to be distracted at this point of his life. Perhaps it was all just for the excitement and experience of the feeling - feeling needed, feeling wanted, feeling loved. You have not lived until you love someone and they love you back in return. He was perhaps one of the privileged few on earth to have experienced the feeling and now it was gone. It had been truncated. It had been cut-off and taken away from him and it hurts. But life’s like that and we’ll feel like this for a long while. Igho sat up on the bench without a back-rest. He looked at his friend. He felt sorry for himself. He felt embarrassed. He felt betrayed. He felt angry. Somehow, his circle of thought and reasoning under the circumstances always returned to him being angry. “If this is the by-product of what you get on the other side, then perhaps I don’t ever want to feel the initial bliss anymore.”

“Bros, I don’t think that’s what you really want”

“I know what I want”

“The bliss - from my understanding - seems to be good. It’s what we all want. It’s what heaven approves. It’s the infrequent anger and disappointments that creeps in sometimes we - you - don’t want to feel....right now”

While Igho was trying to process all his friend of over 20 years was saying, Elvis continued his new found theories on managing the infrequent anger and disappointments:

“There’s nothing perfect in life. Bliss? It’s just an imagination - an illusion that can never be attained in perpetuity for as long as we live on this this container called flesh. We have to be able to deal with the things that come as they come per time.” He stops briefly and then continues; “All I’m saying is, keep that anger locked in somewhere in your subconscious. Let it be a reminder that this is how it feels when it all goes awry. Be prepared for it while you also enjoy the bliss when it comes... so that you never will have to feel like this again. People will offend you throughout the course of your life. They will do worse things to you out of spite, hatred....or a warped sense even out of the genuine kind. You need this experience to remember and say to yourself, ‘I’ve been here before...and this is how I successfully dealt with it then, and I can do the same now’”.

His friend was right. He knew it and hard as it was, he had to accept it. He kept thinking how it will feel from here on. What people will say. Those who would be glad. Those who would be empathically heart-broken. Those who would sneer. He had to shut it all out and deal with it. He has to handle it.

He returned to reality over the words of Elvis. “Bros, I say make you chop your meat. We don dey too tay for here”

Igho looked at his plate. In between their discussion, someone had placed an opened bottle of sprite beside his plate. He hadn’t noticed. Elvis’ bottle was empty.


Friday, 20 May 2011

We're here again - Facts, Fiction and Speculations

Just as the end of one thing sparks the beginning of another, the end of the football league season across europe kick-starts the transfer gossip season. You might argue that transfer gossip runs throughout the year, what happens before the end of the season is the big build-up to the start of the transfer season itself. And on behalf of everyone, I'll like to begin the season a little bit early.

Some teams have rubbished some of the rumours filling the airwaves and print media. Some players have also been quoted to extinguish some of the transfer claims about them. While some have kept mute, perhaps waiting to see how it all pans out or just unwilling to let the cat out of the bag.

Here's a little look at some of the interesting rumours, the quashed and the authenticated as well as the surprising ones.

Not Surprised?

He came through the Gunners ranks from the youth team and became a regular for the first team playing the most number of games in the 2009/2010 campaign. After 6 years with a big club like The Arsenal, Neves Denilson has not been able to secure a call up to the Brazilian national team. His 2010/2011 campaign wasn't also the best performance of his career as it was injury plagued and he eventually lost out his place in the defensive and creative portion of the midfield to 19 year old Jack Wilshere, Alex Song, Samir Nasri and of course Cesc Fabregas. Perhaps the course in which the season ended unfruitfully for the North Londoners and the fan and media-instigated call for an overhaul of the squad has made the Brazilian review his option. According to Skysports, Neves Pereira Denilson has approached his fatherly French boss for a transfer. According to Denilson, he is quite sure he won't be playing for any other English clubs and sees his future most likely in Spain or in Italy.

Earlier in the season, Denilson was quoted as attacking the leadership abilities of his team captain. But he was defended by his Arsene Wenger that the lad was misquoted. The exit of the talented and aggressive Brazilian will be seen by some as a "one-down more to go" situation for those calling for an overhaul of the squad while some....

Staying Put

Is CR9 on the transfer market? Well, that's what a few people in the media are trying to make us believe. Who wouldn't love this bundle of talent in his team? with 38 goals in the la-liga so far and about 50 overall, Real Madrid will sure do anything to hold on to their talisman. Truth is, as Spanish football expert Gulliem Ballage puts it, after all this Ronaldo rumours, don't be surprised to see the Portuguese extending his contract anytime soon. Ronaldo is definitely going nowhere as far as I am concerned. He hasn't won the La-liga title. He hasn't won the Champions League with Real. And he will do anything to distance himself from Messi's shadows which seems to be all around him.

Cheque Please?

2 seasons after making switching allegiances from the red to the blue side of Manchester, reports are rife

that the hard fighting Argentine is ready for his next big challenge. Carlos Tevez has spent an average of 2 years in every club since he turned professional with Boca Juniors in 2001, appearing 75 times for the club and scoring 26 goals. According to EspnSoccernet, the Argentine declared his intention to leave Manchester City while speaking to an Argentinian radio station. The prolific and physical forward had earlier in the season turned down a mouth-watering deal said to be worth £300,000 offered by CIty. For him, football has changed and perhaps isn't all he thought it would be. He adds that he won't be surprised if he doesn't represent Argentina in the next world cup. The 27 year old concedes that a return to Boca Juniors is quite tempting but financial issues may make it difficult.

"Carlos, it has been an honour having you in the English Premiere League. Wherever you go from here, keep fighting, keep scoring, and kiss your daughter for me. Cheers"

Holding On...

A school of thought believes Arsenal - and Wenger's - ability to keep its talismanic and youthful captain will be the club's biggest signing this summer. Francesc Fabregas has been a perfect fit into the Gunners' squad since his arrival in September 2003. Since then, the midfield maestro has more personal and national team laurels than Arsenal team trophies. Speculations about his future at Arsenal became compounded when Spain won the Euro Cup and the World Cup. And this he did with his compatriots who are mostly players of his boyhood club - Barcelona. After Spain won the World Cup in South Africa, his national team mates who play for Barcelona conferred on him a (perhaps) honourary team membership by putting the club's jersey on him. The Catalan club has since made bids to the North London club asking for a "return" of the "son". But Arsenal is unwilling to let go of Cesc....just yet?

Bayern Bound

What a difference 15 months can be in the life of a footballer. Rewind over a year ago, Manuel Neuer wasn't even first choice for the German national team. But somehow fate played a fast one on Tim Wiesel, Germany's former number one. He got injured and up stepped Neuer. The Bayern Munich bound 'keeper has never looked back. Neuer has followed his superb showing at the World cup with some breathtaking displays for Schalke 04 this season. Just incase you are still in doubt about his talent, why not check out Schalke's UEFA Champions League semi final first leg showing against Manchester United. No wonder he was on Alex Ferguson's wish list until recently. Unfortunately for Fergie, Neuer won't be Edwin van der Saar's replacement. The German international is on his way to Bayern munich as the German giants have already agreed a deal with Schalke for his services.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The New Special One Anyone?

He's gone unbeaten for the season. He's won the Europa League. He becomes the youngest manager to win the said UEFA Cup competition. He's Portuguese and speaks better English. He's Andre Villas-Boas. But is he the next Special One?

Like Mourinho, Villas-Boas was also a student of the late Sir Bobby Robson, to whom the 33-year old dedicated the European Cup victory.

In only his first season with the Portuguese giants, Villas Boas has won the Portuguese Super Cup, the league and the Europa League. A win on Sunday will add a fourth trophy to the list of accolades to the debutant.

The 33 year old has however ruled out any possibilities of a move away from FC Porto after a very successful first season in charge. The duality of his pledge to remain with his home-town club could be to either rule himself out of the English Premiere League and La Liga, or to increase his stock.

Will Villas-Boas remain as Manager of his home-town club after a superb first season in charge? Beginners' luck for the 33 year old? Well, come the start and end of the next season we'll be better informed.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Dear Sir - Open Letter to Nigeria's President-Elect

Dear Sir,

Congratulations on your re-election. Once again, Nigerians have given you and your party another 4 years to make finished products out of the massive potentials in this thick amalgam of people with diverse interests and cultures. I do not envy you.

I know you will be receiving a lot of congratulatory messages at this time. I have seen some of the victory comments that have been left on your facebook wall. Thank God for social media which has given us the privilege to communicate directly with our leaders without having to physically pass through metal detector screenings and body (cavity) searches. I won't join the wagon to point out the obvious. But permit me to do this sir: to humbly and respectfully let you know as much as I can, some of the challenges that lie ahead of you.

1. The fact that Nigerians are very respectable and are quick to adjust to a right attitude when they get to a (developed) foreign country even from the airport suggests that we are malleable and know what is right from what is wrong. Sir, Nigerians have been known to conform to a right attitude in the not so distant past even if it was by coercion. Through a rewards system that has worked in other countries, we can actually be Good People and as such create that Great Nation we all hope for.

I'm one of those who strongly believes that the bedrock of our problems is attitudinal. Start here, Mr. President, and you would have solved over 60% of all our problems. How? Rid yourself of sycophants and be accountable to the people. The life of a (wo)man is not contained in the abundance of what (s)he has. Also, build institutions, sir, that will check our excesses and punish ANYONE found culpable. Crime and corruption isn't absent in the developed countries. In fact, they have some frauds and long-standing designer crimes (such as serial murderers) that have never been recorded in these parts. The difference between us and them is that there are systems, structures, moral codes, and institutions setup and dedicated to making sure perpetrators are brought to book. Here, where they exist, they do so merely on paper. If our attitude is right, we will know that spending over billions of dollars of the nation's wealth on the Electric Power sector and not getting results is unacceptable anywhere in the universe. We will know that landlords asking tenants to pay 2 years' rent in advance in a system where salaries are not paid annually but monthly is evil. We will know that building a house without it being inspected by the authorities can lead to a collapse such as that which occured in succession at Ebute-Metta. In addition, building residential or commercial places without provision for parking is inconsiderate and unnacceptable. If our attitude is right, we'll know that spending thousands of dollars to "rehabilitate" militants overseas is an international and large scale display of our ignorance and money-miss-road lifestyle that has set us back since the discovery of oil.

2. Personally, I would like to see a repeat of some of the successes we recorded in the world of sports, specifically in athletics. Nigeria has produced internationally recognised sports persons. Still our sports is being run by politicians. With all the water we have in the delta and all the raw talents in the riverine areas, isn't it strange that Nigeria doesn't have any kind of representation in swimming? Even in Africa? Even the football that we cherish so much, we are miles behind South Africa who were just accepted into CAF after apartheid. And football isn't their No. 1 sport. Sports is a means of engaging the youth. We cannot all be doctors, lawyers, bankers, teachers. Build a structur and system that works using technocrats and people who have played the game. It's not by building physical structures like gyms, arenas, courts and office buildings. The structure is the people.

3. Last month, my dad was in Lagos and we went to se an old grand aunt of mine. He said in his days, teachers were like gods. According to my dad, he was shocked the first time he saw a teacher "easing" himself. He never thought they did such vulgar things. Today, our teachers are grossly under paid and have lost all respect. And because the profession has lost its esteem, their products fall below international standard. (I refer mostly to public school teachers and their pupils).

4. Please sir, can we do something about agriculture? The cocoa plantations, the groundnut pyramids, the oil palm fields, the rubber, the tubers, the hide and skin (not kpomo). They are all gone. First it was the steam engine. Now, it's the internal (oil) conbustion engine. I put it to you (and everyone else), sir, that something else is coming real soon as the (traditional) centurial reign of the ICE is almost up. What's our fall-back plan? Man will always eat food. It will always be in demand. Let's return to what lasts forever and of which we have the rich top soil to produce in abundance. The Agricultural industry makes up over 40% of our economy yet there's no viable agro-allied company's stock worth investing in at the NSE (Selah).

These are just some of the things bugging me at this time. I'm afraid to come here in another 4 years and have to complain about the same things. You might argue that 4yrs is too little time. Sir, I do not totally agree. I think it is enough time to build a platform, a template, a system, a structure.

I wish everyone could make you see the task ahead and stop "congratulating" you. I wish we could all agree that the state of the security system in this country is embarassing. A system that pays a police officer peanuts and empowers him with a gun? Are we encouraging him to go and "steal" the balance for his house rent and his children's school fees? I wish we could all agree that we are due to have a system that pays unemployment benefits to anyone who cannot find a job after completing WAEC.

I am very passionate about this country and constantly pained to see us doing so bad when we have all it takes to be the largest economy in the world. And so, sir, I'll be sending my thoughts to you from time to time because I perceive you to be a father who listens. Like a spoilt child who needs new shoes, books and clothes for the school term I might whine a little for the next four years. The status quo is one ancient landmark I'm going to ask heaven to permit me to move. And together, sir, with your leading, and my followership (via "complaining"), we will get there together.

Long live Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

God bless us all.