The Essential Muhammad Ali

ALI GET UP

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” If those nearly shopworn words of Williams Shakespeare still bear any shade of wisdom, it may be apt to fathom the life and times of Cassius Clay, who would overtime, flamboyantly, metamorphose to Muhammad Ali, as the intriguing saga of an enigma unravels before our very eyes.

While even the finest mortals would require the mystique of death to accord them a semblance of greatness, Ali didn’t require such largesse to be ranked in the realms of the immortals. Here was the one who prophesied and oversaw his greatness and thrived in the fullness of its grandeur.

It all began unscripted: spindly Cassius had ridden to a party in his special bicycle only for it to be stolen. A flurry of emotion then engulfed him as he sank into pangs of thoughts, ruminating over what end of the stick his father will deal him and what he would do to the crook, if he would be privileged to lay hands on him. Soon he will be introduced to a police officer who ran a boxing gym in the same premises. The sheriff, probably thrilled by the potentials of the fury that had welled up in the youngster, saw a propensity that would become inalienable to the sport he would introduce to the enfant terrible.

ALI 12

Cassius stepped into the Columbia Gym and his loquaciousness blended with uncanny oomph, suited what he would be introduced to: “About the only other sport I ever thought  about was football, but I didn’t like it because there was no personal publicity in it: you have to wear too much equipment and people can’t see you.”

Young Cassius cherished all the attention he could galvanize and was never on tenterhooks about his prowess. He would promote his fights by scorning his adversaries such that a drove would come to see him eat his words yet to their chagrin, or admiration, he will live up to his ranting. As an amateur, he went winning a slew of medals.

 For most youngsters with such impressive feat, an Olympic appearance in Rome in 1960 would mean living the dream and their countenance will radiate in delight. Not Cassius, kid wanted to go pro!

The prodigy proceeded to the Olympics upon the intervention of his coach with a lot of promise, while bearing the physique of the quintessential American guy: athletic, handsome, tall. Those who spent time with him recalled that he was jovial, ran his mouth, enjoyed the competition like an average 18 year old would, yet was imbued with the mentality and work ethic of a champion.

The outcome was immutable. Cassius knocked off five opponents going to the final and met an experienced foe in Poland’s Zbigniew Pietrykowski, yet it was youth and sheer desire that prevailed over antecedents. His agility and quick feet on the ring proved an albatross for the 28 year old adversary and Ali came back home an Olympic champion for the light heavyweight category.

ALI OLYMPICS

The heroic feat of the youngster had blown fame his way—overnight, as the games were transmitted to millions back home on television for the first time. Despite his stance against racism and segregation that characterized the time, Ali was proud of his medal. He hung it on his neck wherever he went, but not for long.

Cassius got back and signed a $10,000 bonus and $333 salary contract with The Louisville Sponsoring Group. Three years on after winning a bevy of bouts, the most important thing was to be the world champion before the age of 23. His mission was to dethrone the then heavyweight champion, Sony Liston.

Liston, 31, dubbed “The Bear” was a fiery adversary; an ex-con whose upbringing was rooted in poverty, eventually getting involved in armed robbery and doing time in the penitentiary. Liston’s indigent raring and time behind bars bequeathed him with a toughness that emitted hopelessness into the psyche of his opponents. But Cassius couldn’t be impressed; instead he tormented Liston with his unbridled tongue saying that “Liston’s not a champion, I am. He’s got my job.  He’s too ugly to be a champion.”

At first, Liston will not take the youngster seriously, but Ali wearied him with his stinging words. Liston will later agree to fight Clay in what was later adjudged to be one of the greatest upsets in boxing history.

When Clay emerged as champion against the odds, he announced his reign the world, “I am the greatest; I shocked the world!”

ALI SHOCK

Liston would still come out in the losing end in the rematch that only lasted one round. Cassius didn’t want any excuses and urged his rival to “get up and fight” as he collapsed to the hapless canvas behind.

Cassius stock was on the rise, and after Sony Liston came Floyd Patterson. The former had joined the Black Muslim Separatist Movement as Cassius X before acing Sonny Liston but just before he will fight Patterson, he suddenly declared that Cassius Clay is a slave name and he chose to be addressed as Muhammad Ali on November, 22, 1965.

Ali positioned himself as a Black Muslim evangelist and objected to serving in the military for the Vietnam War. The consequence of his stance was not small—selective service evasion attracted five years imprisonment and a fine of $10,000.  Ali was convicted but was soon released on bail as he appealed the decision, never doubting the ability to get a fair result.  But he was not allowed to do what he knew how to do—fight. He was also excoriated of his titles. The license seizure of Ali spanned three years in what was the prime of his career.

The suspension of Ali was revoked in September 1970 when a federal court declared that the New York State Athletic Commission’s suspension of his license “constituted arbitrary and unreasonable departure for the commission’s established practice of granting licenses to applicants convicted of crimes or military offenses.”

ALI AND KING

Ali returned, ready to put the past behind him and forge on. The toll of not fighting for such a long time would always have consequences especially when the ex-champ’s ambition would be to reclaim the world title at the snap of the finger. Not so fast.  Ali had lost the lethal speed that made him indomitable on the ring. He had also gained 10 to 15 pounds and added a few inches along his biceps.  He would face Joe Frazier who had become the world heavyweight champion and undefeated like Ali in was dubbed, “Fight of The Century.”  It is worthy to note that Ali had a way of fusing his ideologies and his stance as the liberator of the blacks into his fights. He declared that “my mission is to bring freedom to 30 million black people. I’ll win this fight because I have a cause. Fraizer has no cause.”

Come March 8, 1971, in a fight that guaranteed $2.5 million for each fighter, it was Ali who was struggling to get up in the final 15 rounds. He had registered the first loss of his career.

ALI FIGHT OF CENTURY

His quest to getting back to the top was not always going to be a roll over. He had many other fights, building his invincibility but also suffered his second loss to Ken Norton, a heavy weight fighter who had never combated a world-class heavy weight fighter in his life. Ali would get his revenge in a rematch before actually doing same to Joe Fraizer—even though the latter was a unanimous decision.

If there was one fight that would restore Ali’s supremacy, nay greatness, it was his squaring up with the then heavyweight champion, George Foreman in the “Rumble in The Jungle” fight in Kinshasa, Zaire. Foreman was an Olympic hero from the 1968 Olympic, winning a gold medal in the heavy weight category. He was younger and was the favorite to defend the title considering that he knocked out the fighters Ali had to win on unanimous decisions. Yet Ali showed his genius and consolidated his place in the annals of boxing greats when he overturned the odds with his “rope a dope” tactics before an 80,000 mammoth crowd .He would defend his title ten times in the space of three years and would go on to fight his loathed foe, Joe Fraizer in the “Thrilla in Mannila” that lasted 14 rounds. Ali later confessed that “it was the closest thing to death.”

ALI RUMBLE

After the Manilla, the end was not too far away; though Ali defended his championship six times, he eventually lost to the emerging Leon Spinks. In 1978, seven months afterward, Ali defeated Spinks in a rematch to claim the heavyweight title, becoming the first man to do so for the third time. He announced that time that he was going to quit. But for a bloke who is never afraid to take up any opponent, life outside the ring was always going to be insipid, and so he rescinded his decision two years later.

The quest to trudge on at the ripe age of 38, proved that even the finest of us, while still encumbered with flesh and blood, are at best, vulnerable— and the very thing that made them great could also plot their plummet.  As the fighter in the champ prevailed over his reasoning, he took a position that was antithetical to the notion that it is always good to bow when ovation was loudest. If one is to believe the near myth that Ali’s Parkinson’s disease syndrome that would later suffice in his life was exacerbated by the punches he absorbed throughout his career, estimated to be around 29,000, it was the bashing in the latter years that should get more portion of the blame .Ali was spent— and his best days were behind him. If the comeback against his former sparring partner and protégé Larry Holmes was his nemesis, his final fight against a 27 year old Trevor Berbick, just a month to his 40th birthday, mimicked the proverbial camel that broke the horses back.

ALI FINISHED

Ali bemoaned afterwards that “Father time caught up with me. I’m finished. I know it’s the end. No excuses this time, but at least I didn’t go down. No pictures of me falling through the ropes.”  That was an unhappy ending to a glittering career with a professional record of 56 wins, 5 losses, 37 knockouts.

Ali was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984 and surreptitiously, the debilitating effect of it will set in.  For a fighter who not only tamed challengers with his menacing fist, but was as vicious in his verbal jabs, watching him become barely audible and finally mute was heart-wrenching.

Ali would later beam light on the hitherto obscure ailment by not only attracting attention to it through his fame, he fought on for over the remainder three decades of his life, creating the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center while soaring his reputation as a philanthropist around the world.

When the United States would host the Olympics in 1996— thus recreating the stage where Muhammad Ali was once announced to the world, the world saw him defy the tumultuous ailment that shook him ravenously as he ignited the flames for the ancient games.

In the height of the segregation meted out to men of color in the mid-sixties when Ali became the rock of Gibraltar against prejudice, it was said that he discarded his medal into the bottomless abyss of the Ohio River. Whether the would-be artifact will someday be retrieved or be found in the belly of a forlorn aquatic inhabitant, remains an incubus for  future divers, but his elusive medal was replaced by the Olympic committee in the homecoming Atlanta 1996 fiesta.

ALI

In the history of the world, only a few people were photographed like Muhammad Ali. Yet even in that enviable ilk, he stands out. Love him or hate him, he proclaimed and lived his greatness, and when disease came, it could not dent the story of the lad who took the world by storm… and lived the dream; the prettiest, the fanciest, the greatest!

O.P. Philips is a freelance writer and an entrepreneur. He the author of The “OBAMA” in You! and runs the What Football Teaches  Blog

 

 

 

 

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My Prison Experience 2

PRISON CELL

The praise and worship session became intense as we continued to fellowship at the prison chapel. My eyes encountered some grim faces as I looked into the congregation. But the officials in the prison church were the ones that impressed me. Their decorum was topnotch and if I had my druthers, I would have given them parole. They particularly didn’t allow the inmates to come too close to us and as the song was going on, I continued my keen observation. I looked outside from the window right behind me and spotted some guys sitting on a block that looked more like a boys quarters than a cell block— they were having a chat and doing some chores. Some wearing jalamia and others in shorts and normal dresses. I didn’t see any one in uniform. Some were even fetching water in the nearby well. I jolted back to full concentration since this was prison and didn’t want to get carried away.  We were not the only church that was visiting—it was actually a turn by turn thing. The pastor that had the nod before us was also from our denomination but another parish. He was introduced by the officials of the church (inmates) who kept giving us all the preferential treatment they could muster.

PRISON WALL

This pastor started off in a fiery  cadence,  emitting salvos in the message he titled, “Excess baggage.” He warned his listeners, ‘I am not hear to pet you or to say something that you would like. Some of the things I’d say would make you uncomfortable. Some of you are where you are today because of the excess baggage that you carry. You wanted to lead a fast life and you had bad friends.” The pastor went on and I listened with rapt attention as many moaned under their breath. But while I agreed the point he was making—let’s face it, a lot of folks in prison deserve to be in prison, my reasoning refused to take the pastor’s word for it! Does everyone here actually deserves to be here? Are some not just here because of some minor offenses that shouldn’t have warranted more than just a fine (in which case some may not have been able to afford) or some community service? I contemplated if this “excess baggage” that the pastor was hammering on   wasn’t one we all carry as citizens of this nation christened Nigeria. I wondered what would be said of a Nelson Mandela, or to bring it home, an Olusegun Obasanjo– if this pastor had visited the prison when the former president was locked in  for a phony coup d’etat he didn’t commit, if he would have suggested that he was carrying an “excess baggage”?  After the preacher’s message, he called for folks who would like to repent and a few wimpish guys came out and were prayed for.

Prison gates

 I soon noticed that some inmates  were standoffish outside. They couldn’t care less about what was going on in the chapel. One particularly came to the window where we were and was insulting another one who was inside, ‘Na you be hungry man na. Me I no need anybody to feed me before I chop,’ he said in Pidgin English. Intermittently, someone would come and raise a wooden placard with a name on it. I concluded that it meant that that person’s attention was required.

 Our turn to address the expectant inmates came. Donald(not his real name) mounted the podium amidst a rapturous applause. He used to be one of them and was only released in June. He was in an ebullient mood and had been so since we came in. it was like homecoming for him and his passion for the inmates was palpable. He narrated how he was discharged and acquitted for a murder case after spending over three and a half years awaiting trial and how he had no one to run while in prison other than his new found Christian faith. He also thanked us profusely as a church for helping reinstate him back to society. His testimony really got into the congregation.  He told them that if they believed in God, He is able to deliver them from whatever circumstances they may be facing. A thunderous “Amen” ricocheted and threatened to raise the roof. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good!’, he exclaimed. I felt touched by his moving testimony and gave him a handshake when he retired to sit down beside me.

As Donald left,  another of our brothers came up. He had also done some time in prison—albeit outside Nigeria…. At least he has an experience of what it feels like to be lonely in prison. He admonished the inmates to make use of their time while behind bars to improve their relationship with God because “there are so many distractions out there and here is quiet.” He also broke the news that we’d lost the initiator of the church’s  prison ministry, telling the inmates, they were her last assignment…. A hush silence reigned momentarily. We finally had our sermon for the day by one of our sisters. As she preached on I continued to collect as many data as I could and at the same time, I couldn’t wait for her to finish so that we could take our leave! I also checked my tag intermittently. I had seen despondency etched on the faces of men, I’d  seen filth, I’d seen people excoriated of dignity and I thought that this shouldn’t be….

WALL PRISON

After the final speaker, the pastor who was clad in a fine polo over a tucked in jeans while wearing a black leather wrist watch rounded off with a prayer session and told his fellow inmates to look beyond the food they were there for and get what would last them for the long haul. He thanked us and acknowledged the work we were doing and it was time to go. While we were going, I saw a particularly young dude coming to meet one of our coordinators; he was coming from where he went to write  his G.C.E. papers. I thought that was impressive. Donald was busy having talks with a lot of his acquaintances who wanted to either get something from him or get across to their loved ones. As we left, our coordinator said to me, ‘are you sure you’ve gotten enough for your story or would you just like to stay with them for one week?’ I smiled and quickly told him that I was fine and would make up anything I didn’t get with my imagination!

We were seen off by the pastor and I tucked in something for him and he thanked me. But I noticed that no matter how well dressed he was, he couldn’t pass the gate. At that moment I appreciated my freedom. I have often contemplated in my closet if any man warrants to be deprived of his freedom, if the man who first suggested the idea of a prison should not be imprisoned for such iniquitous innovation, but sadly, I haven’t come up with a reasonable alternative.

We got to the gate and our tags were requested for and we were checked out.  We all inhaled the breath of freedom as we headed for the bus. But then what I ‘d seen, even though I didn’t get to the cells made me dispirited. All through the journey back, I was asking Donald  what it was like to be in there. He narrated horror. How folks ate badly cooked state beans by 6:00 a.m. in the morning, insipid lunch  and  dinner by 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 pm, the over congestion of the cells, how folks use buckets to defecate and one person (OC Lavatory) would have to dispose it with his hands. How one inmate had his eyes plucked out by another with a spoon. How cell presidents and officials would make life more unbearable for their fellow inmates. How many live in a cell that was built for far less and how the lowliest folks languish  for minor offenses like stealing a goat.  My heart bled and without any circumlocution, I thought this should stop!

While prison shouldn’t be placed with the amenities of a five-star hotel, it shouldn’t be a death zone or a disease-breeding colony either. I hate to sound corny but anyone can have a stint in prison for some reason… or the other. Should that be an end to their lives? Recently, I read an article of an entrepreneur who shared valuable lessons he learned when he was in prison that would never happen in Nigeria for the average Musa. He was able to write his first book, read over 100 books and did some other things he couldn’t do outside. That is far from what obtains here— we get people locked up for years – awaiting trial due to the ineptitude of our justice system. Even convicts are never reformed but dehumanized and stripped of human dignity. Where is our conscience as a people? Why has these gone on for years and yet nothing is being done about it? We cannot continue to pretend that all is well when these sort of injustices go on. People have proffered solutions to these issues of congestion in prison and the government should wake up!  The justice system should be digitized, community services should be available for minor offenses and perhaps, our prisons should be renovated to meet up to internationally acceptable standards.

While groups like my church’s prison ministry and other NGOs would continue to play their part in helping inmates, the imperial power of the state confers on it a greater responsibility to drastically change this situation and I hope the Buhari government will do something about this ignoble injustice, especially with a vice-president that is not oblivious of these things. The way we treat ourselves as a people must change, more so, people in prison. It would reflect the value we place on ourselves as a people and in turn, determine how others (nations) would treat us…

O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.

My Prison Experience…

PRISON

For over two hours two Saturdays ago, the prison gates of one of the biggest jails in Lagos was shut against me and I had a glimmer of experience of what it is like to be behind bars in the most populous black nation of the world. My spell in the high walls of a penitentiary never occurred because I did a crime or was apprehended for wandering like some are—fortunately, I was only visiting with some members of my church who had made it a cause to always visit these forlorn ilk behind bars.

Only recently, I started working on an anthology of thirteen short stories and one of the accounts I chose to write on was an ordeal of a young man who inadvertently found himself behind bars after committing culpable homicide. While prepping for this, I naturally read a whole lot about life in Nigerian prisons and the justice system—something that often makes me ill at ease and irked due to the deplorable inhumane conditions that characterized our jails. Even as I wrote the first draft of the story and my mind “imprisoned,” I couldn’t wait to conclude the account and be free again!

In my bid to add verisimilitude to my quest, I mentioned to someone in church that I’m working on a story and I’d like to talk to a gentleman who has just been released and she said, ‘why not come with us next week, we are having a visitation and it would help your story.’ I didn’t jump at the offer: I shrugged, ‘I am not going with you, I just want to find out a few things and I think I have read enough anyways.’ My primal fear for prison engulfed me. But she persuaded me and on the second reflection, I thought it would be hypocritical to be writing about a prison experience without even having the nerve to visit. Thoughts of facing fiery criminals and losing my visitor’s tag (they say if you lose your tag, you wouldn’t be allowed to leave!) dominated my noggin all week and I was trepid to say the least.

prison-wall

So the time came and we set out for the prison, fortified with packs of rice and bottled water (very rare to get in those circles)  because the head of the prison ministry in church passed on in August and her last wish was to spend her birthday with the inmates and in the usual Christian fashion, we said our prayers and headed out for the mission.

The journey didn’t really take so long and I was flummoxed that this prison was situated  right within town, in a highbrow area in Lagos, and there were other houses on the street. I imagined what it would be like to be living on a street that has prison on it in Nigeria—whether one will not be whisked inside someday for little crimes like not paying your security levies. Not too long after, we got to the frontage with armed mobile policemen marauding the territory while directing us. One young soldier particularly motioned on an armored tank. I was really wondering whether the bloke was really ready to fire or distracted by the sight of visitors as our eyes colluded. I didn’t bother to find out. We alighted from the bus with the goods and our coordinator spoke to the guards and not too long after, the narrow green prison gates were opened as we packed everything inside. The atmosphere was already stifled of freedom. One you would expect from such place. I had gussied up in a well ironed shirt and tried to looked as (presidential) distinguished  as I could as I do not want to be mistaken for an inmate ( most of the inmates don’t wear uniforms)! As we accessed the prison reception that overlapped the main gate and the inner gate that led to the prison yard, I could already see some inmates in their threadbare garbs, peeping from afar like they wanted to know who we were.

As all the formalities were exhausted, the ladies among us were told to go to the female warders be searched while we were handled by their male counterparts. They inquired if we had  phones, ATM Cards, memory cards as they do not allow those but we had already left all ours in the bus. I looked at one of the warders whose cheerfulness I didn’t buy. As he searched us in he said in a sarcastic tone that won’t be surprising for a jailer, “We have to ensure that you will not be the ones to compromise our security here.” I shook my head in mock understanding. We were then given the visitor’s tag—it was no tag, just a piece of paper and for some, a square plastic that indicated we were visitors. We didn’t sign in and I wondered why. Soon we were ushered into the prison yard—I took a deep breath as I ensured that my tag was safely kept in my left pocket. I also placed my hands on it to ensure that I don’t gamble my freedom! As we got in, just by the side of the gate, we saw a soccer pitch! Inmates were enjoying a game with a visiting team on the bumpy green turf as others watched on. I wondered where the visiting players kept their tags—especially as they mingled more with inmates on their home ground….

Prison gates

As the second gate to the prison yard was locked, we were now literally in prison! I remembered the series, Prison Break and hoped no one will be planning a jailbreak that time! Not long after, a good-looking bespectacled young man and another older one came to welcome us and asked us to follow them. I was shocked that they were also inmates! Soon we could see a throng of inmates seated or standing at the nooks and crannies of the yard— I kept a relaxed face and tried not to look into their faces, but then I saw young and mid-age faces starring like a pack of hyena on the watch out for a prey as we walked past them. As we attained the church in the yard situated right beside a cell block,  I thought, ‘Hmm… so this is prison, it’s not as bad as I thought…!’ I would later learn that the bell would still ring and folks would be locked up again and more horror will go on inside, especially for the hapless. We only came when it was free time for folks to roam within the yard and have some fresh air, if any….

There was nothing desirous inside this church except for the circular whitish clock that hanged hopelessly on a wall that was clamoring for a touch of paint– it must really matter in the circles where folks are doing time. I also observed the decrepit instruments and a worn lectern reserved for the preacher. We were ushered to a special pew and I looked at the faces of the congregation: young, mid-age, old… some made me marvel if we were really in prison…. My eyes panned like an HD digital Camera and closed in on a particular young man, his hair was well combed and his countenance was fresh and he reminded me of how Daniel must have looked after refusing to munch Nebuchadnezzar’s delicacy. This guy sat down quietly trying to maintain what was left of his dignity. Most didn’t look like that. The full weight of their plight hung on their faces like a logo of a company on the homepage. Minutes after we got in, the food that we had brought was transported into the auditorium. The inmates trooped in in droves like hens do at the sight of corn. The song that beamed from the loudspeaker was the not the best I’ve heard in a long time, yet the congregation danced and sang loud even though you could tell that most were there because of the food. I’m not particularly famed for my dancing steps, but I had to summon a few and feigned enjoying the moment (while I was like what the heck… is going on here!) I thought I needed to do that. After all these inmates were looking at us and we were supposed to bring them hope… nay, the good news….

To be continued….

O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.

Yes Boss! Why Oliseh is the right man for the Super Eagles Job.

OLISEH COACH

For eons now I have been clamoring that one of the best coaches that fit the bill of being the national coach of the Super Eagles of Nigeria is Sunday Ogochukwu Oliseh. I wished for this not only because I had been a great admirer of the former Super Eagles captain and fierce midfield combatant, it is also because I sensed that he has what it takes to become a successful coach.

So you can imagine how elated I was when the Nigerian Football Federation announced the sack of the former coach, Stephen Keshi, and later announced Sunday Oliseh as head coach. Many were skeptical about this move—citing that Oliseh is not experienced enough to fill in such a big shoe  and should have been tested with the Under-23 Team or the Flying Eagels. But I felt that that is hoax because he is more than qualified to do the job.

Indulge me if you believed Keshi was good enough but for me I never really liked the man as a coach. Let’s get this sorted— I didn’t doubt that Keshi had some football acumen and had shown it with the teams he had handled across Africa, but there is this lax about him—something that is accentuated by the way he chews gum and pick his words while answering queries from the press as if he didn’t want to say them; something that suggests to me that he had taken his job for granted. In Stephen Keshi, I didn’t see a coach who is technically astute or who is really hungry to take our football to the height it once was. It is true that Keshi won the Nations Cup for Nigeria— but it is not just about winning a trophy that has arguably plummeted in standards—it is about the attitude a coach is able to instill in the players who wear the national colors of the most populous black nation and the kind of football they play.

OLISEH 2

Sunday Oliseh has always been a pragmatic guy—a disciplined and fearsome leader. No one would forget the passion he puts on when playing for the super Eagles in his heydays. He was assiduous in the midfield and shrewd with his long accurate passes. It would be criminal to forget the pass that he gave to Emmanuel Amunike in the Tunisia ‘94 Nations cup final, or how he rescued Nigeria from crashing out after he came off the bench in the final moments of the quarterfinal game between Nigeria and Senegal in Nigeria/Ghana 2000 Nations Cup and delivered one of his long trademark passes to Julius Aghahowa, who fired home and sent fans in the National Stadium Surulere rambunctious. That heroics would have been normalcy if not that he was sick that day which was why he was omitted from the starting line up in the first place. When Nigeria would lose the final to the indomitable lions of Cameroon, after coming back from two goals down and forcing a penalty shootout, Oliseh would wail inconsolably like a child whose biscuit was forcefully taken from him as he penitently received the runners-up trophy. The man had passion!

OLISEH

Passion, however, is never enough – competence is everything. The moment Oliseh called it quits with his colorful career as a professional player, having had stints with eight clubs across Europe, one that made him a polyglot and has won him laurels—he started prepping for the next stage of his career—getting his coaching badges, something he shared in his TEDxEuston talk a while ago and I also hinted on in a blog I wrote about Emmanuel Adebayor and his family. Oliseh obtained all the football badges at the highest level and that simply makes him qualified to do the job! Apart from having his dossier filled with coaching certificates, Oliseh also had a stint coaching in a Belgian club. If you look around the world today, you would see that the most promising coaches are those of Sunday Oliseh’s era. Who would forget in a hurry that ferocious winner that Oliseh fired home for Nigeria to beat Spain in the France ‘98 World Cup? The former Juventus and Ajax midfielder battled the likes of Luis Enrique, Fernando Hierro, Andoni Zubizarreta (who conceded that goal!) and others in that game—folks who are now top coaches and football administrators today.

There are many coaches who have succeeded and have never really had any remarkable “experience.” And examples abound: Pep Guardiola, Didier Deschamps, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Roberto Di Matteo and even Luis Enrique who just won a treble in his first stint in a top club. Forget experience, knowledge is what matters and with the right support, Oliseh should be able to do a good job. He has the discipline and toughness to instill seriousness into any player and having played at the apogee of his trade, he would not be intimidated or compromised by the fortune of his subjects. My only fear is that would he be allowed to the job without interference? Would the NFF support him as they should and not try to frustrate him when he takes decisions that may not tickle them? All the answers we seek lie in the days ahead.

O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.

Dangote buying Arsenal—  The Billionaire’s mindset

DANGOTE SHREWD

Each time I read about the unquenchable desire of the richest man in Africa  and the the 67th richest man in the world to buy one of the most glamorous football clubs in the world—I get somewhat giddy. Whether it’s because the cement and sugar magnate is a Nigerian, or that I have fantasized also buying off Manchester United –in my wildest rumination—I just relish the prospects of Aliko scooping up the Emirates Stadium and adding it to his ever-burgeoning empire. And I have no shred of doubt that he can achieve it.

A lot of reactions have trailed this desire of the world’s second most influential black man, both at home and abroad. Some here have argued that Dangote has shown some unpatriotic tendencies by deciding to take away the billions that he made here and plunge it into an already affluent society. For them, they’ll rather have him invest in the Nigerian league in order to help it grow better.

Some foreigners have also opined that Dangote should use his fortune to better the lots of his people as they reasoned that Arsenal already have billionaire stake holders and another billionaire taking over the franchise would not make any difference in their quest to contest for laurels and honors. Many of them were not even looking at it from a football perspective; they just dread the prospect of a foreigner claiming their once cherished heritage.

Firstly, let me address those fanning the flame from home. I do not think the magnate’s desire has got anything to do with patriotism. No one would require any schooling to know that football is big business these days and it is governed by the basic rules of commerce. There is no sentiment attached. It is a multi-billion dollar empire being run by oligarchs and organized systems. Dangote, of course, would pitch his tent to the Nigerian league if he finds it lucrative. So rather than censuring the man’s desire to acquire Arsenal—a desire fueled by sheer ambition and business prospects(Arsenal is going to be a money spinner and a wise investment) — those who run the Nigerian league should put their house in order and make the league become attractive and a lucrative investment for sponsors—including Dangote. Some years ago, it was all over the news of the rife between the then league sponsors– Glo, and the league administrators such that matters had to be taken to the court! If Dangote had been running his business on sheer sentiments order than shrewd decision-making acumen of a tycoon, he surely wouldn’t have amassed the kind of wealth he had acquired. Get your house in order and watch the money roll in.

DANGOTE AND DAUGHTER

For the foreign Arsenal fans and those who shrug at the prospect of another foreign billionaire coming in because they see their clubs as their heritage, I think they are also in some form of denial. Everyone who follows football knows that most of the top clubs in the Barclay’s Premier League today are owned by foreign oligarchs and dynasties—from Manchester United to Liverpool. It’s the trend and that’s what you get from globalization. I recall many years back when Roman Abramovich showed up to buy Chelsea, not many would have predicted the success his era would bring to the club and subsequently English football. Today, just in about a decade, Chelsea has won almost everything there is to win in club football and they are even the current English Champions! Besides, just in case you didn’t know, Dangote today is twice as rich as Abramovich! He has an ambition to steer Arsenal from the path of winning FA cups as consolation to really competing in Europe and winning the league. Dangote would probably bring the same passion and business adroitness that he puts in his sugar and cement business and put Arsenal on the map once again —after all, which football fan would not want a monopoly of trophies for their club!

EMIRATES

Now let’s look at this whole thing in another way: I believe that are things to learn from Dangote’s desire to buy Arsenal—something I would  put as the billionaire’s mindset and I’ll share a few.

Daring: Of course you’d suspect to be better-off than about 99% of the rest of the world’s population would require some audacity. And Dangote is showing every bit of it. He is reiterating his ambition to own Arsenal— and he is saying it with some cockiness as if Stan Kroenke and other shareholders have no choice than to game. Billionaires don’t see impossibilities and it’s not just because of their deep pockets, it’s because where ordinary mortals cringe and fear the lion in the street—they move on with gusto—something that elevated them them to the billionaire status in the first place.

Sense of Timing: Billionaires are very calculative. It was said that this was not the first time Dangote has shown interest in buying into Arsenal. The first time, he had thought that the stocks were too pricey but now his instinct is telling him to do business because after the building of the Emirates stadium, Arsenal books are pretty healthy now and looks like a good spot to invest in!

They want to leave a legacy: Dangote buying Arsenal would compound his status in the league of billionaires and his fame would skyrocket. I can imagine him coming in every while, sitting at the VIP stand at the Emirates stadium, swathed in his natty suit that beclouds his fortune, and smiling once in a while as Arsenal players mesmerize with their sexy style of play.  As the richest fella in Africa, he cannot be dubbed a local champion by any means, but getting Arsenal would  consolidate his place in the pack of fellow deep pockets!

They inspire others: Success breeds success. No one would be inspired by a man who failed—except that man was able to launch a comeback. It reminds me of one quote I shared on my Facebook page: “Good players inspire themselves, great players inspire others,”— in other words, great people inspire others. I can imagine how many kids in Nigeria and all over Africa would be inspired to be like Dangote if he acquires Arsenal. This would also be a good PR for Nigeria and it would inspire other compatriots home and abroad to make exploits. So carry on, Mr. Dangote— I’ll be rooting for you!

O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.

FOUL! FIFA: Rule Makers or Rule Breakers?

FOUL

 There are two basic laws, they say, that governs the existence of mankind: the rules of God and the rules of man; if you want to survive, don’t break them!

I will not attempt to embark on the onerous task of elucidating the former as it can prove to be daunting and obscure—I will, however, spotlight a little bit on the rules of man.

For example, part of the rules of man is the constitution that governs every sovereign state—one that each citizen within that sovereignty is bound by no matter how powerful or lowly they may be. It should also be in the context of good reasoning to suggest that in the category of the rules of man – are the rules of organizations—one that governs the ethics and conducts of its operations and operators. For example, organizations like The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

Let’s state the obvious so that we don’t err as a function of assumption, that FIFA is the world’s governing football body. It is saddled with the responsibility of managing football affairs in the world and within its member countries. It publishes the 17 fundamental rules that govern football and it regulates the code and conduct of member countries and her word is lord as far as football is concerned on this planet. Having said this however, a wave of consternation and befuddlement assails one when you learn that those who make the law are the ones breaking the law—or aptly, the rule makers have become the rule breakers!

Over the years there have always been allegations of gross misconduct among the ranks of FIFA officials and we’ve read about how FIFA itself would set up investigative committees to look into these charges of corrupt practices and some have been axed for shady deals, the magnitude of the monumental corruption didn’t dawn on many, except folks like the investigative journalist Andrew Jennings who blew the lid off and exposed FIFA misdemeanors , which includes taking bribes to allocate hosting rights to nations, money racketeering, ticketing frauds and secret seven-figure perks for the executives.

Recently, FIFA itself started making more headlines than the stars and football action as the season wounded to an end—the show organizers have become the show men! On May 27, 2015, Swiss authorities closed in on some top FIFA executives who have been under investigation by U.S. officials and they were nabbed from their plush 5-star hotels into the confines of the authorities, now awaiting an extradition to the United States for further trial. It was reported that the U.S. have substantial evidence to prosecute the FIFA helmsmen for a racket totaling about $150 million over a period of 24 years.

When I first heard the news of the FIFA scandal, especially as the flame is being fanned by U.S. authorities, I had reservations stemmed from the notion that this could just be another way the World power is using to get their pound of flesh from FIFA executives for their failed bid to host the world cup in 2022. But that impression gave way when FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the controversial figure at the helm of football governance for almost two decades now, relinquished his mandate just four days after being reelected, citing that “while I have a mandate from the membership of FIFA, I do not feel that I have a mandate from the entire world of football—fans, the players, the clubs, the people who live, breathe and love football as much as we all do at FIFA.” Now when Blatter resigns, it only tells you that the heat is getting more intense!

While trying to find out more what’s going on, I read about the works of an investigative journalist, Andrew Jennings. who first gave the U.S officials a tipoff about the underhanded dealings going on in FIFA in 2006 when he published his book, “FOUL! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals.” This unrelenting old reporter also released a BBC film panorama that same year titled, “The Beautiful Bung: Corruption and the World Cup.” In 2014, Jennings released another book, “Omerta: Sepp Blatter’s FIFA Organized Crime Family”

Jennings Who has the instinct for sniffing shady business is famed for his works as he had worked on stories relating to organized crime. In the 1980s, he dug into bad cops, the Thai heroin trade and the Italian mob. In the 1990s, the 71 year old reporter brought the corruption in the International Olympic committee to full glare. It was his works that unraveled the FIFA machinations and soon enough the gentlemen of the FBI contacted him and proper investigations began. As soon as he started on FIFA’s case, he had become a thorn in their flesh as he would go to press conferences and rather than limit himself to the clichéd queries of your average Joe sports writer—FIFA president got questions like, “‘Herr Blatter, have you ever taken a bribe?’”

South African football association has also come out to deny that they paid $10million in bribes for the hosting of the 2010 World cup but the authorities believe that not everything has been heard about the way FIFA has been awarding hosting rights to nations. In recent times, the controversy surrounding the awarding of hosting rights to Russia in 2018 – a country that doesn’t attempt to hide its homophobia for example, and Qatar in 2022, where the heat is so much that the World cup calendar had to be shifted to the winter, something that is still stirring controversy in its wake as the rest of the football world are agitating that it would upset the football calendar. All these have fallen to the deaf ears of the FIFA bosses—we can now speculate why.

While Sepp Blatter has not been indicted yet, Andrew Jennings believes it’s only a matter of time. Now there’s a likelihood that the FIFA bosses will be going for a playoff in the United States and Jennings have no pity for them, “It’s nice to know that Herr Blatter won’t be able to sleep tonight. And that he’ll finally get to sleep around half past five. And at six o’clock someone will slam a car door outside and he’ll be shooting out of bed and under the bed. Serves him right. He’s not a nice man.” And he hopes to be out there in the United States when the Play offs begin, “I just hope I can afford the airfare to New York and that someone will let me sleep on their couch so that I can be there in the [courthouse] press box to say, ‘Hi guys! It’s been a long run, hasn’t it?’”

As FIFA tries to sanitize its house by a total overhaul of leadership and operation, we lovers of football would only hope that sanity will be brought to the game we love so much and the stigma of these criminal acts of the men who made the rules obliterated from our sport. Let those who break the rules pay the price, and for those guys in FIFA, it’s time up—after all, they should know better that when the referee blows the final whistle, there’s no going back.

 O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.

The Battle For La Orejona (Big Ears)

The Champions League trophy is pictured before the soccer match between Schalke 04 and Valencia in Gelsenkirchen March 9, 2011. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender (GERMANY - Tags: SPORT SOCCER) Picture Supplied by Action Images *** Local Caption *** 2011-03-09T192509Z_01_INA100_RTRIDSP_3_SOCCER-CHAMPIONS.jpg

All is now set for the biggest game of the season, the 60th of Europe’s apex competition and the 23rd season since it was renamed from the European Champions Club’s cup to the UEFA Champions League, holding at the Olympiastadion in Berlin on Saturday evening between the Old lady, Juventus and Blaugrana, FC Barcelona. The two heavy weights will do battle for La Orejona—the trophy nicknamed “the big ears” in Spanish because of the shape of its handle. Who will go home with Europe’s biggest price and be crowned 2015 champions of Europe?

On Saturday night in Berlin, the best of the best will display their propensities before the mammoth crowd that will seat in the sold out 74,475-capacity Olympiastadion, while millions more will be enjoying the action from their TV sets around the world. If there is one game that can define careers and destinies of players and coaches, this is the one.

There is no going back now and no time for elaborate build-ups; come 7:45 P.M., British time , the stage will be cleared and it’s only a matter of time before we will see those whose eyes will be dripping with tears of joy while cackling their delight in the ecstasy of triumph. The time would soon be ripe for us to see those who will lament in hush agony and bemoan their bad luck and the cruelty of fate on them—it is only a matter of time.

UEFA

All eyes are now focused on the fledging career of two promising coaches—Luis Enrique and Massimiliano Allegri. Will Luis Enrique join the ranks of young successful coaches like Josep Guardiola and Frank Rijkaard and add icing on the cake in a season where he had already won the La Liga and the Copa Del Rey with the attacking machinery of Messi, Suarez and Neymar (MSN)? Will he achieve the feat of winning the treble in his first season in charge and even pave the way to collect more trophies like the Super Cup and The World Club Cup?

Massimiliano Allegri, Juve’s boss, is also having the time of his life, winning the Scudetto and the Coppa Italia. He would fancy his chances to lead the Old Lady of Turin to the Champions League final after 12 years of absence at the biggest stage. Remarkably, he has been able to instill the Old Lady with some grit reminiscent of what we used to know of Italian football. That enabled Juventus knock off the champions Real Madrid in a closely contested two-legged game with former homeboy – Álvaro Morata proving to be the nemesis of Los Blancos and their albatross to a lustful agenda of conquering Europe for the eleventh time. Juventus will seek to win the Champions League for the third time in their eighth Champions League final.

In the ranks of the Juventus players is a caustic blend of youth and experience—players who have graced games of this magnitude time after time—Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez, Patrice Evra . When it comes to adding youthful verve—they would be relying on the indefatigable Paul Pogba, the ruthless Álvaro Morata and the assiduous Arturo Vidal amongst the rest of the pack. There’s every reason to keep faith with this Juventus outfit.

champions-league-trophy

To emerge on the victor’s podium tomorrow, the Italians would have to trust the Catenaccio – the vintage Italian tactics. They will need to deprive the adroit Barcelona players of space— and though a daunting feat, how well they do this would determine their success at the end of the game.

While I have enumerated what Juventus must do to pop more champagne tomorrow when referee Cüneyt Çakır from Turkey blows the final whistle, no one needs to be told who the clear favorites are. Barcelona has enjoyed one of the finest decades in their rich history and has won 3 Champions League final among an avalanche of trophies. More so, when you have arguably the best football player ever on your side, you have every reason to be confident, and winning trophies become your right. In Berlin tomorrow, all eyes will be on Lionel Messi, the modest size Argentinian and record four-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner who needs no extra incentive to perform at such grandiose occasion. He would be expected to make endless runs, nutmegs and a series of defence-splitting passes. It would also not be a surprise if he ends up on the scoring sheet and clinch the golden boot; after all he’s found the net in the last two finals of 2009 and 2011 against Manchester United. The Blaugrana also boast of the Brazilian poster boy—Neymar Jr. and the biting Uruguayan danger man, Luis Suarez. One only hopes that the latter would keep his teeth in check at least now that Giorgio Chiellini would not be playing due to injury.

ADIDAS AND UEFA

Soccer fans like me all over the world will be having night pangs and even those who don’t care much are drooling as they await the Champions League anthem filter the air while the players jump out of the dugout and shake out whatever tension that is still harbored in their system. We hope the final lives up to its billing and that it would be one we would remember for years to come.

O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.

http://www.whatfootballteaches.com

So Long, Farewell! (End of a Football Season Reflections)

DROGBA WITH TROPHY

So long, farewell Auf Wiedersehen, goodnight! As the football season reached its climax across Europe last weekend and all the visuals of champions popping champagne in a show of triumph and splendor after a long tedious season dominated the media, I can’t help but recall the music scene in the 1965 classic drama, Sound of Music, where the children of Captain Georg von Trapp entertained their father’s guests while hosting a grand party in their palatial home in a well-choreographed dance while bidding farewell to the encapsulated audience. A simulacrum of the same scene was evoked as some teams celebrated their league triumphs, junketing in the ecstasy of their achievements while other teams who could not help themselves over the course of the season went down to lower divisions— and some others too where promoted in a twist of fortune.

In the English Premier League, it was Hull City who joined the already confirmed Queens Park Rangers and Burnley in the dreaded route to the less lucrative. The new English champions Chelsea finished up with eight points clear of Manchester City after winning their last game against Sunderland and soon sauntered into a delirium as they marked their first league conquest in five years, signaling a sign of a new dawn in the second coming of the Special One. It was a terrific moment as the team that won the championship in 2004-2005 reunited with the current champions. More remarkable was that players like John Terry, Peter Cech and Didier Drogba were all there when this first happened and were there again to witness the highly nostalgic occasion. Mourinho couldn’t help but express his delight over what he thought was a great moment and quickly added that he would like to have a trio of champions from three generations celebrating with him in 2025—hinting how he would love to create a dynasty in the English premier league with the Chelsea outfit. The newly crowned champions later on Monday painted the town blue while parading their trophy with about 70,000 fans trooping out to see their team show off their deserved trophies.

DROGBA 2

In Spain, the Catalan giants too emerged victorious after clinching the title last week and drawing their last game against Deportivo de La Coruña. Luis Enrique’s men are having the time of their life as they could still do the treble this season with two more final games for them in the Copa Del Rey and Champions League. It was however a time to say good bye for veteran midfielder Xavier “Xavi” Hernández who tearfully ended his 25 years relationship with Barcelona. The Spaniard would be joining Qatari side Al Sadd.

Archrival Real Madrid gave Barcelona a good push and only finished just two points behind the competition, with Cristiano Ronaldo clinching the Pichichi with 48 league goals and 61 in all competition, his personal best in a season. The heroics of the world’s best soccer player, however, did not impress Fiorentino Perez and the principalities at the Bernabeu as Carlo Ancelotti, the man who helped the Los Blancos grab the much coveted 10th Champions League triumph, graciously known as La Decima and Copa Del Rey last season suffered the same fate his predecessors have had to endure in the palms of Real Madrid’s board room who can’t take the smack of a trophyless season in the chin!

XAVI

Stephen Gerald had announced his imminent departure to the MLS after a glittering career with the Reds and couldn’t depart in a way he would have wanted as he ended on the wrath of an unforgiving Stoke City side, albeit still with a goal to his name. Although Stephen won everything with Liverpool except the Premier League which literally ‘slipped away’ from his hands when he slipped to give Demba Ba a chance to dent what appeared to be his closest chance to the crown. That would, however, not affect the reputation of this brilliant sportsman who deserves all the accolade he is getting.

GERRARD

Didier Drogba also bid farewell after his successful second spell with the new generation Chelsea. The big Ivorian consolidated his legendary status at the club as he contributed his quota when he was called upon this season to do the job. It was always going to be difficult to match the prowess of his younger years when he tore apart teams in the premiership but his coach—Jose Mourinho—lauded the influence he had on the younger players in the team this term.

Elsewhere, Former teammate Frank Lampard fired home a trademark 10-yarder against Southampton as he also departs for the MLS.

FRANK LAMPARD

As seasons end like this and heroes depart, it reminds you that whatever has a beginning must surely have an end. Things will never remain the same. Some will move on and some will remain. Some will relegate and some will triumph. No matter the situation we find ourselves, however, we must always look forward to a new season—a new phase in our lives when we can become better. Yesterday’s success or failure is no longer valid—a new dawn will come when we will hopefully rewrite our histories for the better!

O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.

Adebayor and Family: Lessons We Can Learn

ADEBAYOR AND MUM

I read with uttermost dismay the other week the post Seyi Emmanuel Adebayor (SEA), the lanky Togolese International and Tottenham Hotspur forlorn striker wrote on his Facebook page where he made some blistering comments about the closest members of his own family— with mother and siblings all getting a scathing scorecard in the expository account. For an international figure like Adebayor, a one-time African player of the year and a very successful footballer who has played for the biggest clubs in Europe, one would have expected such family matters to be kept within the family circles and expect any crack to remain at a speculation level on the pages of gossip tabloids, but for him to go on and post the milieu on his Facebook page that has almost a million followers, which by extension filtered to the whole football circles and beyond, is an anomaly of some sort. Even then one could sense that he must have reached the Rubicon, so putting it out there for the whole world to see and judge, never mind the ignominy, seemed like the most commonsensical thing to do.

If you are a Caucasian or yours is a culture that is self-sufficient, you may not appreciate what is going on here. How could one be responsible not just for his wife and children, but for his grown up siblings, father and mother and all the people he said he looks after? Should he do all that just because he makes much more than the average Joes that surround him? Well that should not surprise anyone who’s African. Ours is a culture that is akin to the early man. We live in communities— and we are committed to one another. Once you’re rich, you’ve signed up to look after others even if they are old enough to look after themselves. SEA mentioned that he pays for his brother’s children’s school fees! That’s the Africa that I know. You never walk alone and there’s a colloquial language for that: ‘if you chop alone, you go die alone!’

ADEBAYOR AND CAR MANSION

While the culture of giving back and looking after your family and kinsmen is typically an African thing—or by extension, a human thing, especially when you go home with the kind of pay professional footballers go home with, woe betide you if you’re surrounded by sharks! Now, many Africans in diaspora just like SEA would agree with this. They have a responsibility to save the world, save their family from poverty, and saddled with that responsibility, they set out on this mission—go out there and get the sizzling dollars. When they get to the freezing streets of London and New York, they carry along with them the fate of many dependents back home.

But more often than not, while many get what they hope for coming abroad—the basic amenities of life: electricity, shelter, food and all other infrastructures, they’ll have to “earn” a wage and pay for what they enjoy. By the time they deduct their expenses from what’s left—there’s little or nothing left to send back home. But in spite of this hurdle, many still go out of their way to get something across to loved ones—ask the banks who manage money transfer schemes.

ADEBAYOR BABA

Getting back to SEA—the one goof that I have deduced from his vitriol is that he’s handed too much cash to his family and those folks have taken it for granted. And I also sense that SEA is not managing his wealth properly. If you read through the story, Adebayor revealed that he has a house in Ghana worth $1.2 Million and he was surprised when he visited to know that his sister had rented out the house without his consent. The left side of my brain is thinking: ‘How can you tie up $1.2 million property and it’s not yielding cash for you in the first place?!’ And should that kind of property be in the custody of your family members or a reputable property management company? Adebayor also talked about giving lots of money to his parents and siblings and yet they didn’t use it for what they said they would use it for. Why would they when they have an uber rich football star who can reload them with cash at the snap of the finger?

Many Africans living abroad fall for this goof— they send money home to their friends and family and they expect them to help them build a house (very common) or invest in a business. A good number of them get their hands burned and lose their relationships with such tacky arrangements because more often than not, the cash would be used for everything other than what it was allotted for—it’s a no brainer.

Last December, Super Eagles of Nigeria ex-captain and Nigerian international, Sunday Ogochukwu Oliseh gave a talk on TEDxEuston titled Education Made the Difference and he shed some light on his life as a footballer—his glittering career, managing his wealth and life after retirement. I believe Adebayor and a lot of people could use the staccato of knowledge he dished out in that one. One day, we would all retire whether we are a super star or an average Joe, living in London or Timbuktu. If we don’t manage our wealth well—we’ll be in for the shock of our lives!

Here are some of the points Oliseh stressed in that talk which can be very useful.

  • Plan for Life after retirement: Adebayor and a few African players love to live large—you can’t blame them—they’ve made a lot of money and coming from an indigent background, may be they have the right to wear their worth on their sleeves and over their necks! But that’s beside the point. Oliseh said in that talk that you should plan for life after retirement because your family would still depend on you afterwards. So continue educating yourself and find new ways to add value. For Oliseh, he metamorphosed into a coach, a consultant, Television pundit and a FIFA technocrat.
  • Use your lazy time: Oliseh emphasized that footballers have what he calls ‘Lazy time’—when they are not really doing much. I think we all can find our ‘lazy time’ too. He admonishes that you should plug into something useful rather than fritter away time. Read or watch something that would add value to you. In short, enlarge your capacity.
  • Don’t give money to your family members! This is the one I love! Don’t just throw the cash at your family, set them up in business. Don’t give them fish, teach them how to fish!
  • Save! Save!! Save!!! The former Juventus and Ajax midfielder stressed that you are as rich as what you save, especially when you make a lot of money like footballers do (or maybe when you make less… I add!).

I hope we all learn a thing or two from this and make the right choices!

 O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.

The “Special” Apprentice and his Philosophical Master

LVG AND MOURINHO 2

Resurging English giant, Manchester United and league leaders Chelsea will lock horns in a promising fixture on Saturday April 18 at the Stamford Bridge. Both teams have been in a good run of form in recent times and would probably set up another scintillating fixture. Manchester United, on their part, got back to winning ways after crashing out of the FA Cup to second place and in- form Arsenal and have gotten more points than all their rivals in the top four fixtures this season which could just have secured them a place in the prestigious top four spot and consequently, a triumphant entry back to the Champions league—something that the board used to plan their budget this year. The Blues hasn’t been the all-firing team we’ve known all season but their fans are not complaining as long as they continue to show the resilience of a champion that has characterized their recent games. Their ability to extract result out of a naughty fixture has kept their rivals at bay and set up a catch-me-if-you-can ending to the league, with just 7 games to cross the finish line. In the past four games or so, Chelsea has shown nerves of a team whose title is theirs to lose—but they’ve also been remarkable in the way they’ve grounded out results and how they have edged out their opponents with the slimmest of margins. Later today, they’ll face a Manchester United that is beginning to find its form and adapt to the philosophy of Iron clad Louis Van Gaal, but would be going to Stamford Bridge depleted, having lost in-form Michael Carrick, Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones to injury and still have Johnny Evans serving the last part of his six- game ban.

Beyond the tantalizing end-to-end stuff that fans would be anticipating in this kind of fixture, the one thing that would add some pizazz to the game as the players file out from the dugout would be the two managers at the helm—Jose Mourinho and Louis Van Gaal. These duo are two big personalities in their own right and have great respect for each other. Louis cut his teeth in the early nineties when he molded a very young Ajax team to become a domestic and European force, winning the Champions League and also adding a runners-up medal. Interestingly, the Ajax team back in the day featured great Nigerian players like the artistic Kanu Nwankwo and the finishing—George Finidi. Beyond the Nigerian connection, his team paraded great Dutch players like: Clarence Seedorf, Marc Overmars, Patrick Kluivert, Michael Reiziger, Jari Litmanen, Edwin van der Sar. Van Gaal developed this possession football which he would later import to Barcelona along with some of his Ajax players. It was there that he crossed path with a young translator—Jose Mourinho.

Jose Mourinho, the man who never had a great time playing football and whose talent was even doubted studied Sports Science in Technical University of Lisbon and attended coaching courses in Britain. Sometime in the early nineties, the polyglot Mourinho became an interpreter for Sir Bobby Robson at Sporting CP and Porto and when Robson got the job to manage Barcelona, he knew “I’m not going to go to Barcelona ill-prepared, am I? I knew taking Jose was going to be an advantage to me, to Barcelona, and of course for him it was wonderful.”

LVG AND MOURINHO 1

As Robson later left the Catalan giants, he left back Jose Mourinho and the guy who took over the job was Louis Van Gaal. When Van Gaal stepped in, it wouldn’t be long for him to decipher the asset in the promising young Mourinho: “His analysis was good. You could see he understood football.” In no time, Jose’s job specification had to change and he was elevated to become a part of the coaching staff. Robson had also noticed the same thing and had even confessed that Mourinho does better analysis than experienced analysts with world cup experiences. LVG, a former school teacher who loves fine details and rigorous analysis, would relish Mourinho’s presentations. Being a man who is not afraid to give youths chances— it was Louis Van Gaal who first gave Mourinho a shot at top level football management as he made him to take charge of friendly games at Barcelona. It was here that Mourinho first learnt how to rub shoulders with larger-than-life players as he was able to coach a galaxy of stars like: HristoStoitchkov, Rivaldo, Luis Figo, and the real Ronaldo.

When Mourinho was given the offer to become an assistant coach in Benfica under Jupp Heynckes, it was Van Gaal who told him to “Pick up the telephone and tell the Benfica president, if he wants you to assist Jupp Heynckes, no. If he wants you to be the manager, I will take you to the airport and you go, because you are ready for that. No more assistant. When you leave me, it is to be a top manager.”

Van Gaal would later express that he was always elated to see Mourinho become the phenomenon that he became. It was this managerial spell that culminated to his rising to become the top coach at FC Porto— where his stock rose so high— clinging the European title and metamorphosing into the Special One. His first stint at Chelsea then took Mourinho to the echelons of his career as winning titles now became second nature. As fate would have it, when Mourinho left to manage Internazionale and grabbed his second European title, it was at the expense of his master who had sent him a text when he first qualified for that final that “I will be waiting for you in Madrid.” The special apprentice that time had become a grand master in his own right and the philosophical master never bore acrimony as his boy denied him of a treble in his spell with Bayern Munich. He knew that these things happen and heartily congratulated Jose.

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Mourinho knows he gleaned a good deal of his football acumen from Louis Van Gaal and while they vie for the same objective and compete in the same space, it hasn’t dampen the camaraderie that had grown between the two and you could sense that he would be eternally grateful for the man who believed in him when every other person thought he was nothing but just a translator.

I as a Manchester United fan would only hope that the master, like the precarious Kung fu masters, would have saved one last kick in his books to knock off the student who has become too good for his master’s liking!

O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.