One Game At a Time!

TROPHY

There are just about eight games left in the English Premier League and the quarter-finals for the UEFA Champions Europe have been fixed—everything is now racing towards the climax of the season. While some leagues are almost a done deal for the league leaders like the Bavarians in Germany and the Old Lady of Italian football, some still leave room for some speculation. In spite of the fact that the Catalan Giants saw the better of the Galácticos in last Sunday’s El Clásico and have gone 4 points clear now, I think that league is still not in the kitty.

Manchester United had their pound of flesh over Liverpool at Anfield with another good performance after walloping Tottenham Hotspur with an emphatic 3-0 a week before. The Red Devils dismissed their archrival courtesy of a spectacular show from Juan Mata whose two finishes were made in heaven. In the second half of that game, outgoing midfielder and club cult hero Stephen Gerald earned some ignominy when he was introduced to the game in the second half and managed to last for just 46 seconds before going for a rash tackle on Ander Herrera that left the Spaniard limping for a while. Although, Daniel Sturridge pulled a goal back, It was a sweet completion of the revenge double over Liverpool this season as United suffered similar fate with them last term; hopefully, Louis Van Gaal’s men can go ahead and qualify for the Champions League next season.

For the league leaders Chelsea, the English Premier League is theirs to lose and the prestigious silverware will be going to Stamford Bridge for the first time in five years if they are able to keep their focus. The Blues did themselves a grand favour by acing Hull City last weekend, having lost a two goal advantage. A strike from Loïc Rémy in the last quarter of the game fumbled by the Hull goalkeeper was all that was needed to take them a step further to their imminent destination. It is worthy of note, however, to say that Chelsea’s form has not been the best lately and they’ve not been crushing teams with the steam and vigor they started the league with. That could be owed to fatigue though, but having won the Capital One Cup and exited the FA Cup and the Champions league, Jose Mourinho’s troop can now focus on wrapping up the league.

 REMY

                          Relief! Loic Remy’s striker gave Chelsea six points cushion

Jose Mourinho is a manager who knows how to win the league and would be fancied to lead them over the murky waters in the remaining nine games that they have. He sure would marshal his team toward taking the games as they come and not just setting their minds on winning the league and allowing a blizzard of pressure to flood in. After the last game, he was cautious to say, “I’m not pretty sure, I’m pretty confident. I believe in my players, I believe that we can do it but I know it’s difficult.”

MOURINHO

                                           Mourinho is experienced enough to take his troop to the finishing line

Talking about winning leagues, Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary coach of Manchester United who won a record 13 league titles in his trophy-laden reign at Old Trafford in his first autobiography “Managing My Life,” talked about not setting your eyes too far ahead when you are trying to achieve a goal. It was the year 1999 when it was becoming apparent that his team could do the treble and the press went agog, fantasizing on how Manchester United was going to achieve this historic feat. When the Boss was confronted with the impending prospect, he recalled that he had nothing to say that was distinct from a shopworn comment of a bluffing football manger.

We were now leading in the premiership and were in the semifinals of both the European cup and the FA Cup, and press speculation about the treble had begun in earnest. Those who asked us to comment on our chances of completing it knew the answer in advance. How could we say anything other than that we would deal with one match at a time? It is better to be clichéd than crazy. Letting the mind skip over immediate assignments and on to future possibilities is a good way to wreck concentration. A rock climber who starts thinking about hand-holds twenty feet above him will take a short-cut to the ground. When I did think two or three games ahead, it was not to conjure up dreams of triumph but with the practical purpose of working out the team changes that might keep us fresh for the recurring challenges produced by pressing forward on several fronts.

TREBLE

                                                 Sir Alex Ferguson and his treble-winning squad

I could also relate with Fergie’s stance on one particular note. My team and I have been trying to set up a website for my forthcoming book What Football Teaches About Life. It was not going to be your run-of-the-mill book website; it was supposed to be a resource site where we could useful lessons from football to highlight how to achieve self and corporate goals. I agonized over how I wanted the site to be topnotch from the outset with all the stuff in place: a sleek homepage, a resource page reeling with tons of EBooks and rich articles from impeccable sources. I also wanted us to have our podcast running, with interviews from elite soccer players, coaches and other relevant people. I wanted everything to be ready at once and for weeks we got stuck in this impasse which was compounded with a false start when the first web designer we got opted out and left us in the lurch. What happened at first was that we had our eyes set on winning the trophy rather than taking it one game at a time. Then one day it hit me like a pang—building a website is like building a house—you’ll take it from the foundation to the roofing— then you can talk about adding the finishing. You usually don’t erect the house in one day except a genie appears before you and ask you to make a wish!

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After that time, I decided that we drop our treble-winning ambition and just focus on our next game without any bells and whistles. That gave me the energy to concentrate and give out the job to another designer. This time around we were lucky to get a topnotch guy and our website is up! Fine, it’s still a work in progress and you can’t even download the free chapter promised yet!  But we’ll build it gradually— the way champions win games— and hopefully, we can get the result that we want.

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.

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The Lionel Messi Show: Thoughts From The UEFA Champions League Second Round

MESSI SHOW FOR REAL

The intriguing second round of the UEFA Champions league was concluded on Wednesday night and eight teams scaled the hurdle for a place in the quarter- finals of the competition. For the second time in three seasons, no English team made it to the last eight as flag bearers, Arsenal, Chelsea and champions Manchester City all crashed out of Europe’s elite competition in one fell swoop.

Only last week, Real Madrid qualified after enduring a scare at the return leg to Schalke when they lost uncharacteristically by 3-4 at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. The job had been done however in the first leg with a 0-2 victory and Los Blancos would hope that they regain the form that made them secure the much coveted La Decima last season.

FC Shakhtar Donetsk had a crash course in football rudiments with instructions coming from the ruthless FC Bayern München side that are sizzling favorites to win the competition. Pep Guardiola’s men were always going to be the favorites to see through the tie, but a 0-0- first leg shielded what was to unfold at the Olympics stadium where the Bavarians put seven goals past their foe to set a UEFA  Champion’s league record.

FC Porto dismissed FC BASEL 1893 by 4-0 to go through with a 5-1 aggregate despite the fact that the former were not with their talisman Jackson Martínez. The first leg had ended 1-1 but goals from Yacine Brahimi, Hector Herrera, Casemiro and Vincent Aboubakar saw them through to the quarterfinals only for the second time since winning the trophy in 2004.

PSG had their pound of flesh over Chelsea after grinding out a 2-2 draw. All Chelsea needed was a scoreless draw on their own soil but their reluctance to take the attacking initiative and penchant for being cautious in the vintage Mourinho style saw them shockingly draw with PSG.

PSG                                           PSG had the last laugh over Chelsea in last week’s game

This week…

Arsenal FC had made a meal of their fixture with AS Monaco in the first leg at the Emirates stadium where they went down 1-3 and the return leg was always going to be a workload. The Gunners, however, buoyed by their FA Cup triumph and a 3-0 dismissing of West Ham, needed to match their last league performance on a foreign ground to go through. The Londoners’ intent was blatant from the blast of the whistle as they showed purpose and took the game to their host with a flurry of attacking displays while putting some good shifts in their rearguard. A goal from Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey, however, wasn’t enough to make them see through a Monaco side that was hanging on but qualified through an away goal.

MONACO                                    Aaron Ramsey scored the second goal for Arsenal but it was not enough!

Atlético de Madrid is “a team that sometimes don’t play well but put their soul into the game,” the charismatic Diego Simeone stressed as they wriggled through a 3-2 dramatic penalty shootout against German outfit, Bayern Leverkusen, defying their history of bad lucks in penalty shootouts in European competitions. Atleti had lost the first leg in Germany through a solitary goal but evened things out through a deflected first half strike by Mario Suárez .

Juventus saw off what was left of a Dortmund’s side that hasn’t much going for it lately with a 0-3 Carlos Tevez inspired victory to go through. The Old lady had won the first leg  2-1 as they cruised to their second quarter-finals in three years.

Finally, welcome to the one and only Nou Camp; if you are just joining us, it’s another enthralling episode of the Lionel Messi Show! If there’s still anyone left on the planet that is still on tenterhooks about the genius of Messi, Wednesday night was your answer. Forget Ronaldo, Messi is the World’s best player – emeritus. The little frame Argentine who fessed up that he had a bad year last year by his own monstrous standards, continued from where he left off at the Etihad stadium, instigating a wave of attacking football and tricky nutmegs that Pep Guardiola  found tantalizing as he watched on from the stands. It was a night where the Catalans were rampant, with their talisman in the mood for party.  In the first half, Messi’s artistic trademark pass from the far right found Ivan Rakitic in the box who  and he chested coolly before tipping over Joe Hart to give Barca 1-0 victory and see them cruise to the quarterfinals for the umpteenth time. Manchester City’s keeper, Joe Hart was the only reason the scoreline was reasonable as he put up a virtuoso performance to stop Messi, Suarez and Neymar from scoring, never mind Sergio Agüero’s spot kick miss. .

MESSI SHOW                                 You’ve had enough! Joe Hart made  brilliant  saves to stop magical Messi

So what were the things I picked from the round of sixteen of the UEFA Champions League? You have it:

Don’t do the right things at the wrong time. Arsenal left it too late and their effort to salvage something on Tuesday night, though commendable, was sheer damage control. They had thought fate had finally smiled on them when they were drawn against French side and were confident to go through, having avoided the precarious Bayern Munichs and Barcelonas of our time. But at the first leg they weren’t really in it to win it— and before anyone could scream Jack Wilshere, their time was up!

Manage pressure. The Special One who couldn’t couch his frustrations had said that his side wasn’t able to manage the pressure of playing at home and being a man up— who would have thought that those seeming advantages could give you pressure! But it really proved to be an albatross and the Blues for once, sank into the tides of the pressure when they were expected to stay afloat!

Don’t play into the hands of the competition—Manchester City loves to play attacking football—that is the philosophy of Coach Manuel Pellegrini, but there’s only one team that’s always going to attack when you play against the Catalan giants— don’t ask me which team, ask  Sir Alex! I thought Manchester City could have made it more compact and stifle play but they chose to sell Ice to the Eskimos by playing attacking football with Barcelona!

Never give in.—PSG were one man down as Zlatan Ibrahimovic was controversially sent off. But they refused to give up against an uncompromising opposition and gave all that they had. When Chelsea eventually scored in the tail end of the game, they responded with their own goal—not once— but twice. Now that takes some wits and they were well rewarded with a place in the quarter-finals!

The quarter-finals draw is on Friday March 20 and it promises to be another scintillating adventure. See you then!

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.

An Emotional Encounter!

DI MARIA

I had feared the worst the day the draws for the FA Cup quarterfinals between Manchester United and Arsenal was made. While the literature on manutd.com had referred to the game as a “mouth-watering” fixture, I didn’t see anything mouthwatering in meeting a team who could pose as Rock of Gibraltar to the only trophy my beloved United could clinch this season! I remember it was this same “mouthwatering” phrase that was preferred when Manchester United was paired against Real Madrid in the second round of the Champions League three seasons ago in the final reign of Sir Alex Ferguson. Manchester United played a pulsating 1-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu in the first leg and was going to finish off Los Blancos in the highly anticipated return leg at Old Trafford. The script had been fine when United went a goal up at the starting of the second half, only for Alvaro Arbeloa to theatrically throw himself on Luis Nani’s highly raised leg while the latter was attempting to tame the ball to his feet. Arbeloa rolled endlessly on the floor while groaning menacingly and the referee fell for his gimmicks—off goes Nani. Everything headed south and United capitulated to the attacking overtures of Madrid through a Luka Modrić strike and the lethal Cristiano Ronaldo who capitalized on the docility of Brazilian right back Raphael to tap home a winner. Even though Ronaldo muted his celebration—he had done the job and United crashed out.

My resentment of a mouthwatering encounter wasn’t necessarily born out of the fact that the Gunners are a very formidable side. Make no mistake, they are a good team that plays attractive football and have a few good players in their ranks, but even in their best form, United have always managed to get the better of them. The sobering statistics that The Gunners has not won in Old Trafford in nine years and has not won in the last eleven games are palpable enough. My reservation stemmed from the fact that United have formed an unimpressive habit of wobbling in the FA Cup for over a decade now since they last won it and it beggars belief that a player like Wayne Rooney doesn’t have an FA Cup medal in his impressive trophy cabinet. As I watched on at the pub (viewing centre!) on Monday, my jitter got some stamp of reality when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wriggled through the shambolic United’s defence in a Messi-like fashion to set up Nacho Monreal in the far left of the penalty box. The Spaniard didn’t panic but adroitly lifted the pink ball to the roof of the net to give Arsenal a shock lead. Manchester United responded a few minutes later when Angel Di Maria initiated a left curling ball from the right wing to find Wayne Rooney whose diving header made him the player that has scored the highest number of goals against the Gunners. The mouthwatering effect, for once, encapsulated the scenery as the faithfuls erupted in a roar of exhilaration.

Manchester United v Arsenal - FA Cup Quarter Final

Rooney’s diving header game Manchester United the equalizer in the first half.

The second half started in a lackluster fashion and on the 61st minute Phil Jones chested a routine ball in the midfield and laid it back for Valencia.The assiduous Ecuadorian tried to retain possession by laying a back pass to the in-form David De Gea, only for him to mishit his pass and sell the shot stopper short. Danny Welbeck, the Longsight bred lad from Manchester who was ferried across to North London in a reshuffling last summer, intercepted the pass with his longish leg and inserted the ball into the hapless net. If that was not horrific enough, the ebony skinned dude defied the time-honored gesture of not celebrating when you score against your old club (One he was since eight years old till about twenty three) and ran in wild jubilation with his large arms in the air as if he was going to fly!

Welboo Celebrating                 Gotcha! Danny Welbeck celebrating his match-winning goal with teammates

United continued to chase the game and in the 74th minute, Di Maria while on his trademark haggling of his markers, was slightly brushed by Aaron Ramsey as he tried to go past him and play halted. Who’s going to take the ensuing free kick from the set play that is likely to follow and give United the much desired equalizer—Di Maria himself or Wayne Rooney? Not so fast— the referee, Michael Oliver, reached for his pockets and flashed a yellow card across the face of the British record summer signing, claiming his fall was a simulation. Angel miffed by what he saw as flagrant injustice protested his frustration and did what I have never seen since I have been watching football. As the referee was making his way out the fold that had gathered, Di Maria tugged back the referee’s shirt in a “hey where the heck do you think you’re going” manner. Oliver, taken aback, would not cower at that attempt to usurp his authority— he flashed another yellow card to send the tricky Argentine winger down the tunnel. United woes chasing the game were compounded by a numerical disadvantage. A mouthwatering encounter has morphed into a nightmare, nay, an emotional encounter!

It was crazy. Why would he react that way when he could have worked away especially when the captain Wayne Rooney was nudging him to remain calm? With that moment of madness, he let himself down, as well as his teammates and his coach Louis Van Gaal who lampooned that “that is not so smart of him.” As I ruminated over this, it won’t take me long to reason that Di Maria lacked emotional intelligence!

ANGEL SEES RED

                                                         Angel sees red after his moments of madness

What is emotional intelligence? It is simply the ability to control your emotions and use it to get the desired results. As humans we are emotional beings. A wave of positive and negative emotions flow through us every day: anxiety, fear, grief, anger, apathy, regret, enthusiasm, empathy, optimism, curiosity, laughter, action. Our ability to sit at the helm of these emotions and be able to use them to our own benefit is one of the greatest keys becoming successful in life. Aristotle once opined that “anyone can become angry—that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way—this is not easy.”

Emotion which is derived from Latin (meaning “set in motion”) has a way of controlling us if we don’t control it. For example, if you wake up on the wrong side of your bed in the morning feeling moody, you’d probably go through the whole day in that mode and it could affect a lot of things. Likewise you would be in charge of your day better if you set the right emotion in the morning—showing gratitude, getting upbeat and looking forward to a great day.

There are so many authorities as there are scholars and books on emotional intelligence and I was also spewing some emotions deciding which authority to use while writing this! But I think I’ll just summarize in my own way:

  1. Self-awareness. You’ve got to be a good student of yourself and know the areas where you are most susceptible. This you could do by having introspection. Positive self-talk is also a good way to do this. Once you become aware of your negative emotion triggers, you practice positive self-talk and say to yourself that when such situation occurs, you’re not going to act negatively and psyche yourself up with positive responses. You can also plan your action on what you are going to do in such times. This is going to take some time but it works.
  2. Take a deep breath. There’s always a gap between stimulus and response where you can control your action. Peter Bregman, bestselling author Four Seconds, All the Time You Need to Stop Counter-Productive Habits and Get the Results You Want, talks about the deep breath, something he got from meditation that helps him to slow down on impulsive reaction and be in control of his emotion. Come to think of it, we all can control our emotions. I’m sure you don’t yell at your boss when he gives you an impossible task because you know you’d be fired! Just before you do it… take a deep breath—you can change your mind in less than two seconds!
  3. Chose to be emotionally intelligent: Now that you know that there are positive and negative emotions, be fully conscious of them and purport to use them to your own advantage. Chose to be a better person; be socially aware and know that only people who are in control of their feelings can get the best they want out of every situation and eventually post success.

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.

Why Always Football? The Idea Behind My New Book

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I woke up last Friday with a brutal determination to complete the book I’ve been scandalously reading for six weeks: Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer by David Winner. I’ve been reading like five other books simultaneously and I somehow got stuck reading this book but I took a stance to kill it that time and it was mission accomplished. Brilliant Orange is one of the materials for my new book, What Football Teaches About Life which I’ve been prepping for as if I’ll get a Pulitzer for my worries. I have  also been reading and enjoying so many books that I’m wondering when I’m going to finish mine and if I’ll even be able to take my narrative to the standard I’m now used to!

Back to the book, Brilliant Orange— man, that was one heck of a brilliant read! The more I read the book, the more it seemed that the book was increasing! So deep and detailed for a 279 page book, giving a neurotic, historic, architectural and even Semitic explanations into what culminated into the formation of Dutch soccer as we know it—or maybe as we don’t know it. I had to scream at some point—it’s OK author, I’m tired of the facts and diagnosis! I had thought that Franklin Foer’s How Football Explains The World is all there is to a thought-provoking football book(Franklin still wrote the forward though), but while Frank’s book deservedly earns its place in the fusillade of football tomes out there, this David Winner bloke takes it higher. If you want to just read about soccer stuff, visit goal.com or givemesport.com, but if you want to task your noggin and know about the idea of Dutch soccer—and appreciate the precision, psychology and maneuverings in the modern game, this is the book to read. Unfortunately, I don’t want to be a soccer coach otherwise this would have inspired me to develop some tactics that Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels would have envied!

ORANGE

Now I’m reading The Beckham Experiment: How the world’s most famous athlete tried to conquer America by Grant Wahl, an award-winning senior writer at Sports Illustrated. These writers are bad…! This one too is another Hollywood blockbuster-like read, taking one into the machinations that led David Beckham, one of world’s most intricate brand into an unconquered territory—America— and all there is to fame, public expectations and exploitations. Like Jeff Pearlman, author of Boys Will Be Boys enthused in his blurb, “David Beckham’s American odyssey is often too bizarre to believe, and Grant Wahl captures it all with uncommon depth, precision, and insight. Forget Beckham—Wahl is the Pele of soccer writers. A brilliant book.” If Wahl is the Pele of soccer writers, (and Pele is the best player of the century), I say forget Pele, O.P.Philips is the Cristiano Ronaldo of soccer writers, even if he says it by himself!

BECKHAM

So what better to write this week than to talk about what made me delve into reading all these books and my knack for extrapolating football lessons to analyze life matters? Maybe I should just take you a little back to the beginning and how it all started. I’ve always had a predilection for football. Call it my first love and you’d be making sense. I remember growing up breaking all the breakables while negotiating curls of Beckham free kicks and pulling my Okocha moments. My mum told me not too long ago that she knew I was going to play football! I shot an askance look at her as though she was mocking me! Phew! You’ve got to be kidding me! This was one person that made it difficult for me to play on the streets because she was trepid I was going to get my butt kicked! And did I really play football? Save the escapades on the streets of Lagos and the turfs of local academies, did I really play? Where are the memorabilia and the swapped jerseys that I got playing big games that dominated my subconscious many years back? Did I really score the winning goal in my debut for Manchester United on a European night? Where are the evidences of my athleticism and the working of my socks off? Somebody wake me up and tell me it’s not over! Thoughts of what wasn’t to be have always dominated my subconscious and I still feel that I am one of the most combative midfielder the world never knew—shame!

(But I can still come back, I feel I have a few more years in me—you don’t want to write me off!)My mum is awesome though—she’s raked up a lot of assists for me in the course of my life… and we are now focusing on the next game.

From all my dealings with soccer as a rookie or a fan, I’ve always realized that there are lessons it teaches—small wonder that I have embedded it into the core of my lingua. If I buy a new shirt—I would rather say I “signed” a new shirt, or if I get something elusive I could say that I have “equalized” and I often celebrate with a “yes!” in a rambunctious fashion in my eureka moments. I also like saying that I’ll have to attack when I really want to go out for something. My rumination on the game brought about the awakening that football could give us unbelievable clues about life because it’s so practical—we can see the consequences of actions and inaction real time. That possibly explains why football terminologies have found its rightful place into the core of our metaphors as well. We say things like raise your game and give it is not over until it is over (sounds like Fergie time!), something we got from sports— football.

I thought that if we look at the scenarios in football, especially in the context of the organized modern game, we can glean out useful lessons that can teach us a thing or two in every facet of the human endeavor. Take competition for example. The modern sport games are all competitive, and soccer at the highest level thrives on competition. It is an arena where elite athletes with ego compete week in, week out in games and where everyone wants to be at the helm. It is in this spirit—Agon—that the modern games thrive. We see it in the ancient Olympics and it is still there today. A healthy competition is a good catalyst for growth and I will be marshaling a set of arguments in my new book on why it is so, through the lens of football and comparisons from other domains. My observations are not just limited to competition, which dovetails into innovation, there are also other segments worthy of examination: practice, mental toughness, emotional intelligence, physical fitness, adaptability (on and off the pitch), time management, talent recruitment and management, self-discipline and a tad more. I’m particularly relishing the prospect of using soccer to attempt to answer some philosophical questions like the belief in a God— or gods— and such notions as luck and forces beyond control in a chapter envisioned as “God of Soccer.” These I intend to do with the help of historical facts, data, anecdotes, interviews from elite soccer players and coaches, sport psychologists, analysts, successful entrepreneurs and experts who are really knowledgeable in areas that could help us find answers to these questions. Daunting as this may seem, I intend to go all the way and we are even creating a resource site (www.whatfootballteaches.com under construction) where there will be on-going conversations and where we can use football lessons for self and corporate growth. I believe it’s doable and together we can create a compelling read, using this thing we all love— football.

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.