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.

LVG AND MOURINHO 3

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.

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The Power of Ronaldo!

POWER OF RONALDO

When Cristiano Ronaldo won the FIFA Ballon d’Or for the third time last January in Zurich, I had planned to write something about him but I was entangled with a deadline and by the time I tried to release my post, it had been overshadowed by events so I discarded it. But I did not despair; I knew the enfant terrible would do something else that would steal the headlines again—I am no wise guy, CR7 does it all time. This time it was in last weekend’s La Liga game against Granada where Real Madrid woke up from slumber and trounced the lowly side by 9 goals to 1, with Ronaldo chunking up five goals from the lot, the first of his career. In so doing, he usurped his archrival Lionel Messi as the highest goal scorer in the La Liga and summed his tally to 37 league goals—48 goals in all competition this season. En route this record-breaking feat, Ronaldo has now scored 31 hat-tricks in his career, a total of Ronaldo 299 (some say 300) league goals for Real Madrid. It would only be a matter of time before he will bypass the records of Alfredo De Stefano—the ingenious Argentine that mesmerized the stage in his days, and former homeboy, Raul.

One cannot help but marvel at how the 30 year old richest and most famous football player on the planet continues to shatter records and keep himself motivated year in, year out. From the moment Manchester United played against Sporting Lisbon and encountered a spindly but precocious teenager who kept racing down the flanks, giving John O’Shea a reason to worry about his waistline, the one said to have been christened after America’s former President Ronald Reagan, has never looked back. Sir Alex Ferguson who has been in the business of bringing on talented young players all his years couldn’t be more impressed as he ensured that Cristiano Ronaldo was shopped for a tidy £12.24m.

CR7 BRAND 2

The talent and technical prowess of Cristiano was clear for everyone to see from the outset. His endless step-overs and lightning speed was a constant threat for defences in the premiership, and Ronaldo arriving Carrington training complex at 18 was full of promises of a prodigious foreign talent but the magnitude to which that sheer propensity will unfold was still not clear. What the staunchest follower of Ronaldo would never predict was that he was going to transform into a physical specimen for billboards and magazine covers, become the most famous soccer player ever—statistics confirms that Ronaldo’s followership on Facebook, Twitter has ballooned to over 155million and 84% percent of the world’s population is aware of Ronaldo. Ronaldo is now a walking advertising platform as you can be assured that from the crown of his head to the sole of his feet has been booked. He is also the richest guy in the lot, with a fortune of £152m, don’t just bother to envy him!

RONALDO ADVERTISING BILLBOARDToday, if I don’t hurry to post thus blog, Ronaldo might be up to something else tomorrow and this would become stale. But I am not here for ballyhooing about CR7 or stating the obvious—I am concerned about what makes Ronaldo tick and what can make me—tick— as well. So how does Ronaldo do it?

Ambition

“I am an ambitious player with only one objective: victory for my team.”

When Ronaldo first jetted into Carrington, the training centre of Manchester United, he had the promising talent no doubt, but there was something different about him from the other talents that came before or shortly after him—he had the ambition to be the best. He had soaked in the champion’s mentality that permeated the ambiance in Old Trafford—seeing great players like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes who formed the invincible class of 92—lads who dazzled and conquered the premier league and did the treble years before, and being bequeathed with the iconic no 7 shirt—an adored vacuum that has been posterized by the likes of George Best, Eric Cantona and David Beckham, his resolve, mingled with this inspiring scenario, instilled the fillip to attain immortality. Developmental coach Mike Clegg who worked with Ronaldo in his heydays said, “I look at the other players who come and go with talent. Nani and Anderson both came in during 2007 at a similar age to Ronaldo, but the difference was astronomical. The difference was the understanding and the knowledge of how to become the best. Ronaldo was above everyone else.”

The training Ground

“He’s fantastic, and the way he works, speaks for itself,” said Mourinho. “He’s not the kind of big status who sleeps in the shadow of the status. No, he’s a boy that works very hard every day, lots of ambition, he wants to improve all the time.” – Jose Mourinho.

Ambition is nothing—hard work is everything! When the good-looking Ronaldo eventually made his debut against Bolton —his talents shone through like the morning sun. There was no doubting that his future beamed promises yet he was only a scrawny teenager and featherweight—many times succumbing to the muscularity of the English Premiership bullies. That soon gave way as Ronaldo found his way to the gym and made it his second home—helping himself with the avalanche of dumbbells, cardiovascular machines and medicine balls, molding himself into an athletic specimen with the vigor of an Olympic champion. CR7 also takes himself through his pace like a sprinter and he developed a lethal speed with his build and has combined that beautifully with endless practice. It is a common sight to see Cristiano Ronaldo stay back for extracurricular training regimes—practicing free kicks and some ball movements. Cristiano also metamorphosed from a fiery winger who managed a few assists and a few goals a season to a goal machine who can find the back of the net with all the contours of his body.

YOUNG RONALDO

 

I want to be the best

“People think Cristiano is flash and has an ego, but he is really down to earth. He wants to be the best – he doesn’t think he is the best – but he wants to be and that explains his continual drive to be better all the time.”— Paul Clement, Assistant coach, Real Madrid.

Ronaldo’s penchant to always improve his crafts is second to none. In spite of the collection of trophies and individual awards that has coloured his career timeline so far, he is always saying that “I feel an endless need to learn, to improve, to evolve, not only to please the coach and the fans, but also to feel satisfied with myself.” He’s never satisfied with the best and that has been the story of his record-breaking career—he continues to shatter his own record yet he is not relenting. Ronaldo celebrated his 30th birthday a few months back, and while many have reckoned that his stock may soon begin to plummet, as characterized by the careers of other greats who have fallen sharply to a decline once they attained that age, others are keeping faith with the Portuguese Captain to defy the odds with his strict diet regimes and recovery workout exercise that he is famed for.

I am unstoppable

“Your love makes me strong, your hate makes me unstoppable.”

There is this notion that goes round about Cristiano Ronaldo is a conceited guy—he wants the camera to focus on him—he believes he is so good. But I think that what people see as pride many times is a harmless show of confidence—needed for peak performance and that is the hallmark of great guys—not just footballers. I wrote in my first book, The “OBAMA” in You! how Barack Obama believed in his own rhetoric as he gunned for the office of the president of the United States. President Obama told his close friend Martin Nesbit on the eve of his sell-out speech to the Democratic convention in 2004 that “my speech is pretty good.” In the same vein CR7 has always reiterated to friends and foes alike that “your love makes me strong, your hate makes me unstoppable.”

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.

SAI BABA! The insatiable quest for Change…


BUHARI

It has been an exhausting political season in the Nigerian polity that finally saw General Muhammadu Buhari, former military dictator, now a “reformed democrat” emerge as the President-elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And even though I was never on the campaign trails of any of the political parties, one needn’t be on one to feel the sense of relief that greeted many after  the last months that our streets have been tainted with an avalanche of posters of the various political parties— with promises of change and transformation flooding our senses of perception.

After the  elections,  the precarious streets were deserted, informed by the blizzard of reports over the weeks of what could happen should any of the side lose the battle—the prognosis was nothing short of a looming danger and the clouds for an immutable civil war had  gathered. Also the suspense and the melodrama that has unfolded since the elections were held last Saturday and the keenness of Nigerians to know the outcome had been second to none since the history of democracy in Nigeria. Everyone was glued to their TV sets and the rating for INEC electoral proceedings would have been at the acme  on cable TV, with Professor Attahiru Jega being the man of the show. For those without power, the radio and internet became their sources of news. Everyone was in their own “situation rooms” with pen and paper computing and comparing results while posting same online simultaneously. It won’t be too long to deduce that the ruling People’s Democratic Party was playing the catch up game this time and the prospect of an incumbent president been kicked out of office, albeit through the power of the polls, was imminent.

BUHARI TWO

The whole hoopla then reached its crescendo by 5:15 P.M., the exact time when President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who must also have felt lethargic as he watched on hopelessly on the ginormous screen in the palatial Aso Rock villa, with the figures heading north, put a call through to General Buhari to congratulate him over his victory at the polls.

Throngs of youths and political aficionados turned to the streets and celebrated into the nights as the news of the triumph of the “people’s General” filtered the air. The scenery that greeted the streets of the most populous black nation was reminiscent of the joyous mood of 1960 when Nigeria gained her independence. Everyone associated with the broom-flinging party busted into exhilaration, with the chanting of “Sai Baba!, Sai Buhari!” renting the air. Even those who did not subscribe to the political notions of the All Progressives Congress joined in the chorus—it was too potent to quench. Deep down within me, I wished I was a part of this change that was sweeping across the nation and could genuinely join in the chorus of “Sai Baba, Sai Buhari!”

CHANGE

I did not vote for General Muhammadu Buhari—call it swimming against the tide and I wouldn’t begrudge you. And while I was only about a year old when he first took the reins of power in Nigeria as a military potentate on December 31, 1983, the trails and tales of his iron-clad rule are well documented. If those where not enough, I could recall the lyrics of the Beast of no Nation album by the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti that talked about “…. wan dash us human rights!” The “War Against Indiscipline” and the flagrant human right violations, which were well doused and sophistically converted into a selling point by a Promethean PR team during his 2015 campaign, remained vivid in my consciousness.

I don’t need to dwell much on these as Nigerians have been reminded of many atrocities of the Buhari-led military government by the opposition in the smear campaigns that littered our media. If all these indelible marks of injustice which many have become insulated to or see as an exaggeration, can be tolerated, the sheer fact that General Muhammadu Buhari toppled a democratically elected government was enough for me to pitch my tent against him no matter how “born again” he had become. I didn’t think someone who has scuttled a process should be made to benefit from that process, no matter how hard he tried and no matter the “conditions” that we are in presently. I didn’t think that only ex- generals have a repository of knowledge on marshaling the affairs of this country. For me, a Buhari coming back would be an unfortunate precedence and a travesty of justice—an assault to our collective psyche as a people.

DICTATOR BUHARI

 Unlike me, however, Nigerians nary cared about that sentiments earlier expressed – they wanted change—and rightly so. They wanted a government that is more vociferous against corruption—they wanted to see a leader that would impose himself on the affairs of the nation and the seat that he occupied; they wanted a government that would provide power, they wanted more jobs, more roads– and all the perennial wants of the Nigerian populace that governments after governments have never been able to give to them. They wanted the Boko Haram insurgents to be pulverized and “Our Girls” to be brought back. If that meant that they will pitch with a “reformed dictator” who is famed for his incorruptibility and competence, so be it. They felt President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is a “nice guy” but has not always being in charge. For many,  he didn’t deliver the goods and his barrage of unimpressive gaffes didn’t help his popularity—the “I have no shoes” rhetoric had lost his potency and many wanted to see him commute back to his Otuoke base with alacrity. This insatiable quest for change intertwined with the main opposition party’s quest to get power at the helm, coupled with the depleting power of the ruling party, helped form an unstoppable force that was always going to lead to a political Tsunami.

Now this “change” has come and Nigerians have high expectations and their sense of optimism is highly commendable,but before we get too consumed in the ecstasy of this moment, I hate to play the naysayer, a lot of work still has to be done in our democracy. It will not be uhuru. The sheer voting patterns that trailed this election haven’t shown that we are one people. The reality of the statistics that came from the election indicated that the issues of ethnicity,religion and vested interests are still the drivers of our polity. How could you explain that General Buhari never won in any state of the South- South and South-East of our geopolitical zone? How could you also explain the overwhelming votes that General Buhari got in the Northern region other than everyone rooting for his own?

While there were a lot of hopes from the process that is playing out right now, our democracy is still very much an electoral democracy and if we must move to a liberal democracy, we must strengthen our democratic institutions—the legislative arm, the judiciary, the watchdogs, the civil unions…. Our political parties must also go beyond umbrella and broom-flunking and all the gerrymandering that characterized the recently concluded “free and fair” election. Our lives must not “shut down” and our future hanged in the balance because we are going through an electioneering period. We must not be on tenterhooks as to whether the nation would still be knitted as one because we want to get a new leader.

While I congratulate the never-say-die General Muhammadu Buhari who can now be aptly dubbed as the Abraham Lincoln of Africa and could inspire even his hardest critics like me never to give up,  the burden of proof as a reformed democrat is on him. He must take this opportunity of a rare second chance to rewrite his legacy in our political stratosphere. He must not toe the line of vindictiveness and divisiveness as he exercises his power as the new Commander-in-chief. The economic issues that confront this nation at this critical time require all the right moves and he must tackle this head on. While I will admit that Nigerians, for some reasons, require extra nudge to do things rightly at times, his disciplinarian approach should be done with all sense of civility—wars against indiscipline and fights against corruption should not be a cop-out to humiliate anyone in this nation—I warn!

I must not fail to lavish praise on President Goodluck Jonathan. Although it had appeared that his good luck ran out when the momentum was shifting towards the opposition and was always going to be difficult for him to match the likeability that his campaign had in 2011, he never lost his dignity. After all, everyone knew how he became president in the first place and I sense a man who has gratitude for the opportunity he has had to serve this nation. Posterity would judge him whether he was able to take that opportunity well or not. His bravery to congratulate his conqueror even before he was officially declared as President-elect will go down the history of this nation as his greatest achievement. By that call, he doused the inferno that could arise and the lives that would have been lost should he have insisted to cling to power or resort to anything mischievous. He  also made us proud in the comity of nations and set a good precedence for our democracy by that singular act.  I wish him well in his future endeavors.

I believe Nigerians deserve the best and the commonwealth of this nation should be evenly distributed for everyone to enjoy—we pray this new administration deliver on their promises and once again lead us to the path of greatness.

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.