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

 

 

 

 

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.

Park The Bus: The Underdog’s way

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Park bus

This week is an international break in the football world and as I was thinking of what to blog on, I remembered the story of T.E. Lawrence retold by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, David and Goliath. The British general, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, led the Arab revolt against the Turkish army occupying Arabia about the end of the First World War and achieved an upset against a very formidable foe. The British then were helping the Arabs in the face-off and wanted to obliterate the long rail road built by the Turks, which was running from Damascus into the Hejaz desert.

T.E. Lawrence was not a trained soldier; he was an archaeologist and a poet and all he had as troops for combat were a group of Bedouin nomads. In fact one of the British commanders in the region then, Sir Reginald Wingate, described Lawrence’s army as “an untrained rabble, most of whom have never fired a rifle.” These Arabs, however, had certain qualities going for them, Lawrence himself later wrote: movement, endurance, individual intelligence, knowledge of the country courage. Consequently, these men kept on attacking the Turks and dynamited rails after rails.

The major upset however came from an assault on the port of the town of Aqaba. The Turks were expecting an attack from British ships patrolling the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba to the West but Lawrence decided to change tactic and attack from the East, through the dangerous desert marauded by cobras and black snakes. That move was not anticipated by the Turks and it caught them off guard. It was reported that Lawrence’s troop only lost two men but killed or captured one thousand, two hundred Turks.

This feat reminded me of one person—Jose Mourinho and his park the bus tactics. For those of you who follow football, you’d know that park the bus, was the brain child of The Special One, who made the term popular after his initial arrival to the English elite league, following an unlikely success in the Champions league in 2004. This tactic ensured that Jose when playing a team that is more superior than his side in attacking prowess, would stifle play by ensuring there is little space for the opposition to operate fully. Usually when a superior team plays a less superior one, you’d expect a flurry of goals and domination, but with Mourinho’s tactic, even the so-called superior one is even more susceptible to a loss! Manuel Pellegrini, City’s boss, complained weeks back when Chelsea squared up against the champions at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester that “I think we played during 90 minutes against a small team trying to defend, trying to keep 10 players in front of their goal and [City were] a team that wanted to win from the beginning.” Pellegrini managed to avoid humiliation that time and Manchester City salvaged a draw, thanks to on-loan Chelsea legend, Frank Lampard, who probably had the antidote to parking the bus.

Liverpool won’t forget in a hurry what went down last year when they played Chelsea and the Blues had to contend with a lot of first team players missing in action. It turned out that that bizarre circumstance led to Chelsea easily winning the game, because all they had to do was, sit in their own half and give the play to the home side. It was only a matter of time for Stephen Gerald to slip up in his own half of the midfield and give Demba Ba, Chelsea’s then Senegalese striker, the opportunity to slot home an unlikely goal. The game ended up in favour of the underdog for that day as Chelsea scored another goal in extra time to shatter Liverpool’s title ambition. We all know how Jose has employed this tactic against teams like Barcelona and others in Europe. It’s not only Mourinho that resort to this style; we have some teams too who organize themselves in defensive units when they want to play a superior opposition.

The fascinating thing that I have observed about Jose Mourinho’s tactic is that other teams don’t like it. Coaches and players of the opposing team complain when it works against them, and more often than not, it does! One thing to note however, from Mourinho’s tactic, or that of Lawrence of Arabia, is that they turn a seeming disadvantage into an advantage— it becomes their competitive strategy. Yes they may be the underdog, but that doesn’t mean they would cower.

Now, like Gladwell alluded in David and Goliath, the underdog’s way is hard— not too many teams will  be able to defend and organize their back to accommodate a flurry of attacking pressure from a superior opposition. Many teams will crack and eventually concede goals—even Jose’s (Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich, Super cup final). The team usually employing this tactic will need to employ a high work rate. They will need to operate at better fitness level and cover more distance—defending deep while maintaining a high concentration that ensures that they stick to their plans. The underdog’s way is hard and for many, unsustainable.

 The paradox of the underdog is that it looks at disadvantages and turns it right on its head—and it becomes an advantage. You can draw parallels with this in most human endeavors. A company that is so big might be aloof to the yearnings of its customers— they may not give them the kind of service they want, or the specialized attention they require due to the size of their operation. That may be an opportunity beckoning for the smaller guy, not necessarily to come and usurp them, but to find a place to thrive in the market.

Individuals too can begin to look at disadvantages in a different way and begin to change their tactics. Your edge could just be in that little thing you know how to do well. A student with a high IQ may require little time to study and pass very well, but that should not spell doom for the others who may not be that lucky; the underdog way of making up for that will be for the other student to pull off the all-nighters, burning the proverbial (it’s the reality at times in Nigeria!) candle and studying—hard.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to how we see ourselves—the so-called disadvantage— and turn it around for our good. Remember the underdog way is hard, but anything is achievable if we stay put and are willing to work hard at it.

 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.

Football’s Fight Against Ebola

Ebola

The current outbreak of the precarious Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is the deadliest in its history since it first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, one in Nzara, Sudan, and the other in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo (which occurred in a village near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name). The haemorrhagic fever has left about 2,800 deaths in its wake since its outbreak in Guinea, and then spread across land boarders to Sierra Leone and Liberia. It later found its way into Nigeria through the infamous Liberian American, Patrick Sawyer, who threw maelstrom into the most populous black nation and sparked a global alertness for the deadly Ebola virus. In Nigeria, the virus left about 7 people dead and a host of others were quarantined and monitored for some weeks before they were declared free or cured of the virus. Thankfully, EVD is being contained in Nigeria and the World Health Organization (WHO) has commended the Nigerian government for its efforts in that regard.

Sadly, not the same can be said for other African countries like Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia where the menace of the virus is more felt due to poor health systems. It has been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a report on Tuesday that the number of Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone could rise to between 550,000 and 1.4 million by January if there are no “additional interventions or changes in community behavior.” The estimate was gotten from a new forecasting tool developed by the CDC. The range of estimated cases from 550,000 to 1.4 million is wide because experts suspect the current count is grossly under-reported.

Since the epidemic of the EVD, there has been an outcry all over the world to arrest the situation and as you would expect, the UN has been spearheading that. The official death toll from Ebola in West Africa has climbed to more than 2,800 in six months, with 5,800 cases confirmed, according to the World Health Organization. The CDC however stressed that if 70% of people with Ebola are properly cared for in medical facilities, the epidemic could decrease and eventually end. More help is needed and organizations who care about the well-being of the human race are lending their weight, including The Fédération Internationale de Football Association.

FIFA, the world’s football governing body considers it necessary to work hand in hand with the UN in the fight against Ebola in Africa. They are responding to the requirements needed for curbing the dreaded virus as stated by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), which includes: treatment centers, isolation units, mobile laboratories, protective clothing and qualified personnel.

Monrovia’s Antoinette Tubman stadium which was donated by FIFA to the Liberia Football Association will be set up as a large-scale unit for Ebola treatment with two medical care centers within the premises. The World Health Organization (WHO) chose the football pitch because of its safety and effectiveness.

Special Adviser to the Secretary General of the United Nations on Sport for Peace and Development, Wilfred Lemke said “The Ebola outbreak also has a tremendous impact on the sport community, ranging from health threats to the athletes themselves and restrictions of travel affecting competitions and the development of sport. National authorities, the UN and the world of sport need to work closely together in order to halt the spread of the disease. The commitment of sport organizations to support our efforts is very much welcomed and crucial. It is my hope that many will join in this fight. In particular I was very pleased to note FIFA’s pledge to support health-related measures by agreeing to cover potential damages to the football pitch of the Antoinette Tubman stadium in Monrovia, Liberia that has been earmarked for the use for Ebola treatment centers.”

Making the pitch available is not the only thing FIFA has agreed to do. They’ve also said that at their next Finance Committee meeting holding tomorrow September 25, they will propose to use resources from their solidarity fund to support member associations of affected countries (Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea) in the offensive against Ebola. More financial support will also be expended on solidarity with a local UN initiative.

Writing in his weekly column on THE FIFA WEEKLY, FIFA president Sepp Blatter had these parting words: “There are moments when results and tables fade into insignificance; moments when football is required to shoulder its social and community responsibilities and demonstrate its humanitarian side.” I share his sentiments too and I urge us all to look beyond our busy schedules and cleavages and lend a helping hand to someone out there who is in dire need. It may not be an Ebola patient of course, but there is something we all can do to start making the world a better place.

 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.

What Football Transfers Teaches About Change

Falcao

 

Yesterday was Deadline Day for the European football transfer market and it was interesting to follow up all the melodrama that ensued all day which eventually climaxed by 11.00pm. There were many interesting transfers, and for the umpteenth time, Manchester United made the headlines more than the rest. Firstly, like the counter attack football they are once famed for, the Reds caught rivals and the rest of the world off guard when they got Radamel Falcao board a flight to Manchester for a one year loan deal, against all odds. United were never in the picture in the race to land the prolific goal machine after he had been linked all summer long to Juventus, Real Madrid, and lately Arsenal and Manchester City. Daley Blind, a dynamic player who came to limelight at the summer world cup with Netherlands was also unveiled. Not bad for a club whose priority would be to make it to the top four this season.

However, it was not all additions; there were some key members of the squad who joined in the massive exodus at the theater of dreams; Javier “Chicharito” Hernández joined the European Champions, Real Madrid, on a yearlong loan with the first option of buying the player on a permanent deal. It was quite sad to see “little pea” go even though he had been nothing but a fringe player all along and you would always sense that he needed to move on. However no doubting the contributions of the Mexican International as he had notched up a tidy 59 goals in 154 appearances and most of those appearances were as an impact substitute. However, Danny Welbeck’s going to Arsenal was one that really got into me. Not that Danny is any spectacular though (29 goals in 142 first team appearances), but you never really know the value of what you have until you lose them. I was thinking he would have gotten a loan deal too, but alas, it was long term. At 23, you just feel maybe he will just get it right someday. And to see the Longsight-bred lad in the colours of a direct rival is a pain in the neck! If there’s anything Manchester United fans will miss in Danny, are his athleticism, commitment and levelheadedness! All the same I wish him all the best and hope he goes on to shine in an Arsenal shirt.

It was not only Manchester United that was doing business, Alvaro Negredo and Micah Richards of Manchester City also joined Valencia and Fiorentina respectively on a one year loan.

Before the Deadline-Day, Fernando Torres of Chelsea also got a breather as he secured a deal to AC Milan; Mario Balotelli is at Anfield now and Sameul Eto’o notched his first goal for the Toffees over the weekend against his former employers. With all these transfer deals, there is one thing that is fundamental at the base: change.

Change is something dynamic and it’s inevitable.  Things don’t remain the same. Football clubs know the importance of reinforcing their squads and fortifying a department that is debilitating. That also brings another interesting angle to the whole thing. These players that are new buys or loaned and are being received with exhilaration in other clubs are oftentimes rejected or underestimated where they are coming from! Sometimes they are not giving enough play time because their former club have alternatives and they deem them surplus. However, in their new destinations, they are usually welcomed with enthusiasm. Isn’t it an irony that a reject becomes a messiah in another place?

That says a lot about life. Sometimes we are constrained by our present circumstances and environment and this causes us to begin to lose confidence in our abilities. It may also lead to a loss of enthusiasm. All that may be required to get running and firing again, just like transfers, is change. Change may mean different things to different folks. Some may need to change jobs— from an 8-5 to your own business, or just a switch in their careers. It may also mean that you change where you live; that’s not a call for you to relocate abroad; a new neighborhood that excites you may do the trick and inspire you to take on new challenges. Most of the players who have changed(been transferred) have gotten new aspirations and they will be looking forward to fulfilling it with their new clubs. I hope we also make that needed change that will make us the best we can be.

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 Angel With Small Beginnings

di maria

Manchester United this week against all odds landed a world class player in Ángel Fabián Di María Hernández for a British record fee of £59.7M, ending a long saga of speculations and berating of the Glazer family and Ed Woodward, the under fire Executive Vice-Chairman who gained notoriety for his ineptitude at the transfer market last summer where he couldn’t seal any significant transfer deal but ended up bringing in an overpaid caricature with loads of hair like a sheep that has never been sheared. That probably led to United’s woeful performance last season which ensured that they ended up 7th in the league and failed to qualify for the Champions League, the first time in 19 years.

Louis Van Gaal (LVG) gave a glimmer of hope when he took over the affairs in Manchester, having glided the Oranje to a successful outing at the Brazil 2014 World Cup without losing a game in regulation time and ending up with a bronze medal. He even became a buzzword with his seeming impeccable 3-5-2 system after the successful preseason that had him ace the likes of FC Roma, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Liverpool and clinch the Intercontinental cup. However we all know that life has not been the same since the  Barclays Premier League started and the steely philosopher is still awaiting his first victory in a competitive situation. Now every player in the world is linked to Manchester United and thankfully some are actually finding their way to Old Trafford, albeit with extortionate figures: Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo and now, Angel Di María, all costing a whooping sum of £131.7m.

But there is something fascinating about the latest recruit—Angel Di María or Fideo (noodle) as he’s fondly called( because of his skinny physique) beyond the fact that he is a fiery winger who will leave his detractors on the field to dust and a great team player. So what’s that? It’s still about his transfer! Hey, £59m is no doddle – you could come to this world a hundred times and still don’t make that! Some folks would even argue that he’s overpaid.

All the same, the most touching thing about the transfer, for me, comes when you realize the story of the small beginnings that coloured the Argentine’s path. Here was a guy who was reared by Miguel and Diana in Rosario’s district of Perdriel, just like Lionel Messi and joined the Rosario Central Club at the age of 7 only for 30 balls! Fideo’s father, Miguel, was a decent footballer too but as fate would have it, his dream career with River Plate was shattered by a knee injury that diverted him to the coal yard where he toiled for 16 years with a small wage. His son, Di Maria who had to put up with his two sisters in a room had to keep faith with football to get him out of the manacles of poverty.

His first move to Europe was in 2007 when he moved to Benfica for what now seems a paltry fee of €8 million. Di María renewed his contract in 2009 with the club and despite the €40m clause in his contract, it won’t be long before he will depart for Real Madrid with a contract of €25 million, with €11 million in incentives.

Fideo has 52 caps for Argentina with 10 caps and won the Olympic gold medal with Argentina in where he scored the winning goal against Nigeria (my country!).

So what does Ángel Fabián Di María Hernández teach me? It tells me that if I’m talented and I work hard (with a bit of luck!), then  I’ll be signed for £100M  the likelihood is that I’ll succeed someday. I hope Di María will not capitulate under the weight the record signing will place on him, but whatever happens, he’s made history and I wonder the feelings he and those who knew his humble beginnings will be feeling right now. I wish him and Manchester United all the best.

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.

Going Bananas: The Cancer of Racism

 

GO BANANA

It was a sad time for football and everyone associated with the Catalan giants the other day as the demise of one of the most promising coaches in football, Tito Vilanova, who bowed to the throttling fist of cancer of the throat, was announced. Here was a fine young man who harbored fine prospects for the game. His short stint at the helm only saw him claim the highly rated La liga title last year after coming back from a surgery to remove a tumor in New York. He had managed to retain the title at the end of the season in spite of the periods he missed due to treatments.

Tito Vilanova would best be remembered for being the number two man that assisted the record-breaking Josep Guardiola in what has been scribbled into the record books of Catalan historians as the finest era ever recorded in their rich history which saw them bag 14 trophies in 4 years out of a possible 19. Tito was said to be the unsung number 2 man whose contribution to the team was no doddle. He was said to have commanded the respect of the key players at Camp Nou and when the heat turned up  on Guardiola and he had to bow out, there was no doubting who was to replace him.

Today, Barcelona is not the team we used to know. Perhaps the law of diminishing returns is catching up on them; the players are aging and the rest of the world have found an antidote to their possessive style of play(tiki-taka) that tends to skyrocket them to the realms of immortals at times. But then, it would only linger in our imagination what could have happened had Tito been healthy enough to lead the team for more years.

Looking back at the career of this gentleman who bowed to the menace of cancer at the untimely age of 45, a prime age for a football manager, one would suspect that he had always had a hard time with fate and was always missing out when it mattered most. Tito himself was once a player who started his career in the prestigious Barcelona academy that birthed the likes of Lionel Messi. However, for some reason, he never made it to the first team. He was forced to find solace elsewhere, having spells at Celta Vigo and Mallorca, before his career abruptly ended with a knee injury.

As the football world was still grappling with this unfortunate demise, and while  the phantom of Tito will still be hovering around the Camp Nou where the faithfuls are still mourning, and while the players would be looking for a succor to stanch the bleeding of their heart especially in a moment that met them with series of bad results, they were yet hit by another cancer. This time it wasn’t the cancer of the throat that left us with a deficit of a fine gentleman as Tito, it was the cancer of racism. And just like all cancers, it’s proving to be hard to cure.

It so happened that during a game between FC Barcelona and Villareal at the Estadio El Madrigal, a fan still infected with this benign tumor sought to extend the infection to another fellow in person of Dani Alves. The discombobulated fellow threw a piece of banana to the field, a familiar gesture with infantile racists who think that throwing a piece of banana is a sign that one is a monkey. But like a good monkey who can’t resist the succulent taste of banana, Dani Alves picked up the banana and feasted on it as if it was his niche. It was a fine gesture that mocked the intent of the buffoon who threw the banana  and one that sparked a talk on racism in football and in the world (#weareallmonkeys).

But just in case anyone is getting irked by the gesture of monkeys, it is not something new, yet if the Theory of Evolution is anything to consider, monkeys and baboons alike are actually our cousins! We share some consanguinity in some sense.  The race this is targeted at also is the prototype that birthed all other races. it was first in Africa that our specie was discovered! While the ignorant racist thinks we are monkeys, it is indeed a cousin to the human race—it so just happened that we also love monkeys like our cousins.

The niche of our specie which started from Africa was actually bones. We thrived in the sucking of bone marrows because we weren’t  strong enough to compete with other creatures back then so when they are all done with their food which was predominantly animal meats,—we feed on the marrow of leftover bones. So maybe the racist should start considering throwing bones. The only problem is that he should be ready to provide us with archaeological proofs that he never owed his existence to that specie too. If he’s not able to do that, then he’s just blatantly—stupid.

Racism and acts of racism should be greeted with disdain and not given any serious thought just like Dani Alves did. Such gestures only emerges from myopic minds and dysfunctional species whose only shot at getting attention is to latch on to this ignoble act. It reminds me of the Nigerian adage that it is ridiculous when a kettle calls a pot black. The attitude of that fan who threw that banana clearly shows that there are still some elements in our midst who will not stop playing the race card no matter how hard the comity of nations and the rest of us try. I suspect that there would be no antidote to that any time soon. This is something we have to tolerate or click ignore to, if it were clickable. Or better still munch the banana.

While it later panned out that Dani Alves gesture was a premeditated response cooked up by an ad agency to stanch out racism and spark an awareness campaign, one that Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior too was waiting to fall victim of, it didn’t change the fact that racists belong to the annals  of the world’s infamous past. It is good that that Villareal fan was banned for life because such a one carrying an infection of race would pose a high risk to the rest of us. He needs to be cured of his cancer and the antidote is for the rest of us to stop getting infuriated by throws of banana. I strongly suspect the antidote to this type of cancer actually lies in the munching of the banana itself. So it’s really a nice thing to see the world go bananas!

#weareallmonkeys

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

Follow him on Twitter@opphilips

 

 

Atletico de Madrid and the power of teamwork!

Giggsy Chelsea-v-Atletico-MadridChelsea-v-Atletico-Madrid

Last Wednesday, Atletico de Madrid destroyed knocked  out Europe’s bogey team—Chelsea FC, in the semi-finals of the European Champions League in a rather emphatic manner and afterwards  rival fans went agog on social media posting pictures of the Ill-fated Chelsea’s bus that was crushed at Stamford Bridge!  Honestly, I didn’t see that coming. Not that the latter are so invincible though, in fact they are far from it, but  in recent years, in what I dub the Abramovic era, since the extra pumping in of cash and  the evolution  that engulfed with Claudio Ranieri, they’ve formed an enviable habit of never-say-die and when you write them off, you do so at your own peril.

It is still fresh in the memory of soccer aficionados all over the world how they managed to wriggle from the brink of collapse in the 2012 Champions league campaign, a season that characterized them with lousy performances, but saw them attain the heights that was  hitherto a reverie, galloping their way through a fusillade of hurdles to an unprecedented European glory. I could remember that finals at the Allianz Arena where the whole atmosphere was tainted red while bubbling with the energy of expectant  fans who must have thought that fate have connived with them to set up a dream European final right in their home soil. Little would they know that the little horse, a term Jose Mourinho would prefer to tag his Chelsea pack this season, had other ideas—talking about party spoilers!What happened afterward is something that won’t worth any further elaboration—we know who went home with what. And even if they have been inconsistent in the English Premier League this season, Chelsea have managed to beat all the title contenders and are primed to be crowned champions should any of the champions-elect slip up. Liverpool won’t forgive them if they end up this season without the EPL coveted jewel after going so agonizingly close!

But thankfully today, I’m not here to talk about Chelsea or the tactics of the Special One (please spare me)! To the Blues chagrin, Atletico Madrid gave us something to shout about after Mourinho was almost forcing his way to Lisbon, parking the bus! Now, I can talk about Atleti and their brand of soccer. The outfit in red and white has been the surprise package of the season. Well maybe not so surprising after all if you consider their steady ascent to the echelons of European soccer since Diego Pablo Simeone, former Argentine International, a fine and controversial player in his days, took over a few years back. He has built one solid pack that thrives in unrivaled work ethic and has continued to post consistent results since then. In the past three years or so, the clubs trophy cabinet has been burgeoning—they’ve added two Europa cups, Super cup (beating Chelsea by 4-1) and winning the Copa del Rey at the Santiago Bernabeu against the Galacticos.

Another thing about this club is that it doesn’t break the bank to get the job done. They lose players to richer clubs every other summer, but the way they recover from that is pure genius. In recent years they’ve shed quality players like: Fernando Torres, Radamel Falcao, Sergio “Kun” Aguero, David De Gea. From the outset of this season, Atletico has been jostling  for top positions in  La Liga with the  richest franchise in football—Real Madrid, where a Gareth Bale for example—would cost  more than double  their entire team, and FC Barcelona with their  fat wage stars. In such a space that is dominated by these global heavy weights, Atletico has competed fine all season and are still  sitting pretty at the helm with no sign of relenting with just a few games to go. They’ve also  set up themselves for a dream European final—the first that would have teams from the same city contending for European glory, and their first appearance at this elite stage in 40 years. There is so much to say about this impressive side but I’m concerned about how they are able to achieve this feat. Is it because they have a perfectionist as  coach who will rant and rave in his customary black slim fit designer garb at the touchline like a child who desperately wants something off the shelf at the mall, or could it be that they have a generation of players that are so talented that it would take hindsight to appreciate their propensities?  Look no further, we could get a clue from Simeone’s response after the emphatic dismissal of Chelsea on Wednesday night:”Tonight was the result of a big collective effort. We generated that possibility of us reaching a beautiful final. It was a smashing game in the first half, tactically speaking, until the first goal opened it up. They had the first chance but we managed to equalize relatively soon afterwards.”

Teamwork is the key thing in successful soccer teams, which ever lingo you’d want to categorize the style preferred by a particular team—total football, effective football, tikitaka, jogo-bonito, or parking the bus. They all thrive in the ability of a pack to understand one  another so well that they are able to blend; they understand their strengths and weaknesses. In the case of Atletico—they play together all through the park—defensively and offensively. They never say die and they go into games with the mentality that by being together and fostering their strength in a formidable way, they can create paths in a rock. It will be nice to see this team win at least one trophy this season, and why not, the double. But no matter what happens at the Estadio do Sport Lisboa  e Benfica in Lisbon on May 24, this team has already left us with a powerful lesson from soccer— that we can be stronger being together, complementing one another. That’s one way to make the world go round.

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

Follow him on Twitter@opphilips

Boyz to Boss: Ryan Giggs continues to blossom!

Ryan-Giggs-suit


 

On Tuesday, April 22, 2014, Ryan Joseph Giggs(OBE), the most decorated player in the history of Manchester United football club was elevated to the enviable position of a temporary manager following the axing of the beleaguered  David Moyes—the hardworking Scot who was appointed as the successor of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. Poor David Moyes.  He should have known that replicating the success of arguably the most successful manager ever was always going to be a wrinkle on the forehead.  Needless to echo that his   tumultuous 10-month stint saw the champions relinquish their EPL crown in the most uncharacteristic fashion—accruing  just 27 wins out of 51 games, 9 draws, 15 loses and failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 19 years. The Chosen One, nay, The Wrong One  must have thought that he would have enough chance to assert his authority (we kept hearing that his job was secured and that Manchester United doesn’t fire on impulse) on the team and spear head the rebuilding in the summer, but  those whose words are law in Manchester couldn’t watch and see the empire crumble, especially from the New york side of things .

However, the nub of the matter here is that while it’s unfortunate for David Moyes, a man with a good demeanor as you would suspect, the searchlight now beams on Ryan Wilson (as he was once known), the once young lad who busted through the ranks many years ago in United’s Carrington and gave a glimpse that he was going to become a legend. But even the greatest adherent of the dexterous winger would not have predicted that he was going to go indefatigably all the way to achieving some insuperable feats in the colors of one of the greatest clubs in the game. By his achievements and sheer professionalism, Giggsy has become the proverbial metaphor for long service, dedication, loyalty and hard work in a world where such attributes are now anachronistic. Not only has the Welsh man, who turned 40 sometime back, still remains a registered player for Manchester United, his consistency has been something worthy of adulation and he still showed that he could still deliver the goods at the highest stage when called upon in the Champions league comeback of Manchester United against Olympiakos in the second round— running around the turf like an athlete on steroids while supplying sublime passes at will while lads barely over half his age were falling short.

Although David Moyes had appointed Giggs as a coach player, his new appointment, no matter how temporary it would be, just consolidated a legendary status that is always burgeoning. Giggsy has been a delight to watch over the years and the football world have enjoyed some great moments from his magical runs through the flank. His prowess and speed blended with a razor sharp cutting edge down the flanks contributed to United success in the late 90s and he and the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes, the Neville brothers and Nicky Butt where a testament to the merit of youth academy  and contributed to the finest era of Sir Alex Ferguson. Giggs since then has gone ahead to become the most capped and decorated player of the club in its 136 years existence, notching up 962 caps, 13 league titles, 4 FA Cups, 3 League cups, 2 Champions League trophies, to mention but the most important ones. No matter what happens after the remaining four games of the season, United will surely get a new manager and Giggs will be a part in the future at Old Trafford. While on that seat, he may not exude the intimidating mien of Sir Alex, but it will still be a worthy sight to behold as he will be calling the shots as the boss! It’s refreshing to know that the good old virtues of hard work, dedication and loyalty still pay in our world. It’s a lesson we need to learn, going forward.

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

Follow him on Twitter@opphilips