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.

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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.

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!

football-teaches-cover2

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.

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!

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                                                         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!

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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!

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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.

What I Learnt From Being Down

 

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This week I have been under the weather that  I could have been easily forgiven by those around me for missing my weekly post. But just like football teaches you, when you start a game and your formation doesn’t work—a good coach rallies his team and changes the formation. So this was not what I planned to write of course (no right-thinking person plans to get sick and blogs about it!) but I believe in adaptability. This week I didn’t see any Champions League game neither did I have the desire to! Indeed, there are things more important than football….

Like I do every other week, I always have a list of to-dos that I try to follow—something I also call my line up or formation for the week—some soccer buffs would easily understand. Although my body had been showing some signs of frailty since last week, I took it for granted that I would easily recover—I took some Paracetamol tablets and thought I’ll be fine. But like the expression of those bad tabloids who like sensationalizing bad news, trouble started when I tried to open my laptop (Hmm. I didn’t know I was a laptop addict until this week.) and do a few things on Monday morning. I think I managed to send my daily post on my new book’s Facebook page, What Football Teaches About Life which I still pulled off throughout the week in spite of everything. Afterwards, I felt this pang hit me like a spell in Nollywood movies (Ghen Ghen!) and it was this excruciating headache pounding my head away like Israeli airplanes did to the structures of Lebanon some years back. Ok, I have to withdraw from this game I said to myself because it was so unbearable. I never knew that that was just the beginning— my second leaf from Nollywood. I shut down my laptop in my office and tried to catch some sleep (on Monday morning!) but instead of the headache to abate, it grew worse and even came with body temperature, cold and general feverish conditions. I got some drugs but I still haven’t totally recovered from the illness since that time and was only able to go out twice from that time. Needless to say that I feel hush agony—like a football player who is missing out on a final due to injury or even illness!

Sometimes, I will try to trick my body into doing something constructive—because if you are not a billionaire yet and don’t have your money deputizing for you in diverse places, you shouldn’t have any reason to be reclining on your bed during week days! But that was what I was doing and was being nursed by my mum—thank God for mothers! The more I tried to do anything—the more a flurry of pains would assail me—It was like a cop arresting a bandit and saying, “Common give it up man.” I knew I had to “cooperate” if I want to get out of this anytime soon! As frustrating as this week has been for me, I think I’ve learnt something from my down time and I’ll just share them with you.

  • Cherish the time that you have now and make it count: we all tend to have this feeling that things will always be the same. I will always have passion for football or pursue that business idea anytime I am ready. But antecedents in life suggests otherwise. Things could easily spiral out of your control and you may not have all the time you have today—you may not be as energetic as you are now. Let’s not assume that it would always be business as usual. Let’s be economical with the time we have and use it wisely.
  • Don’t overwork yourself because your body won’t take it anyways: Yes, this refers to me—Mr. Laptop. It was so bad that I couldn’t sleep—thoughts of me opening my laptop dominated my head! I didn’t have time to do research (remember I’m still not “match fit”) but there are well documented evidences that show that these gadgets we relate with every day oozes radioactive emissions that could be inimical to our health. I think we should go easy on them. Yours may not be laptop but you know where you stretch yourself physiologically. Watch it because if you break down… life would still go on! So take time out—go to the movies, or isi-ewu joint (I wonder how that could be a means of relaxation though!), or just anywhere—maybe not anywhere now, but where you can relax responsibly!
  • Finally be grateful: Every domain seems to emphasize this—whether believers or non-believers. For non-believers, they’ll say be grateful—pick up a stone in the morning and thank the universe for what you have. Religious folks too would emphasize being grateful to God for all you have. I mean, this week I couldn’t even think! Now, I can’t wait to get my health back and I won’t trade it for anything. Yes, a good player may not score a goal today, or go through a spell of drought, but with a winning mentality and a positive mental attitude, they are usually able to overcome that bad spell. In other words, be grateful for the things you are able to achieve and don’t sweat the other things that are not in place yet. In time, everything will be fine. And Guess what?—I still blogged this week and I’m grateful for that!

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.

Lessons From The Africa Cup Of Nations Final

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It was a cagey and drab performance yesterday as Ivory Coast clinched the African Cup of Nations 2015 after edging out Ghana 9-8 on penalties, thus ending and breaking a 23 years spell that has seen many of the players in their golden generation grace and dominated Africa’s biggest football competition without clinching the coveted prize. The Elephants in the past have paraded great players like Didier Drogba, Arouna Kone, Didier Zakora, Boubacar Barry, Salomon Kalou and other big names, not forgetting the Toure brothers, Yaya and Kolo, but in spite of their bravery, all they got were two runners up medals after they lost two shootouts in the last two finals they were involved in. The last time Ivory Coast won the cup was in Senegal 1992.

The final again at the Bata stadium in Equatorial Guinea was looking as if the God of soccer wasn’t on the Ivorians side  as newly signed former Swansea man and Manchester City January recruit Wilfried Bony, hit the upright as he dispatched his side’s first spot kick. The next taker Tallo Gadji also made a meal of his kick and it seemed as if it was going to be doom as we’ve known it for the Elephants. When Ghana thought they had it wrapped up having had a two goal advantage from Mubarak and Ayew, their two next takers Acquah and Acheampong spurned the opportunity for glory and gave the momentum back to Ivory Coast whose players from that time never looked back until second choice goal keeper Boubacar Barry who had hitherto been dubbed the weak link of the golden generation saved the spot kick from Black Star’s keeper, Razak Braimah.

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Andre Ayew wept inconsolably after the defeat at the AFCON 2015 Final in Equatorial Guinea.

At the end of the nerve-wracking penalty shootout, the Black Stars of Ghana were devastated as they lost another final and had not won the AFCON in 33 years. The irony of football—ecstasy of victory, and the agony of defeat, played out again as the players of Ivory Coast celebrated amidst tears of joy and shouts of victory. It was heart wrenching, however, to watch the Black Stars’ well-built and able bodied young men weep inconsolably, especially Andre Ayew, as they bemoan their fate on a day when they had prepared mentally and physically to be crowned champions. It must be tough for them to know that all the decals and T-shirts printed for celebration and the choreographed dancing steps (I missed Asamoah Gyan’s) was discarded at an instance and would now be saved for the next AFCON. With all that said, football will always deliver its lessons and here are a few I observed from yesterday’s showdown.

  1. Persistence pays: Ivory Coast would have almost been reduced to a laughing stock if they had lost that final; it would be very convenient to conclude that there is a jinx working against the Elephants, and that may resonate, never mind that it sounds preposterous. This win debunks the jinx myth and it shows that when you persist—don’t give up—(many players like Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure, Salomon Kalou, and those who were are a part of the golden generation should have resigned from the national team after series of loss and throw in the towel, but they still kept at it) you will likely smile at last.
  2. It is not over until it is over: At some point during the penalty shootout, Ghana thought they had nipped it. It was clear in their body language and Andre Ayew even beat his chest, mocking Boubacar Barry as he delicately squeezed his spot kick past the Ivorian shot stopper. But that wasn’t enough— they came, saw, but did not conquer…. Don’t rejoice too early when you’ve not seen things through. You want to make sure you concentrate to the end so that your victory doesn’t turn to a Pyrrhic victory!
  3. Be Humble; don’t flaunt your victory and do pay tribute to people who have helped you. Football bureaucracy has always preached that there should be modesty in celebrating victory. That was obeyed to the latter at the Bata Stadium. No sight was more touching and inspiring yesterday night than the sight of the victors consoling the losers. It was a beautiful moment for football—an opponent who ought to have dashed off in the stupor of conquest,  turns around and offers a genuine embrace of consolation. What a great sight to behold! The Ivorians, from their head coach Herve Renard, to the players, knew they were lucky on the day as shown during the postgame interviews and they paid respect to the Black Stars. What a show of humility. The current crop of Elephants also dedicated their success to the players before them who had tried to win for their nation without success. They acknowledged that the victory stemmed from the hard work over the years and it couldn’t have been possible without the input of the great heroes of the past. So never flaunt your success. Acknowledge that you are lucky to have achieved whatever you get and pay tribute to those who contributed to your success—your parents, teachers, school mates, angel investor, your spouse….
  4. Celebrate success! There’s nothing like success. It is the fruit of hard work—it is torturous to get at times, but do get it because it is worth the fuss! Indeed accomplishment is the ultimate proof of time and in all thy getting, get success! As the confetti poured down generously like torrent on the victorious players as they cackled their delight all over the arena, greeting fans, jumping around in exhilaration, you wouldn’t want to bet against the bliss of victory. Hmm. Success is love at first sight for many— and worth courting, or at least flirting around with.

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.

Who Wants It More? Lessons From The FA Cup

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Last weekend there were some surprising results that got tongues wagging in the FA Cup matches played across England. The British FA Cup is the oldest football cup in the world and has always had things like this: surprise packages which many believe is the beauty and spirit of the competition. We already know the results of what happened last weekend. There were heavy casualties from the premier league and none of the top four teams were able to secure a win—in fact the top three clubs all crashed out!

The ensuing trend that bedeviled the big sides crept in surreptitiously with fourth placed Manchester United on Friday night when they traveled to the Abbey Stadium to face the lowest ranked team in the competition. In the warmth of the flood lights that supplied illumination to the small packed arena that can only house a paltry 8,127, the Cambridge United players were fired up and put up a steely performance that stifled the galaxy of stars paraded by a Manchester United side that stands  76 places above their opponents in the pecking order. At the end of the day, Manchester United was held to a draw despite enjoying a mammoth share of the ball possession. It was very much to the delight of the home fans whose jubilant expressions lit up the whole arena as they celebrated the draw that earned them a money-spinning replay at Old Trafford as if they clinched the European Cup. The philosophical Louis Van Gaal said after the game that he was “angry.”

 What happened last Friday, however, would pale into insignificance in comparison to what was to unfold the next day. It was Middlesbrough who drew first blood  against the English champions, Manchester City, right in their fortress—The Etihad Stadium. Although the inspirational midfielder, Yaya Toure, was far away in Guinea for Les Éléphants in the Africa Cup of Nations, City still paraded a formidable team sheet to grace the tie. The Boro side stuck to their guns and never showed nerves and boy, were they brilliant on the counter attacks?  They tucked away two heart-wrenching goals, in each half of the game to the chagrin of Manuel Pellegrini and the home fans who exited the stadium with an emblem of disappointment stamped on their faces.

Ronald Koeman‘s side – Southampton, suffered similar fate. The so-called dark horse on the top of the Barclays Premier League that has fired its way back to  a champions league spot also slipped up and got kicked out by a reinvigorated  Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace( a premier league team though).

The most surprising casualty, by all standards, were league leaders – Chelsea. Not too many bookmakers would want to put their wad against a Jose Mourinho’s side not winning at Stamford Bridge, a bastion where they’ve not lost in any competition all season— more so against Bradford, a league one side. At first, it seemed like another routine tie as the Blues bagged in two goals. Many would have been expecting that there would be a flurry goals afterwards, especially when they featured good players that have not had much play time and would want to impress the manager. That didn’t happen. Chelsea scandalously threw away their two-goal cushion and bagged in two more goals to crash out of the FA Cup. A pang of anger assailed Mourinho as he lamented that “It’s a disgrace, a sports disgrace, but it’s a disgrace.”

The happenings this weekend made me remember a story I read in Bill Beswick’s book, Focused For Soccer: How to win the mental game. Incidentally it happened with Steve McClaren’s Middlebrough! The Boro were having a bad spell at the time and had lost four games in a row. It was so bad that during a particular game, a fan invaded the pitch and made his way to the bench where he threw his seasons ticket in the face of the manager! The next game for Middlesbrough was against Chelsea (I didn’t plan this!), who were the league leaders that particular year. Bill Beswick who was the psychologist of Boro saw that the confidence level in the team had given way to anxiety. As the coaches wracked heads on strategy and tactics in their meeting, Bill intervened and suggested that the team needed a motivational speech more than anything else. Steve McClaren gave a nod to the suggestions and instructed Bill to put something on paper which he later presented to the team as he gave his pep talk in the dressing room on match day:

It’s not the best team that wins football matches but the best team on that day. You can be the best team today. All you have to do is want it more than they do. You have won big games before, so you know you can do it, and you know what it takes. You have to work harder, out-tackle them, outfight them, take the injuries, play through pain, show them you will do whatever it takes to win. And when you come back in here after 94 minutes, not a single one of you will have any regrets. So let’s make it our day. Good luck!

You want to know what happened after that? Of course the lads went out and won the game by 3-0 in  the biggest upset of that season! So what’s the morale of the story: it’s all about who wants it more—market share, the plum job, the office of the president, and all those things we want to achieve. But it’s not just about wanting it—it’s about rolling your sleeves and going through the muck— sustaining that drive to succeed, just like a player who is determined to winning every tackle on match day—ensuring you don’t leave anything in you that you can unleash to get to where you want to go. And don’t be afraid of the giants because they’ve also got their weaknesses which you can also explore to your advantage.

 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 Killer Instinct!

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“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” These are the expressions of Scot Peck in his classic book, The Road Less Traveled.

Indeed Life is full of ups and downs—uncertainties that we cannot unravel. And why certain things happen defies logic. That was my feeling when the news of the death of Bernard Malanda-Adje, nicknamed Junior Malanda—the Belgian under 21 international who also played his football with German outfit, Wolfsburg, went out. He was only twenty years of age. Malanda on the 10th of January 2015, by 3:35 pm local time, was trying to catch up with his teammates for a flight to a training camp in South Africa when the ill-fated SUV (Volkswagen Touareg) he was in tumbled on top speed and crashed into a tree. Malanda wasn’t putting on his seat belt and so was catapulted from the back seat right into the collision. He was the only one killed in the tragedy. This naturally left his teammates devastated upon hearing the news. The coach of Wolfsburg was visibly in tears when he was announcing this at the press conference days later when Wolfsburg decided to continue the trip to South Africa, having canceled their flight when they first got the news.

Germany’s female national team midfielder, and Wolfsburg player, Nadine Kessler , who was named the best women’s player in 2014, and her coach, a German man, Ralf Kellerman, who led Wolfsburg female team to back-to-back- UEFA Champions League titles, paid tribute to Junior Malanda when both of them received their awards last Monday in Zurich. Friends of the youngster and football stars like Thibaut Courtois, Nicklas Bendtner, Benedikt Höwedes, Kevin De Bruyne, Mario Götze paid tribute to the deceased on Twitter. Romelu Lukaku, the Everton striker and former teammate of Junior, dedicated his goal against West Ham in the FA Cup replay to his late friend.

As tragic as the unceremoniuos climax of this rising prospect who has not even shown enough of his talent is, he joins an array of footballers who had died in their prime, whether on the field of play or off it like Malanda. Only Last year, somewhere in the Indian league, a 25 years old player Peter Biaksangzuala, scored a goal and while attempting to celebrate with a somersault, he awkwardly twisted his neck—he died days later, and the marvel for me was that how could something that was supposed to bring joy ordinarily become a source of pain—death….?

This tragic incidence brings to the fore one of the often discussed trait that sports—and indeed, life possess—the concept of Eros and Thanatos which was propounded by the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. In his essay titled Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud theorized that the duality of the human nature surfaced from two basic instincts: Eros and Thanatos. In Eros, according to Freud, we find the instinct for life, love and sexuality in its broadest sense. Thanatos (Death in Greek Mythology), is the instinct of death, aggression and evil. So what do all these psychoanalytical jargon has to do with football, or even more specifically, the death of Junior Malanda? For one, some sports scholars have identified the tendencies of Eros and Thanatos in sport—a domain where soccer reigns as king. Eros, you can say, is the feeling expressed when you refer to football as a beautiful game— Jogo bonito, like the Brazilians would call it—the mesmerizing dribbles that leaves opponents to dust, the boisterous noise that explodes from the stadium when a goal is scored, the joy that fills your heart when your favorite team wins a game, not to talk about clinching that trophy that has been eluding them since the human race face first invented fire. Thanatos on the other hand is the killer instinct which represents the cruelty of the game—the nasty injuries meted out by a combatant rival, the fights by players that make media partners swear their frustration, the hooliganism, rioting, the fortuitous collapse—and, the deaths….

LUKAKU

                                                                    Romelu Lukaku touchingly dedicating his goal to his late friend, Junior Malanda

Not convinced about Eros and Thanatos—I don’t really care much about psychoanalysis myself so I’ll leave Sigmund Freud arguments to psychologists and such minds. But then we can still call these two sides to life as I have expressed as Ecstasy and Agony. The ecstasy of triumph—and— the agony of defeat, nay, death. Why would Junior Malanda be involved in that accident? Why didn’t he just fall sick and not be able to attempt to make that ill-fated trip to join the rest of the teammates for the training camp? Why would this youngster who has hardly started his career fizzle out in nanoseconds in a fatal wreck all before we all could scream J-u-n-i-o-r!? But that is life— a space filled with so many unanswered queries—ecstasy—and—agony.

Every once in a short while, things like this unfold and reminds us of our mortality and how vulnerable we can be as we rub shoulders with the forces in the universe…. My thoughts go out to the family of Bernard Malanda-Adje and all those who grief as a consequence of his fortuitous departure.

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.