My Return to Football

It’s been forever since I actually had enough time to contemplate writing a piece and I sincerely apologize to each of you – followers of Gistoscope and first time readers(I’m gracious like that). But, I’m back like Johann Sebastian(Hehehe) and I’ll try to stick around for as long as my schedule allows.

bach 2Johann Sebastian Bach looking sideways for a change

Okay, to the topic of this post. Football! I finally sat down to watch weekend football for the first time in a long while and this is a mish mash post about the experience and my random thoughts on the premier league – Enjoy!

I started with the Ram-zil-ian Arsenal(I definitely did not just make that up – true story). I felt this would be an ideal platform on which to base judgment of their title credentials. For the first time since the season just after they sold Henry(2007 abi 2008), they’ve actually put together a run of results akin to those of League Winners in the past.  So, I sat down to watch the Gunners . . . and well . . . I wasn’t disappointed. A big loss to a title rival just when the team is picking up a bit of heat has become a mainstay characteristic of the trophy-less Arsenal teams of the past.  I’d like to leave it at that, however, I feel it is only fair to say I saw significant improvements from the young team in red and white. Apart from the obvious increase in class which Ozil offers them, they had real thrust with the pace of Walcott down the right as well as the combined athleticism and general box-to-box-ness(of course, that’s a word) of Ramsey and Wilshere. Which brings me to Ramsey. His improvement, while massive and astonishing, has also been immensely heartwarming. I remember the combined blend of grief, pity and sheer sadness that engulfed I and my friends as we saw his severed leg hanging bizarrely after Shawcross had decimated him way back in 2011. He has become a whole new animal this season and is definitely my surprise of the season. Of course, they’ve been drawn with Bayern Munich and I feel as things look currently, it’s fair to say things are looking a bit bleak for the serious team from North London on the European front.

ramzil 3 ramzil 4The Ram-zil-ian Arsenal in full flow

Manchester City, their opponents on Sunday have been up and down more times than a jumping jack high on crack. The cliché – from the sublime to the ridiculous- best describes their performance thus far. So many excellent victories especially at home have been followed by shockingly poor losses(normally away). For those of you who follow this blog, you’ll know I tipped them to win the league this season, and I stand by that  prediction against my better judgment. Aguero’s injury could potentially topple their season but I believe if Pellegrini can work on consistently getting the best out of this team, then the League is theirs to lose(Sorry Gunners, I’m just not convinced).

Now unto the other pretenders, Liverpool have really impressed me this season and Suarez has upped his game to an even more surreal level. He’s been more than fantastic and provided he does nothing silly(and by silly, I mean insane, senseless and outrageous), he should break Ronaldo’s 34 goal record. However, I think third is the most they can hope to achieve this season.

suarez 2Suarez looking pretty calm . . .

Chelsea seem to possess class in goal, defence and attacking midfield. However, the considerable decrease in the quality of the options in both the defensive midfield and the striker slots mean consistency is but a pipe dream unless Mourinho changes formation radically or gets some real quality into the club during the transfer window. They are out of the Carling Cup, though which I’m sure will really pinch Jose. Their Champions League draw is also pretty interesting but that’s a story for some other time. David Moyes has started off below average on his Ultimate Challenge and has already lost the trust of many of the club’s fans. However, unlike many other teams(Spurs!- another story for another day), the United management don’t make knee-jerk decisions and as things are, you can be sure Moyes will have at the very least a full year and half before he can realistically get sacked. Funny enough- Everton seem to be doing better than ever(yet another story for another day)

And Southampton, there’s no way I’d leave them out. They’ve been the surprise team of the season for me which says a lot about the work done by Pochettino and whoever it is that’s in charge of transfers over there.

There’s so much more I’d like to write about but this is not the piece for all that. As the days roll by, I’d be writing insight pieces on smaller subplots in football and the premier league especially. I think the next one should be the worn out Messi-C Ronaldo Ballon D’Or argument with the slight twist of Ribery. So, till then – Namaste and have a good day.

NeyberyJust a random, unrelated picture of your run-off-the-mill NeyBery

By I.V Okata . . . an avid football lover

Follow him on Twitter @IzutaDGaffer

Picture Sources –

http://www.telegraph.co.uk, http://www.mirror.co.uk, http://www.culturacolectiva.com, http://www.hiilkubad.com

Advertisements

Looking to the New EPL Season

For the first time in recent memory, the premier league is  free of its Red Nose. Alex Ferguson is gone. Jose Mourinho is back. Rafa Benitez has returned to Italy from whence he came. Manuel Pellegrini  is here and has already added more bazookas and silencers to his Man City artillery. Arsene Wenger is selling all his chaff players and refusing to sign any decent or known replacements. David Moyes seems more awestruck at United than a giddy Canadian teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert and RVP remains as lethal as ever.

On the other end of the scale, the annoyingly good escape artists at Wigan Athletic have finally met their long predicted fall while their chief magician, Roberto Martinez has carried his impressive skills to the reasonable side of the Mersey divide. Brendan Rodgers still can’t keep his mouth shut, no one still knows the point of Fulham, Stoke have changed the manager’s face but have retained their eternal clogging, kicking and lumping standards and Rickie Lambert has continued to impress at the Saints despite looking like your standard fat Championship bully of a striker. Sam Allardyce has recruited Downing to aid in lumping the ball in the general direction of  whichever big man is available, AVB’s voice has gone a notch lower in pitch and Joe Kinnear is back at Newcastle as DoF and we all imagine how supportive that must feel for Alan Pardew.

Now, what’s the point of this article?? Hmmm  . . . Aha! What to expect next season and major predictions. So without much more ado, here are my predictions. Yea, y’all are free to hedge your bets based on these predictions and watch your money double. However, do well to note that I shall not be held accountable for whatever losses you incur in the process whether emotional, financial or both. With that done, here goes nothing;

Top Scorer – Danny Welbeck . . . Nah, just kidding. It’s definitely his Dutch strike partner Robin van Persie who should end the season with the much coveted gong.

Best Player –  Eden Hazard – Yep, I believe Jose Mourinho should psych him up enough to take his game to the next level and win the award. And I’ll also give you the fellow contestants for this role, not at all because I fear Hazard might not win but just because I have chosen to be really gracious . . .true story, the indefatigable Yaya Toure, Robin Van Persie, Cazorla, the dreamy Juan Mata and of course, Spurs new hitman Soldado.

League Winners -Manchester City

Well, I believe despite Mourinho’s return and David Moyes inheriting Fergie’s winning team, City just seem to have an unreal strength in depth that I believe will eventually win them the league title this year.

N/B: If Chelsea sign Rooney, disregard this prediction because I believe they’ll be too strong for the rest of the competition. Rooney plus Mourinho plus ‘Mazacar’ is too bloody a combo for any competition.

Relegation – Hull despite adding the Basketball-ish ‘tiger’ moniker to their official name, still have Steve Bruce and he is going down once more in my opinion. Holloway will attack with Crystal Palace just like he did with Blackpool, but I believe the eagles should go down as well. Sunderland have signed a whole lot of players out of which only Altidore really stands out. For this reason, I’m l tipping them for relegation because they also appear to be the kind of team that will collapse once Di Canio clashes with one of his players, an event we all suspect is just around the corner.

Most Talkative Manager of the Season – No contest. Brendan Rodgers all day long.

Signing of the Season – Ricky van Wolfswinkel – I believe Norwich should survive relegation this season mostly because of this signing. I see him banging in at least 15 goals this coming season and being the equivalent of Benteke to Villa last season.

Surprise of the Season(Player) – Nacer Chadli – Who’s he? Right? Watch out . . .

Surprise of the Season(Team) – Cardiff City – I know, I know . . . It seems very easy to just choose a random team from promotion to fill this position but I honestly believe they could punch well above their weight this coming season.

Fourth Position – Tottenham Hotspurs – The first three from last season will most definitely remain in the top three in an altered order, nevertheless.  The fourth slot depends greatly on whoever of the contenders has the least ‘serious’ injuries to key players over the course of the season. However, as the transfer window is set to slam shut, (By the way, why does it always slam shut? Not move slowly and limply to a close despite having been open since July?) teams are likely to improve or have their teams decimated by bigger or richer teams home or abroad. Therefore, I’m making this prediction from the current state of the contestants.

By I.V Okata . . . an avid football lover

Follow him on Twitter @IzutaDGaffer

The Ultimate Challenge of David Moyes

It is May, 2013 and we are in England. Practically every European league has ended on a limp note due to the fact that one team had led comfortably all the way through. Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus, PSG, Celtic and numerous others across the continent are all crowned Champions by many long before the season is done with. This is unacceptable. It is clear that the changes would be rung across Europe with numerous big name managers forced to leave their posts to be replaced by other, ironically, big name managers. This is the way it has been since the cash stakes at football clubs became this high so no one is surprised. Real Madrid and Chelsea in particular have been rotating managers with a speed so blinding, it’s worrying no one has decided to attach a turbine to their managerial seat. In the same vein, in English football, there has always been a constant . . . an unchanging force, an omnipresent one of sorts. If you needed to conquer England, then you knew you had to first subdue this power located in Manchester. Alex Ferguson. Red nose, Scottish, annoying, excellent, efficient, bad tempered, domineering, capable of unimaginable feats of ‘hair drying’, Alex Ferguson has become an ever present in the Premier League.

Manchester United v Aston Villa - Premier LeagueFergie looking different without the glasses and scowl

However, the horizon is changing. Sir Alex has just announced that he would be leaving after ‘knocking Liverpool off their perch’ and getting United their twentieth league trophy. This has plunged numerous United supporters to the depths of despair and alcoholism(ok, maybe not that many) while the rest of them are left hoping and praying that the club can find similarly stable hands to take their beloved club forward. Pep, Jose, Rafa, Manuel and many other names are thrown into the hat as potential replacements. David Moyes, nevertheless is the Chosen One. Alex Ferguson has chosen David as his replacement and with that thrust the ultimate challenge onto the lean, Scottish shoulders of David Moyes.

David-Moyes-1878429Seriously, that’s the guy who will be replacing Ferguson

Fast forward by two months, and the ultimate challenge has kicked up a notch in difficulty without a ball being kicked in anger. Sir Alex Ferguson by any definition, in the football world is a great man. His achievements-so many, his feats-so dizzying, his scowl-so severe. There is a reason why Robert Greene’s 41st Law of Power clearly warns it’s power-seeking readers to ‘avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes’. By accepting this job, David Moyes, who by the way has never won a major trophy, has accepted the most thankless job of any manager in England and probably the world. ‘How does one begin to replace Sir Alex Ferguson?’ is the question. It seems a herculean task at best, one that very few people believe David Moyes is capable of. This is his first challenge.

david-moyes-Hey! Anderson!! Drop that Pie! You’re too fat already

David Moyes has to convince United that he has the skill set and mentality necessary to manage a team as big as Manchester United successfully. United in the last twenty years have been able to consistently lift trophies even when it seemed impossible (the 1999 Champion’s League Final is a very adequate example). However, in more recent times, Alex Ferguson’s teams have become much more apt at the art of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat despite his teams becoming progressively worse/less glamorous/more Welbeck-y(delete as appropriate). You’ll find very few people seriously arguing that a midfield of Beckham, Giggs, Keane and Scholes was not on a-whole-nother level to Carrick, Ashley Young, Valencia and a 37 year old Scholes. Yet Sir Alex was a few defeats away from breaking the record points tally with the latter midfield line-up! Astonishing, right? The man had been able to instill an unshakeable belief in his arguably average players motivating these mere mortals to produce performances gods would be proud of. David Moyes has been able to do something vaguely resembling this at Everton but without the pressure of expectancy to win every trophy in sight. He will have to repeat the trick on a much larger scale, to a much larger audience and with infinitely more pressure.

david-moyes-620-244797860-3261601David has to repeat this and actually win some real trophies

Now however, in addition to the pressure of expectancy, he also has to face the rejuvenated challenge from London in the form of a Jose Mourinho-led Chelsea, a now cash-rich Arsenal(let’s believe them this time while marveling at their soon-to-be-announced capture of Gonzalo Higuain) and a Tottenham team off the back of its highest points tally, possessing Bale and who are a top striker away from becoming a real force to reckon with. One then goes on to factor in the worsening state of the United team, the talent pool of their cross town neighbours (which is about to get even more terrifying with the addition of Jesus!!!, Manuel Pellegrini and Jovetic) and lest I forget, the renewed threat from the classic Suarez-Sturridge-Mkhitaryan(he was signed, right?) axis over at Liverpool (Apologies, these lists are never complete without a joke). It is at this point that it becomes clear that David Moyes faces a challenge which is probably as difficult if not more difficult than any Ferguson faced during his time at United.

DavidDavid’s like; “Chillax, I got this”

As if his task wasn’t arduous enough, he has to contend with the loss of Thiago-their prime transfer target- to Bayern Munich and the ‘delicate situation’ with Wayne Rooney and his much publicized wish to leave the club as soon as possible. The Rooney situation in particular appears like a lose-lose one(A story for another day). The player is apparently ‘angry and confused’ at his new role in the club and David Moyes will need the wisdom of Solomon and the tact of  . . .  well . . . anybody you know who is really tactful. These two ‘sagas’ as well as the apparent rebuttal by Fabregas has got numerous fans wondering whether the relatively austere David Moyes will be able to attract Europe’s top talent to Old Trafford especially now that it has become clearer that United need reinforcements especially in midfield.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Everton v Manchester United - Goodison ParkThey kinda look like father and son, right?

David Moyes will have trying times ahead for sure. One cannot overstate the enormity of the challenge he faces. He has stepped into a great man’s shoes, he doesn’t have any stand-out attributes that will make the supporters naturally gravitate towards him, he has very little experience at the deep end of the football spectrum and has never worked under as much pressure as he is likely to face in Manchester. He needs to rebuild an ageing team, he needs to handle volatile transfer situations and he needs to do all these while in competition with some of the toughest fishes in the football sea. The only two things that seem to be going for him are the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson endorsed him and he signed a six-year deal meaning the indebted club will be a tad reluctant to let him go. This means he will be afforded a degree of time to perform. David Moyes needs to rise to the occasion superbly, else his Ultimate Challenge could very easily turn out to be his Ultimate Failure and subsequently, his Ultimate Nightmare.

By I.V Okata . . . an avid football lover

Follow him on Twitter @Izutadgaffer

 

Picture Sources –

liverpoolecho.co.uk, huffingtonpost.co.uk, dailyrecord.co.uk, www1.skysports.co.uk

When will Liverpool FC replace Captain Fantastic?

The English Premier League has recently lost some of its greatest characters to the footballing abyss of retirement. Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Alex Ferguson have joined Sol Campbell, Roy Keane, Patrick Viera, Alan Shearer and numerous other amazing legends who have graced the English game since its rebranding in the early 90s. Liverpool FC is without doubt, one of the greatest clubs in the history of football. Numerous greats have graced the hallowed Anfield turf, leaving eternal impressions on the hearts of the fan base and indelible legacies on the history of this football club. We have seen the transition of captains since the inception of the club, but one stands out proudly as not only a captain, but the heartbeat of the team, he is STEVEN GEORGE GERRARD.

Steven_Gerrard_1457824iSteven Gerrard – Liverpool’s heartbeat

Gerrard started playing football firstly for hometown team Whiston Juniors, where he was noticed by Liverpool scouts. He later joined the Liverpool Academy at the age of nine. He then had trials with various clubs at fourteen, but his success wasn’t immediate as he never made it into the England schoolboys’ team. His trials included one at Manchester United, which he claimed in his 2006 autobiography was done “to pressure Liverpool into giving him a YTS contract.” Gerrard signed his first professional contract with Liverpool on 5th November 1997 but waited till 29th November 1998 before he made his Liverpool first-team debut in a Premier League match against Blackburn Rovers as a last-minute substitute for Vegard Heggem.

Since he made his full debut in the Liverpool FC senior team, he has been an inspiration to fans of the club both on and off the pitch. Watching him play for the club which he has always supported remains a sight to behold. He plays with his heart on his sleeve, puts in 101% always and motivates his team mates without end. This was quickly spotted by the then manager, Gérard Houllier who made him the captain of the club in October 2003, saying that he recognized Gerrard had demonstrated leadership qualities early on, but needed him to mature some more. Prior to that, he was the assistant to club captain Sami Hyypia, a position he held just for a year before taking over the mantle of leadership.

Steven-Gerrard-002Stevie acknowledges the Kop

For almost a decade now, Liverpool FC has been built around Steven Gerrard. He has been drafted from one position to another, playing in almost every game, even with injuries on some occasions. He has been the engine room of the team, making sure the team ticks and getting the ball to the forwards as best he can. Torres was a good beneficiary of that, as more than 50 percent of his goals while playing for the club came from assists from Steven Gerrard. Moreover, his defensive ability cannot be overlooked, as he makes sure he returns to cover the defence whenever they are under pressure. Gerrard came second only to Kenny Dalglish in the list of the “100 Players Who Shook The Kop” Liverpool fan poll. In 2004, he exhibited his true loyalty to the club by turning down a 20 million pounds move to Chelsea FC. The next year, the same club came calling, and he rejected a club-record £100,000-a-week offer from Liverpool. Liverpool chief executive as at that time, Rick Parry conceded the club had lost Gerrard, saying, “Now we have to move on. We have done our best, but he has made it clear he wants to go and I think it looks pretty final.” The next day, Gerrard signed a new four-year deal as Parry blamed the earlier breakdown of talks on miscommunication between the two sides. Isn’t this player a true lover of the club? One can’t imagine this team without him, as some say ‘no Steven Gerrard, no Liverpool FC’. This guy’s talent is awesome, especially when one considers just how prodigious his strength, determination, drive, passing, shooting, tackling ability et al are. He is the only player in history to have scored in an FA Cup Final, a League Cup Final, a UEFA Cup Final and a UEFA Champions League Final. Now that’s greatness.

steven-gerrard_1002287cCaptain Fantastic rescues Liverpool once more

Unfortunately, he is coming into the twilight of his career, yet the club doesn’t have a replacement for him. It is imperative for the club to do so now, as a stitch in time will always save nine. For someone to fill the big shoes Gerrard will leave behind on retirement, firstly, he has to be a passionate fan of the club with precocious talent to match. Also, he has to be a team leader, a role model and most importantly, a Liverpudian. One who will see it as an honour to don the timeless red jersey of Liverpool FC and play for the club as long as his legs can carry him. Liverpool have brought in some young talented players from the club’s youth team but none can be said to possess anywhere near the potential of a future Steven Gerrard. There are now many options in every department of the team, except for that Central midfield role. They have seen the likes of Henderson, Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Allen try their best to play that role, but fall short by a long mile.

HendersonHenderson falling short of Gerrard’s high standards

At 33, Gerrard has a maximum of five more years to go as a top level footballer. This means that now is the time to get his successor, so he can be nurtured by ‘the General’ himself as he is so fondly called on Merseyside. Prayers have even been offered by some eccentric Liverpool fans for Gerrard’s wife to bear a male son- a son who could be trained by the General to eventually take his place in the Liverpool team. That shows just how valuable he is to this football club.  As he has aged, his performances have gradually reduced and Liverpool have suffered as a result. This stresses why it is of paramount importance to get his replacement in as soon as possible. If Brendan Rodgers is really serious about getting Liverpool back to the top, then losing Luis Suarez should just be one of his worries as the chasm that Gerrard’s injuries and retirement will produce is a much bigger potential bother.

steven-gerrard brendanBrendan needs a new ‘General” and FAST!!!

To move this club forward, a replacement must be found. Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool Football Club have been tasked with the ultimate challenge of replacing a man who is basically irreplaceable both on the pitch and in the dressing room. Nothing was more glorious, more emotional, more exhilarating than a young Gerrard single handedly winning a game for Liverpool. The task of finding the new General has begun. Nothing will make me happier than his discovery because Liverpool FC needs a new leader  . . . and they need him FAST!!! I wish the club the best of luck in this trying task.

By Chinedum ‘T Ray’ Izuwah . . . a lover of football

Follow him on Twitter @rayizuwah

Did Neymar Make the Right Choice?

It’s a simple complex question. Just like majority of the questions that plague football fans. Take Fernando Torres for instance. It’s unanimously agreed that his performances at Chelsea have, to put it mildly, been below expectations. However, since he arrived in London, he has won an FA Cup, a Europa League title and a Champions League Medal. These are three trophies he would most likely not have won at Liverpool who despite having excellent history have been a tad mismanaged in recent times. So, in essence, he sacrificed personal acclaim and legendary status at Liverpool for the lure of trophies and more money-a seemingly rational decision which paid off quite handsomely. In contrast, Alan Shearer had the chance to join Manchester United in the mid 90s but turned it down. He is certainly a legend at Newcastle but I’m sure a little bit of him thinks twice about not taking the risk back then, a risk which could have won him a Premier League medal amidst other trophies and could have even made him a legend with a different team, Manchester United.

Now, you’re wondering what all these guys have got to do with Neymar and asking yourself why on earth I didn’t choose a less complicated analogy. Well, that’s the first one that came to mind so take it like that joor.  Seriously though, practically every footballing decision has a huge element of risk attached to it. Sneijder to Inter! Bang! Worked! Michu to Swansea! Bang! Worked too! Ronaldo to United! Excellent! Worked to perfection! Bendtner to Juventus! Errr! Not too sure . . . Sinclair to City! Hmmmm . . . Gudjohnsen to Stoke! Why on earth would he do that?!!! Bebe to United! Now, that was just silly! The point is all these players and clubs wanted the best for their respective careers and teams and so while some decisions panned out wonderfully, others did not.

BebeDespite that nose, he couldn’t sniff out that United was wrong for him

Neymar has made a very big decision to join Barcelona. One that in any other decade in recent football history would at worst be tagged a brilliant decision.  However, he has chosen to move in the one decade where Lionel Messi is almost sure to take centre stage. Since 2006, Little Leo has gradually played an increasingly integral role in Barcelona’s play basically scoring more than half their UEFA Champion’s League goals since 2007. An impressive statistic for a phenomenal player but one that doesn’t bode well for Neymar-another player who loves to be at the centre of things.

I’m going to reel out a few players who found that their star couldn’t shine as brightly at Los Cules because they had to curb themselves for the greater good of the team. Alexis Sanchez; limited his best attribute of aggressively running at and dribbling defenders to join the passing carousel! Ibrahimovic; well, that’s self explanatory. David Villa; started well but eventually shunted out to the left to ‘cater to the team’s needs'(quote from a friend, No!  . . . I didn’t make it up! . . . Ok, maybe a little)! Even Fabregas has seen his game suffer because of the immovable pair of Xavi and Iniesta.  The point I’m making here is that Barcelona are a very well oiled machine who won’t mind dumping your individual needs if it doesn’t show good signs for the team already on ground.

alexisAlexis looking sadly at what he’s become

If for one moment, you find it in your wisdom to label the outrageously good Neymar as overrated . . . well, you might be right. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the fact that he’s a supremely talented footballer; one of the few left of his kind, the endangered species of crowd entertainers. The things that boy can do with a football to grown men are just amazing. His speed of thought, skill, flair, touch and every other fanciful attribute are present in stupendous amounts. He’s simply a joy to watch. So, why would he decide to go to a place where he might have to curtail this prodigious potential for the good of the team? Messi is not going anywhere anytime soon unless he has a career threatening injury and even the most heartless of souls would pray against that (I’m looking at you two – Hitler and Stalin). Therefore, it follows logical reasoning that he should either have waited a while longer or chosen a different path.

NEYMARMESSIWho will take centre stage?

I am not a soothsayer (Seriously, I’m not. My prediction that Daniele Vantaggiato would be great soon clearly depicts this sad fact) but I believe Neymar could have limited the RISK of him flopping by joining a different team. Just in case, you are letter-case blind, the RISK is capitalized because I’m not suggesting for one minute he will flop, it’s a risk and risks can go either way. He could end up becoming the new Ronaldo(the fat one) or could equally end up as a Robinho and if things are really bad, a Kleberson. We all hope he won’t end up as an Afonso Alves who I’m almost sure stole a Brazilian passport (I kid!). That’s exactly what risk means and the least we can do in life is to minimize the risk. Buy a Cazorla for 18mil, buy a Michu for 2mil, buy a Ronaldo(the fit one) for 12mil so even if they flop, the outlay is never too much to really dent your finances. Liverpool should note that buying Downing and Henderson for a combined 20mil is NOT! a risk. It’s bad management and at a combined 40mil is just very poor scouting akin to Chelsea signing Shaun Wright Phillips for 22 mil.

wrightphillipsG_468x521Way too risky signing . . . with lips that are way too big

So, I know you’re asking what these other risk-limiting clubs are especially considering financial constraints. Well, I’ll jump at you first with a Bayern Munich; historically good with Brazilians and about to hire a certain Pep Guardiola. A man I’m sure would be glad to build another team around one of the only other players on the planet who can rival Messi for moments of pure magic. PSG are an equally viable option. With cash to throw around and enough time and less pressure, they could definitely build a future around Neymar. In the same vein, Monaco could be a nice stepping stone too. Man City with Pellegrini at the helm are an equally exciting prospect for him and with the solid defensive base already on ground, he will only need to bother himself with bamboozling the uber physical English defenses. I must state, however that other leagues are of higher preference than the English league where the weather, style of play and physicality could lead to similar disillusionment that has disturbed many of his countrymen in the past on British shores.

guardiola2Would probably have been a better manager for Neymar

I’ll close by saying this. I like Neymar. No matter what the naysayers think, I strongly believe he is the only player in the world with anywhere near the potential to one day rival Messi and Ronaldo in terms of raw contribution to their respective teams. I think those guys can score more than the only remaining guy in the world after an alien invaded earth and killed all the other males on the planet before committing suicide. I wish him the very best in his career and I’d love it if he eclipses Messi and takes centre stage on the pitch and in the heart of the Catalan club(I never forgave Messi for WYC 2005 against Nigeria’s Mikel etc). However, I believe he could have taken a much SAFER (NOT better, nobody can know this except a time traveller) decision by waiting and/or joining one of the other teams I listed earlier. Arsene Wenger will agree with me as he too loves to play it safe.

The prosecution now rests its case. I look forward to hearing from the defense . . .

By I.V Okata . . . an avid football lover

Follow him on Twitter @IzutaDGaffer

Something is Rotten in the State of Nigerian Football

The Nigerian football league is bad. It’s as simple as that. For a country like Nigeria where football is a way of life, a logical thought pattern dictates that the football league here would be world class or near that. Unfortunately, this is so far from the case. There are so many things wrong with the league ranging from poor league administration to abysmal facilities. It is a sad state of affairs when Nigerians are forced to watch foreign football leagues in order to satisfy their insatiable appetite for football. How can one watch a league where home teams are almost always sure bets to win due to predictable ‘refereeing errors’? It’s no surprise that rich Nigerians shy away from investing in any of our clubs here as it would be nigh on insane to invest in a team playing in a league which is so appallingly managed that one could never be sure when the league season actually begins.

NPL matchEmpty stadiums . . . #sad

Our league is in dire need of help. However, for any change to be made one must first address the most pertinent issues; those areas that have completely crippled a potential economic cash cow, those fields which so desperately need revolution, those problems so obvious, it has become a travesty they have not yet been addressed. Here are the five most glaring issues with our football league that have forced even the most patriotic of citizens to turn away from their national sport; (Oh Yes! Football is Nigeria’s official national sport)

ABYSMAL LEAGUE ADMINISTRATION

Who actually manages this league? At present, the league management committee is at war with club owners/managers. The league has no logo since the name is being changed from Nigeria Premier League (NPL) to Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL). There are no set down rules on transfer of players from a club to another. There is no properly drawn up calendar for the league. The amount of times the league start is shifted before the league actually kicks off is enough to make even the calmest of souls scream ‘F*ck this, I’d rather watch Golf”. The league could practically start at anytime and end at anytime. Funny enough, league management is probably the least economically tasking and the most apparent problem the league faces. It is the paper elephant in the room that for whatever reason, everyone is turning a blind eye to. For our league to move forward we need to resolve this immediately.

HORRIFIC STANDARD OF REFEREEING

This is probably the worst problem plaguing our league. It’s an unwritten rule that referees must favor the home teams. It happens so often that one has got to assume that referees are actually told to do this in whatever training program they partake in before approval. Take a look at any set of weekly results from our league matches and you are almost certain to see all the home teams recording a win and in very rare cases, getting a draw. CAF has obviously taken note as it has begun to reflect on the number of Nigerian referees called up for continental assignments. At the 2013 AFCON, only one Nigerian official was on duty, an assistant referee. This is from the most populous nation in the continent.  The terrible state of security afforded to referees is probably a reason why they so frequently make errors which favor the home team. No one wants to get physically abused or even lose his/her life just because some crazy home fans felt he/she “blew against them”. It’s a shambles.

refA referee saving his neck from the wrath of home fans

INADEQUATE FUNDING

The majority of our clubs rely mostly on their respective state governments for funds. These state governments are the owners of most of these clubs except for very few privately owned clubs. Due to the shocking state of corruption in the public sector, it is standard that players and team staff will be owed. Sometimes, players are owed for so long that they decide to boycott matches. Imagine a football league without players . . . yea, me neither. The state of the league stadiums and training facilities including pitches and balls truly depict the extent of this problem. Nothing can move without funding, and we all know our football league is not nothing.

MIND-NUMBING GAME PLAY

This can be attributed to the fact that most managers lack the tactical and technical knowledge necessary to really coach their teams. This is due to the fact that the vast majority do not attend any form of formal coaching training. As such, there is no proper approval system and our league is left inundated with tactless but well connected men passing off as football coaches. In addition, there are non-existent training facilities, astonishingly bad football pitches and severely lacking fitness and medical staff. This recipe can only produce one type of meal. Tiresome, infuriating, technically lacking football teams tirelessly booting the ball from one end of the pitch to the other hoping to eventually get it into the opposition’s net while avoiding serious injury.

naija matchPerfect cure for insomnia

DREADFUL CLUB MANAGEMENT

The term ‘professional football club’ is seemingly alien in Nigeria. To illustrate this, let’s take a little peek at the saga involving the transfer of 2013 AFCON hero, Sunday Mba, from Warri Wolves to Enugu Rangers. How can the management of Warri Wovles declare, with a straight face, that they allowed Sunday Mba to play for Rangers in their 2013 CAF champions league return leg match against Recreativo de Libolo for the interest of the country?!!!! And that Enugu Rangers haven’t actually completed the signing of the player?!!! That’s frankly ridiculous!!! Our clubs don’t even document details of agreements on signing players, no proper welfare packages are organized for these players, erratic delivery of their wages, absolute reliance on state governments for finance which they mostly divert ludicrously and a generally stinky attitude towards carrying out their responsibilities. They don’t contract companies to supply jerseys for them, hence, it should come as no surprise to you if you tune in one day, and see a defender putting on an Adidas made jersey while trying to head a cross away as his goal keeper confidently comes for and claims the cross proudly spotting his Nike made one. It is disheartening, to say the least.

Nigerian football needs urgent help! ASAP!!!!

By Chinedum ‘T-Ray’ Izuwah . . . a true patriot

Follow him on Twitter @rayizuwah

Where did they go?

For most Nigerians, football is more than a sport, more than a pastime, more than a hobby. To most Nigerians, football is life. This combined with immense doses of patriotism means Nigerians pay and will continue to pay rapt attention to football at all levels. With the proliferation of televisions and devices with affordable internet accessibility, Nigerians now monitor all types of football. From women’s under 17 competitions to beach soccer, from the MLS to the J-League, from local five-a-side tournaments to Finnish Futsal, Nigerians watch. We watch in hope that very soon, we’ll produce the next World or more realistically African great. Once in a while, a rare talent shows up on the scene and is hyped to high heavens as a mixture of Pele and Maradona, an unpolished diamond who will definitely end up as the next Zidane or Ronaldo (either Brazilian or Portuguese). The one true footballing wonder that we’ve been waiting for all these years, the player who would take Nigeria to the footballing equivalent of the Shangri-la. Often, these players work hard enough and though they rarely ever reach the expected heights, they do enough for our insatiable bunch to give them our begrudging approval.

However, every once in a while, some of these potential superstars fail to shine and peter out into the football doldrums. For every Nwankwo Kanu, there’s a smiling Pius Ikedia. So let’s take a short stroll down the more recent memory lane and take a look at five of those talents who failed to reach the hotly hankered heady heights;

  • Pius Ikedia

It just felt right to begin with him, after all, he’s notorious for being quick off the mark. The ‘speed devil’ as my friends so lovingly called him back in the day practically ‘burst’ onto the scene. Frequently coming on as a late substitute in games to terrorize tiring defenders with frankly outrageous pace, he was definitely on the road to stardom. Nonetheless, everyone agreed on one thing about him; he lacked the end product. Everyone believed (including Ajax who signed him) that with maturity, he’d get it sorted and become a frightening prospect for opposition defenders. He never got it. He’s had frustrating stints in Holland, Ukraine and Azerbaijan and at 32 is currently still infuriatingly flying down the flanks for Magusa Turk Gucu in Cyprus.

ikediaIt’s a bird! It’s a plane! Huh!(disappointedly) Its Pius Ikedia!

  • Macauley Chrisantus

He was touted as one of the most natural finishers Nigeria had produced in a long while. Storming the stage in 2007 at Under-17 level, he and his fellow Tella boys conquered the world leaving no survivors in their wake. He was awarded the Golden shoe for his seven brilliantly taken goals and the Silver ball. Interest skyrocketed and he joined Hamburger SV. However, he never made an appearance for the senior team and spent significant periods of time on loan at Karlsruher SV and FSV Frankfurt. He scored goals no doubt, but nowhere near the number his devastating youthful form promised. He has since faded away from all the radars he popped up on and is currently at UD Las Palmas in the Spanish Segunda division.

PS: The instantly recognizable names of Toni Kroos and Bojan Krkic won the Golden and Bronze balls respectively in 2007.  I’m sitting here now shaking my head and asking ‘How on earth did Chrisantus get here?!!!’

  • Femi Opabunmi

The THIRD!!! youngest player to ever appear at a World Cup Tournament . . . let that sink in . . . two days younger than Samuel Eto’o when the Cameroonian made his World Cup Debut four years earlier and an equally exciting prospect. Coming off the back of a hugely successful under 17 tournament in 2001 where he won a silver medal, the silver shoe and the bronze ball, his sudden decline was probably the most tragic of all the players on this list. The now 28 year old wing wizard was back then on the books of Grasshoppers Zurich when he showed up on the radars of European giants like Manchester United and Lyon after impressive performances for Nigeria. Scoring on his national team debut further accentuated the frenzy over this whiz kid. Unfortunately, he was forced to end his career in 2006 at just 22 years of age because of serious eye problems. He had eye surgery in 2008 but to the chagrin of the expectant Nigerian football fan base, he was never able to take to the football pitch professionally. A truly sad story. . .

  • Rabiu Ibrahim

Here’s a much younger man who could eventually come good but has faded away astonishingly in recent times. His skill, speed of thought, passing range, outrageous flair and general laissez faire style of play first garnered admirers at the 2007 Under-17 tournament where he immediately brought back fresh vivid memories of one of the World’s greatest ever footballing entertainers – the mercurial Jay Jay Okocha(so good they named him twice). He instantly attracted interest from numerous European giants but opted to take it slow by joining Sporting CP. In late 2007, he was included by World Soccer in its 50 Most Exciting Teen Footballers list and, in March of the following year, he was featured by InsideFutbol.com in an article on young African footballers alongside the likes of Mario Balotelli and John Obi Mikel. In January 2009, he made Goal.com’s list of 10 African Players to Watch, and The Times’ Football’s Top 50 Rising Stars.  He pushed on and performed slightly less influentially but equally encouraging at the Under 20 tournament in 2009 before suddenly diminishing in form. Since then, due to a combination of poor choices and terrible advising, he has, to put it kindly, stagnated. Currently plying his trade at Kilmarnock in Scotland, the ‘new Okocha’ as so many fondly called him is probably going to end up swimming in the unforgiving pools of mediocrity for the rest of his career. As a Nigerian football fan, I genuinely hope

rabiuRabiu dazzled the World in his nascence . . . well  . . . he’s still young

  • Ayodele Adeleye

In 2005, during the World Youth Championship held in the Netherlands, he emerged. Replacing the inept Monday James after the first game and forming a very austere defense line with the then indefatigable Taye Taiwo(sighs) and Onyekachukwu Apam(sighs x2) as Nigeria ended the tournament as runners up behind a Leo Messi inspired Argentina. Apam got suspended in the semi finals meaning Adeleye was forced to cover the shockingly bad Monday James as Leo Messi hit two spot kicks home to deny Nigeria a trophy we sorely deserved for outplaying our opponents. However, in 2008, during the Olympics Football tournament at Beijing, he was reunited with Apam and they recreated the memorably stingy back line, this time with Echiejile at left back. Once more, they fell short at the final stage to the same opponents they met three years ago. This time, however, they were able to stifle Messi but lost to a Di Maria chipped goal. Adeleye then went on to establish himself firmly in the Senior National team’s ranks. He is remembered dotingly for folding up one of his sleeves and with that basically sealing any holes in the backline. He famously led the defence to a well deserved 1-0 victory in a friendly against France where he bravely repelled attacks from a potent French attack including the potent Karim Benzema. He seemed destined to be a mainstay in the National team and a move to a bigger club from Sparta Rotterdam where he was at the time, seemed a mere formality. Bizarrely, he joined Metalurh Donetsk and has since seen his stock fall both at club level and with the national team. He now plays for the massive European giant, Kuban Krasnodar in the Russian Premier league. He was an absolute rock in defense . . . for just a while. . .  Why?!!!!

In summary, I ask ‘what the hell happened?

By I.V Okata . . . an avid football lover

Follow him on Twitter @izutadgaffer