There are always two ways to look at a game. You can take the result at face value, sing or wail appropriately, and then pray for good fortune in the match(es) to come. On the other hand, you can consider what went before, good or bad, look beyond the scoreline and glean lessons. The latter approach is often the more rewarding one, especially for teams with lofty aspirations.
Why is this relevant? Well, having exited the continent, Enyimba showed willingness for the NPFL fight with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Akwa United. There’s life in the elephant yet. That said, while the relief was palpable, there is cause for concern.
Cast your mind back to the 2-1 win over Kano Pillars sometime ago. We went ahead, conceded an equaliser, then got the winner. Same storyline as Saturday, and an eerie similarity as well: both equalisers came as a result of individual errors by our captain Chinedu Udoji.
There obviously does not exist a perfect player anywhere, but when your dependables begin to make routine mistakes, it is wise to take a step back and ask why. Do this, and in this case, it immediately becomes clear what the problem is.
No Enyimba player has played more minutes this term, across all competitions, than Udoji. “Of course, he’s the captain,” you might say. Well, when you consider the fact that Enyimba have had continental obligations all year, and factor in league games and the mileage that comes with it, the total comes up to about forty games.
Is it really surprising then that errors are starting to creep in? Fatigue is a very real thing in football, and a player needs freshness both of mind and body. If the mind is tired, it impacts reaction times: a player may not respond quickly enough to sudden changes in the trajectory of the ball, for example. Not to re-hash Secondary School Biology, but basically your brain gets visual feedback, processes it, then tells your body what to do in response, all within the tiniest fraction of a second. For the professional footballer, this coordination between body and mind is everything.
Similarly, if the body is tired, it may get the impulses quickly enough, but muscle fatigue may prevent the message from getting carried out properly or with the right intensity. Often, players get injured under no contact from the opponent for precisely this reason.
This is where the technical crew really must earn their bread. The captain’s importance within the team is apparent to even the cursory observer, and the season is hotting up with the finish line in sight. The temptation to keep playing Udoji must be great, but as a coach, you have to be able to balance the interest of the club with that of your players. Yes, they are paid, but any mercenary can be paid to play. Mercenaries however do not become club icons like Udoji has, and they certainly do not deserve the respect and consideration of the management like Udoji does.
It is a tough call to make, granted. There will almost certainly be a difference in quality, but not a steep drop-off. Enyimba do, after all, have quality options in every department, including central defence. Time to use the squad, and get the captain the rest he so desperately needs.
Two or three games to refresh his batteries, it’s benefit will be evident in the big battles ahead. Else, we won’t be surprised if we keep shooting ourselves in the leg in games.