It is so difficult to define what exactly a legend is. It is one of the most overused terms in sports, and is so open to interpretation in a field like football where so much depends on subjectivity.
For instance, we can all agree that, to be a legend, one has to have been a great player. Yet, that is subjective, especially when evaluating different positions. A great striker is easy enough to decide: just look at his goals tally, right? And yet, that does not take into account what his role is in the team—some strikers exist to make space for others rather than to score themselves. If he is performing his assigned function excellently, then he is a great player.
However, to the fan who is not in a position to know what his assigned function from the coach is would not be able to appreciate it. See how complex it can get?
Some players are great, but we feel no real connection to them emotionally, and so we are reluctant to call them legends, especially at club level. Some are not so great, but will regularly beat their chest and kiss the badge and have us throwing roses at them. See?
I happened upon an interesting discussion on Twitter, as a fan insisted that Mfon Udoh is not an Enyimba legend, while Emeka Nwanna is. It was a very enriching discussion, as it got me thinking. It is an interesting example.
Mfon Udoh is, to this day, the highest scoring league player in a single season of Nigerian football. His record of 23, set three seasons ago, stands to this day. He also delivered a record seventh league title for Enyimba, and if that seems like a light thing, this came after a three-year period in which the league was monopolized by Kano Pillars.
That makes him, demonstrably, an Enyimba legend outright.
Emeka Nwanna is, as well, worthy to enter the discussion. The first-ever player in the league to be sold for a million Naira, he was a crucial part of Nigeria’s first-ever CAF Champions League triumph, lifting the coveted trophy with Enyimba in 2003. That also makes him, demonstrably, an Enyimba legend.
Both won laurels with the club, both changed the game in the local scene. So do we have our criteria then?
Not exactly. If this is what counts, then that would mean smaller teams would have no legends. So perhaps we need to tweak that, and accept that success is relative. For some, it is winning, for others, it might be something else.
No disrespect to him at all, but while Femi Thomas also won the league with Mfon Udoh at Enyimba, he cannot be considered a legend. Would Enyimba have won that title with another goalkeeper between the sticks? I believe so, and in fact there were three very good goalkeepers there at the time, rotating starting duties between themselves.
Now, for a club like Plateau United, who win their first-ever title last season, every player who played a crucial part in it is automatically a club legend. That’s because such a success is momentous, never-before-seen.
Same thing goes for the Rangers side that won the title two years ago, breaking a 32-year “jinx”. The weight of that burden lifted, the long wait, the rise of a sleeping giant, makes that title doubly meaningful.
For some clubs that may never aspire to a title triumph, longevity of playing career alone may be enough. For some whose aim is simply to avoid relegation, the scorer of a saving survival goal may even enter the discussion. It is not an exact science, but categorizing legends is certainly a stimulating mental exercise.