“Corner-kick”: What qualifies a player as club Legend?

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.

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Corner-kick: NPFL Players, Food and your performance.

Let’s talk about something we can all easily relate to. Let’s talk about food.

Birthrights have been sold for it, wars fought over it. It is necessary for survival, it is even more crucial for professional athletes.

I’m no doctor, but I know that, during physical activity, the body needs glucose to function. It gets this by metabolizing what we eat. And if you own an automobile, you know that the type of fuel matters. You cannot power your average salon car or SUV with kerosene. Similarly, heavy duty vehicles, like trucks and tankers, cannot run on petrol.

Where am I going with this? Well, think of us “regular” people as SUVs. Our daily routines and work schedules consist mainly of white-collar stuff. For professional athletes, they perform high-energy bodily functions every single day: they are trucks.

That means that, for them, their fuel ought to be different. Why then do we claim to be running a professional league in Nigeria when there is no oversight regarding how our “professional” players nourish themselves?

You would think our clubs would employ (and use) nutritionists to monitor and draw up meal plans for their players to follow, in order to ensure meals are eaten at the right times, that the right foods for the release of energy are eaten on matchdays. You would be wrong.

Instead, our players eat the same meals, with the same recklessness, as you and I. The same eba, pounded yam, you name it… Wolfed down with huge servings of red meat. Mind, these meals are not necessarily gotten from the most sanitary vendors, oh no. Under trees, in shacks, sitting on benches by a sewage drain. Yes, you know the type. All under the club’s nose, and with their endorsement.

To be fair, this isn’t simply a failing on the part of the clubs. The players themselves are also culpable. As a footballer, your body is your workspace and your toolkit, and you are aware of this. If the club fails in its responsibility to ensure that the player it has purchased for an exorbitant fee gets the proper nutrition to do the job he is being paid an exorbitant amount to do, what should you do about it?

Commonsense would dictate that you get a nutritionist and consult on feeding plans. Many of them complain about how they’re not treated like Cristiano Ronaldo. Well, guess what? Up until this summer, Ronaldo played for the richest club in the world. He still employed and paid a physical therapist from his own pocket, and invested in equipment to aid his fitness and recovery. The man is still going strong at an age where most would have packed up.

Alright then, so you don’t want to spend the huge sums you’re paid as salary for this. Understandable; in Nigeria, money can go very quickly once immediate and extended families open their beaks and cry. Get on the internet then, with those expensive phones you own, and Google ‘meal plans for professional athletes’. Go from there. It really is that simple.

Instead, we have a system such as we do now. Much as we are sympathetic to the plight of the players, they must bear some of the responsibility themselves. It seems both sides instead try to cut costs and shortchange the other. As the pidgin saying goes, “Cunny man die, cunny man bury am”

Corner-kick: what really happened with Paul Aigbogun?

At this time, it is no longer news that Paul Aigbogun has left his position as Coach of Enyimba. Therefore, we will not flog a dead horse; the confirmation of the state of affairs by the club chairman may have only come in the aftermath of the slim victory over AC Williamsville, but the former Warri Wolves gaffer last took charge of the People’s Elephant in a 2-1 loss at the end of May. It is by no means a recent occurrence.

It does raise a very interesting question though: why exactly did he quit? Of course, no one at the club will volunteer any information so we will have to piece together some clues, put two and two together, and rely on the grapevine.

In the first place, it is safe to surmise that he did not quit because of the under-20 job which he holds. Aigbogun actively pursued that, even while employed by the club, so he obviously had faith in his own abilities to handle the pressures of both. My impression from the start was that it was a mistake, both on his part and on the part of the club, especially with continental commitments to grapple with.

In truth, it was always going to be a tall order for him. His personality just does not lend itself to the sort of strain that comes with juggling two jobs, and it was always going to be Enyimba that suffered.

There is reason to believe that, as at the time he actually left the club, his resignation had not been handed in. How have I reached this conclusion? Well, the official line from the club was that he had only left the country due to his travel documentation expiring. Could they have been economical with the truth? Possibly. But I think it is a little too elaborate to be a lie; my theory is that Aigbogun simply used that legitimate excuse as a means to depart quietly.

So, what happened between when he accepted the position of under-20 coach and when he left the position? Results were not terrible; far from it, in fact. So we know it wasn’t that he suddenly found out he would be unable to cope.

The most logical possibility is that there must have been a falling out between him and club. The Chairman has refused to be drawn on this, which is not surprising. However, it is the most likely cause. As to just how the falling out came about, one can only guess.

One or two whispers from those within the club hinted at a flouting of camp rules, which is remarkable if so. The story goes that the club reacted a little too angrily to what they perceived to be an infraction, causing Aigbogun to become disillusioned.

Is this true? Your guess is as good as mine. We certainly would not be pleased to hear that a manager comported himself with any less responsibility than is expected of the players. At the same time, there is such a thing as diplomacy in this handling matters such as these.

Whatever the case, Enyimba has to face the rest of the season with Coach Usman Abd’allah at the helm. Oh, and in case you hadn’t heard, only the winners of the league and Federation Cup gets into the continent next season.

No pressure then, Coach Usman.

Back next week.