NFF/Aiteo Awards: A Legend is a legend – dead or alive

NFF/Aiteo Awards: A Legend is a legend – dead or alive

A few weeks ago on a flight back to London I just started doing my All-Time Super Eagles 11, I only got as far as the back four and I was stumped. For a few hours I tried but I just could not finish it off. Making an All-Time 11 is a very difficult thing to do for someone who has watched Nigerian football over the last 30 years.

The NFF in conjunction with their sponsors AITEO came up with a list they called something like a Legends 11. They “thought outside the box” and made it a team of male and female ex-footballers. In my years of following football I have never seen a more ridiculous concept – and that is me being charitable.

That “thinking outside the box” mentality that Millennials use to cover what I consider foolishness I believe has been allowed to affect a great idea at a proper event. We have had the female national football team long enough for them to have their own Legends list. It is insulting to the Super Falcons that their players needed to be merged with those who had played for the Green/Super Eagles.

I have read arguments that this was a case of “Living Legends”. What on earth does that mean? Those who were legends lose their legendary status because they have died? How do people even sit down and think up such reasons/excuses?

Legends are Legends – dead or alive!

Emmanuel Okala was barely out of his teens when he was shedding blood at the final of the 2nd All-African Games in 1973 as Nigeria won the Gold. He was in goal for Nigeria as first choice until the start of AFCON ’80 when Best Ogedegbe replaced him. Ogedegbe went on to help Nigeria win that tournament.

Sometime after the AFCON ’82 Peter Rufai shared first choice duties in the Nigerian goal with Patrick Okala – both were involved in penalty shoot-outs Vs Morocco in Rabat at different times before AFCON ’84. They both shared duties at that AFCON in which Nigeria went on to make our first final. From that ’82 Rufai kept goal till Nigeria’s first appearance at a World Cup in 1994. He was even our onfield captain as we beat Bulgaria 3-0 in that opening game.

Vincent Enyeama played at 3 world cups and many AFCONs. Enyeama was our best player at 2 of those World Cup tournaments and was the skipper when Nigeria won AFCON in 2013. I consider Enyeama the best to have kept goal for Nigeria and I have had many friends disagree with me so there you go.

By naming these goalkeepers I have just shown how incredibly difficult it is to choose one.

When I started watching the Senior National team those who battled for the right back slots were Patrick Ekeji and Annas Ahmed. Ekeji with his long throws did stand out for me. He was the first choice for the talented but unlucky 1976 to 1978 side who were not allowed to play at the Montreal Olympics because of Politics, lost out to Tunisia for the ’78 World Cup and finished 3rd at the Ghana hosted AFCON ’78. He left for University in the then East Germany and missed out on the AFCON 80 in Lagos.

David Adiele was first choice as we won AFCON ’80. After him we had many different right-backs. Yisa Sofoluwe and Bright Omokaro were able to play on either flank and did for a few years. Augustine Eguavoen played or started playing right-back for Nigeria at Tunisia ’94 AFCON and carried it on to World Cup in the US. I consider Egu a Super Eagles legend because he played for Nigeria for many years and many positions however, for the RB slot I will not even make him first choice for Nigeria.

As at the time Ekeji was first choice RB, Sam Ojebode was the penalty expert left back. By AFCON ’80, Okey Isima had been convinced by Oto Gloria to drop back from his midfield position to play LB for the Eagles as we won the AFCON. It is important to point out that Felix Owolabi – just for being a huge part of the ’80 win is also a legend. However, from memory, I can only remember Owolabi playing LB Vs Algeria for the first time in1981 during those disastrous WCQs for Espana ’82. He did play there during an equally disastrous title defence in Libya in 1982. He has no business at LB in any Legends line up.

Omokaro, Kingsley Onye, Sofoluwe, Ben Iroha, Mike Emenalo and especially Celestine Babayaro have greater claims for the Left Back position for the Super Eagles.

Having Chairman Chukwu and Uche Okechukwu as the central defenders can be allowed. However, Godwin Odiye, Sunday Eboigbe, Andrew Uwe, Joseph Yobo, Chidi Nwanu, Tunde Bamidele and Uche Okafor can claim to have served the country very well in the heart of the defence.

I am actually tired of this as it annoys me even more as I write. I will finish with these:

To talk about Nigerian national team football heroes and leave out Stephen Okechukwu Keshi is the greatest insult to anyone who has followed Nigeria football. It is the type of pettiness that 10 year old children can get up to. It is petty and it deserves to be called out.

This pettiness is compounded by the leaving out of Rashidi Yekini. How do you even sleep at night when you are part of this kind of decision? How do you want posterity to judge all of you who made this decision to leave out two of Nigeria’s greatest servants?

3 Comments

  • Reply Sola Aiyepeku February 20, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    Spot-on Emeka!!
    I certainly couldn’t have expressed myself better. Intense anger? rose within as I went through the incredulous list. How could they?! How?!!
    No Keshi … no Keshi?!! On whatever basis?
    Okay … Emeka, first you’ve got to complete writing your thoughts.
    Finally, its extremely difficult to imagine people who claim to know Nigerian football actually deliberated that. No way.

  • Reply Rotimi Dada February 20, 2018 at 12:10 pm

    I thought it was a joke when I saw Felix Owolabi at Left Back!

    I feel your pain. Pele

  • Reply Igbo Amadi-Obi February 20, 2018 at 11:53 am

    I guess if the classification is clearly ‘living legends’, it explains leaving out dead legends. So the panel can still enjoy their sleep.

    Where they do not deserve a wink is lumping male and female living legends together. Not sure I can ever sleep having read that.

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