News filtered in on Tuesday that home-based Super Eagles coach, Salisu Yusuf had recalled dropped Plateau United centre back Elisha Golbe to the team’s camp ahead of Saturday’s second leg qualifying tie against Benin in Kano.
The decision came after Orji Kalu Okogbue’s red card after the full time whistle in Sunday’s first leg loss to the Squirrels in Benin. With referees empowered by recent amendments in the Laws of the Game to even dismiss a player before the start of a match, Nigeria must now find a replacement for a vital member of the team ahead of the crucial second leg game.
Okogbue, 25, who stars for 2016 Nigerian league champions Rangers was booked in the first half of Sunday’s game for a foul. There were lots of complaints about the performance of the match officials from the Nigerian contingent to Benin including Nigeria’s Football Federation President, Amaju Pinnick.
Okogbue perhaps then took his own level of protestation a tad too far, confronting the match officials from Algeria after the final whistle. Apparently riled by Kalu’s behaviour, the referee showed him a yellow card and added to the one he picked up in the first half, it meant he misses the return leg in Kano on Saturday.
Among other things, one matter of concern which Okogbue’s “moment of madness” placed on the front burner was the level of petulance and players’ lack of control often exhibited by players in Nigeria’s top flight league, the NPFL.
Players are often fed with mischievous notions about match officials before league games, some which often fuel their irritant behaviours towards the arbiters on the field of play.
Rio Nnaji is a Nigerian based in the United States and having worked with former African Champions, Enyimba recently, he corroborates this to ACLSports.
“We see NPFL players do this in the League every week; they think that because there aren’t very stern consequences, then it is ok. But it isn’t.
“I understand that a player can feel aggrieved at the sense of injustice in a game of that magnitude but he also knew that by having a go at the referee he was in danger of getting a second booking.”
Indeed, Orji Kalu Okogbue was one of three Rangers players to be booked for mouthing off to the referee when the reigning league champions edged Gombe United in Enugu in a very turbulent match on May 21.
Besides the negative results that such actions bring to the players’ teams, football being a team game, it also does not help for the development of the said players.
Nnaji further emphasized how Kalu Orji’s suspension would hurt the Super Eagles team more in the second leg given the enormity of the task facing the team in overturning the 1-0 deficit from the first.
“The coaches believe he is one of the two best centre backs in the league and with the stakes even higher now in the second leg, letting yourself get booked at the end of the game was very senseless.
“His experience and leadership in that defense will be sorely missed especially in a game we know we cannot afford to concede a goal!”
Remo Stars players surround referee Joe Ogabor
From a manager’s perspective, at the end of last Sunday’s league game between Rangers and Sunshine Stars, also in Enugu, Sunshine Stars manager Duke Udi was left fuming at one of his player’s indiscipline in the game, a decision that prompted his removal in the first half.
“He cost us the match,” Udi said of his midfielder Michael Okoyoh. “If I had my way, I would have removed him after five minutes for not sticking to plan.”
“Our players must learn one thing, to play in Europe, you must always be on top of your game and be very disciplined in all areas. That’s why, when we were playing, at 3SC, fifteen players went to top club sides in Europe,” a visibly furious Udi noted.
As Kalu, who represented his former club Heartland in 2009 CAF Champions League might have learnt in Cotonou on Sunday, discipline both on and off the pitch, with or without the ball is an essential part of a footballer’s profession. It is hoped his moment will not prove too costly for his side on Saturday.