Odegbami: To Zurich With Mathematics Of Soccer!

ODEGBAMI-CARTOON-CopyOLUSEGUN Odegbami relieves the memory of good old days. He holds aloft the beauty of Nigeria’s past glory in the game of soccer. It was in the heydays of his soccer wizardry that the commentary artistry of Ernest Okonkwo found great national expression. Nigerians’ legendary love for the round leather game has been dated. In the days gone by, it was always a beauty to watch countrymen and women huddled together around their radio sets as they listened to football commentaries of the actions on the field of play, mostly when their darling national team, the Green Eagles, was playing against another country.

It was an epoch when the great facility of the television was scant. As such, radio filled the gap created by distance between the fans and their darling team. It was a period when Radio Nigeria helped to uplift the national pride. There was, no doubt, that part of the renown, which Radio Nigeria achieved in those days, in the reckoning of Nigerians, was traceable to its religious commitment to football commentaries.

And the radio station was blessed with analytical and talented broadcasters on the sports desk. The late Ernest Okonkwo led this galaxy of stars to give soccer-loving Nigerians their yearning for minutiae of action from the various football fields where the Eagles were playing.

It was in one of such meets that Okonkwo, stunned by the sheer skillful dribbling runs and precise passes, described the star as mathematical Odegbami. There was a convergence of opinion around soccer fads in the country that their beloved radio commentator’s opinion was apt. The epithet stuck! Ever since, the Great Eagle, Odegbami’s name was not complete without the prefix, ‘Mathematical’.

Again, Odegbami reminds of the foundation members of Nigeria’s journey to glory in the game of soccer. He reminds of his team mates, like Okey Isima, ‘Midfield maestro’ Mudashiru Lawal, Aloysius ‘Blockbuster’ Atuegbu, Adokie Amiesiemeka, Sylvanus ‘Quicksilver’ Okpalla, Kadiri Ikhana and their skipper, whom the same Okonkwo described as the chairman of defense; Christian Chukwu. Though, it was painful that Nigeria’s Green Eagles, as the national team was known, did not make it to world stage, the players gave the citizens much to cheer and sustain their love for football.

Nigeria was thrown into national ‘mourning’, when a back-header from Godwin Odiye scored led to an own goal against Eagles in a game in which what the team needed was, a draw against Tunisia, for Eagles to advance. That loss denied the glorious Green Eagles of a place in the 1978 Mundial held in Argentina.

Two years later, the Green Eagles wiped the tears on the eyes of their fans and compatriots, when they won the African Nation’s Cup. That laurel helped the team to stamp its authority as a gathering of talented football stars and the country, as a great soccer-playing nation.

Most of these soccer stars that shone brightly in the 80s have been buried in the bowels time and heap of history. There is, no doubt, that they provided the foundation upon which succeeding generation of stars built upon to impress the world in the 90s – the 1994 World Cup in US and winning the 1996 Olympic Gold in soccer in Atlanta.

A product of domestic football team, the Shooting stars of Ibadan, Odegbami, whose other name is Patrick, was called from the local league side, IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan, in 1976, to the Green Eagles, where he scored a total of 23 goals before hanging his boots in 1982. But Odegbami has kept his eye and sustained his interest and love for the game that brought him into national limelight. Unlike some of his contemporaries that tried their hands in coaching, the former skipper of Green Eagles started writing a column in one of Nigeria’s national dailies.

He has been enriching discourses and discussion on sports, nay soccer development in the country. At a time when it was common to see football players as deviants, never-do-wells in academics and school dropouts, taking to column writing helped to separate Segun from his peers.

He is a proud graduate of Engineering from The Polytechnic, Ibadan. The Mathematical forward line striker has continued to serve as inspiration to younger Nigerians, especially those with qualities of future champions in soccer.

Just this week past, Olusegun Patrick Odegbami clocked 63 years, having been born in 1952. It does not take long for boys to become men, but Odegbami has truly paid his dues in the annals of soccer. Perhaps, as a mark of his maturity and deep interest in soccer, the precision player announced his ambition to replace the embattled Sepp Blatter as President of the International Federation of Football Associations, (FIFA).

By standing to be counted for an election that promises to parade the big names in soccer, either as players or financiers, Odegbami has waved Nigeria’s banner of soccer excellence.

Again, by indicating his interest in the topmost post in global football administration, the mathematical forward liner would headline Nigeria’s acclaim as a great football-playing nation.

The former Eagle would stand on the world stage alongside other football greats like Michel Platini of France, Arthur Antunes Coimbra (aka Zico) of Brazil and businessman, Chung Mong-joon of South Korea, for the election of the next FIFA president on February 26, 2016.

Though, there are suggestions in some quarters that Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa is also making consultations to join the race, the star from Ibadan has already started seeing himself as the African candidate. He seems to go in the confidence that his mathematical runs on the soccer field would help him to edge past the other Nigerian, soccer financier and enthusiast, Orji Uzor Kalu, who has also announced his interest in the FIFA presidency.

Announcing his interest in the prestigious position, Odegbami declared that; “My life’s ambition has always been to use football to make a difference in my local space and across the world” even as he told sports broadcast journalists that, “Africa must play a big role in world football.” Noting the scandal that has reduced the moral stature and image of FIFA, Odegbami believes that a combination of talent and training is what Blatter’s successor requires to succeed on the job. He believes that “the current scandal at FIFA is the organisation’s worst crisis in its 111 years of existence” and Blatter’s 17 years presidency.

He added in a recent statement: “Moving forward, FIFA thus requires a new era of leadership that can restore the dignity of the noble sport. Times like this call for all concerned members of the global football family to contribute to the actualisation of renewed objectives for FIFA by electing a deserving and qualified person, with the right character that can achieve the desired goals and restore confidence and integrity to the organisation and its activities. The world is very interested in who becomes the next president of FIFA, considering the present images and state of this institution. I see myself fitting into this role.”

Odegbami’s chase of world football’s top job is coming at an auspicious time when Nigeria is searching for a new compass to recover its winning ways in soccer. In 2010 and 2014, he had made attempts to run for the presidency of NFF, but was ‘fraudulently’ ruled out. But the 1980 winner of African Cup of Nations is not deterred in his efforts at bringing a change in the way football is administered in the country.

In 2007, he established The International (Sports) Academy (TIA), Nigeria’s first and only multi-sports secondary school for young boys and girls with interest in and talent and passion for sports.

The school runs a six-year curriculum (JSS1 – SS3) during which students have the opportunity of a quality academic programme combined quality and intensive athletic programme of their choice in readiness for life as a student athlete in college or normal further education. The school is located in Wasimi Orile, Ogun State.

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has another challenge before it in settling for a candidate that could put a good show at the February 26, 2016 election in Zurich. Not long ago, when he was unveiled as the new coach of the Super Eagles, former Eagle, Sunday Oliseh, observed that Nigeria’s pattern of play requires a radical change, pointing out that in the dearth of individual talents, building a team is the best way to go.

Like Oliseh, Odegbami possesses that intellectual capacity to lead the way in the search for durable reforms in FIFA. Winning the FIFA presidency would doubtless crown Odegbami’s mathematical prowess in his approach to the game of soccer. Through his fleet-footed displays in the field and mental cogitations on the newspaper pages, this shooting star has all it takes to score a first in crucial moments and make his fatherland proud!

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