When Akwa United stars experienced essence of Dakkada
WEDNESDAY,November 25, was a day like no other in the history of Akwa Ibom State. That was the day when the people in their thousands trooped out in Uyo to welcome the victorious Akwa United Football Club players back to the state after their victory at the Federation Cup in Lagos.
Akwa United defeated Lobi Stars of Makurdi 2-1 at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos, to become the first club in the old South Eastern State to win any national football trophy. And in the spirit of Dakkada, the new ideology championed buy Governor Emmanuel Udom, the people came out en masse to celebrate their heroes.
At a reception for the team hosted by the state, Governor Udom Emmanuel announced a cash reward of N2 million for each of the players, while the coach got N3 million. The reward package also includes an apartment for each of the footballers and their handlers.
And to ensure the Federation Cup victory is not a fluke, Governor Emmanuel promised to provide the required assistance, material and moral, to enable the club to replicate the success at the continental level next year, when it will be competing in the Confederation Cup championship.
The victory of Akwa United, which broke a 51-year jinx, and the governor’s reward for the team, is particularly significant when it is considered that the team barely managed to escape relegation in the premier league.
While many were celebrating the Akwa United feat, there were some who saw the victory as an apt example of how a well-motivated team can rewrite history when all seemed hopeless.
Sports lawyer, Sabinus Ikewuaku, who was at the reception for the team in Uyo, attributes Akwa United’s victory to the push by the government and management of the team on the players to go the extra mile.
“Remember, Akwa United just escaped relegation by the whiskers. But that did not show in their game against LobI Stars.
“It is a practical confirmation of the wise saying of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, that how many times a man falls is not as important as his ability to get up each time he falls.
“The Akwa Ibom State government-owned club may not have fallen in the nation’s elite football league in the sense that it was not relegated to the division one category. But it was not successful either, in the real sense of the word, if success means finishing at a respectable position.
But because Dakkada is about refusing to be an ‘also ran’ or accepting the tag of a ‘has been’, the players decided, individually and collectively, to wake the lion in them – the same lion that spurred players of Enyimba, Warri Wolves and Nasarawa United into finishing in the top three – they ended the season on a batter note than teams that finished above, them, but below the three clubs,” Ikewuaku surmised.
Next year, the team will join Nassarawa United in the Confederation Cup race, with a trophy already in the kitty.
To former Super Eagles defender, Mike Onyemachara, Governor Emmanuel has shown the youth of the state the way to go.
“He has demonstrated, practically, what may have seemed abstract, which is the fact that you can never tell the height your hobby can raise you, if pursued with passion,” Onyemachara said.
The Nigerian league is one of the poorest paying on the continent, with players earning just enough to enable them to exist. It is the reason the country’s footballers who cannot make the big move to Europe see other leagues in Africa as more inviting, leagues like the ones in South Africa and Tunisia, and even Sudan, whose economy is nowhere near that of Nigeria, in terms of size and strength. And so, for a footballer who plies his trade in an environment where N50, 000 monthly salary is a luxury; where he can barely afford the rent for the accommodation that is just enough for his small family, a bank alert of N2 million in one fell swoop, including an assurance of a better and more decent accommodation, there couldn’t be a better assurance that he is in the right job.
Interestingly, not all the players of Akwa United are from Akwa Ibom. For those who hail from other parts of the country, the opportunity to own a property in the state, for merely kicking the round leather (as some ignorant people would say), is something they will cherish throughout their lives.
The Federation Cup victory, and the reward that has come with it, may be the stepping stone the players of Akwa United need to reach for the stars. The question they may be trying to answer is the form of reward that could come with a continental cup triumph, if victory at the national level could fetch them so much.
The governor’s reward for the Federation Cup success, and whatever he may give the players in the event that they win the Confederation Cup next year (not impossible, if it is recalled that the then IICC Shooting Stars and Rangers International won the trophy is 1976 and 1977, respectively), are just short term achievements of Dakkada, which are the motivations they need to go for the long term, as individuals.
With the chance to criss-cross Africa playing in different countries next year, comes the opportunity of exposure, not just on the continent, but also beyond.
Suddenly, players to whom football in the top flight leagues of Europe had been something of a mirage, now see that it is realizable, after all. Participation in continental football will present the opportunity they need to get bigger clubs in Africa, as well those in Europe, to look in their direction, for the ultimate goal of a rewarding career in football.
Onyemachara also says the spectacle of the reception for the players can serve as motivation for children in primary and secondary schools, who dream to follow in the footsteps of the big boys?
Edidiong Effiom, a grassroots football coach, told The Guardian that in Akwa Ibom, Vincent Enyeama, perhaps more than any Nigerian goalkeeper in history, has encouraged the youth to believe that what they see as a pastime could be a means of livelihood and fame.
He said: “They are likely to see Governor Emmanuel’s reward to Akwa United players as an incentive to aspire to be the best. They will have parental backing on this. Not many of them will recall how Enyeama started, especially since the goalkeeper suddenly shot into national reckoning at the Japan/Korea 2002 World Cup where he made his debut. But they will find motivation in the success of Akwa United and the reward that trailed that success, because they can easily relate with the team they see every other week at the Nest of Champions in Uyo.
They will recall how Emem Eduok started playing in front of them, and moving to Dolphins of Port Harcourt, before catching the attention of Esperance Football Club of Tunisia, where he is at the moment.
“They may decide to follow the progress of Ubong Friday who emerged top scorer in the Federation Cup campaign with six goals, with the potential to get noticed at the continental level.”