A TALE OF TWO COACHES: SIASIA AND KESHI

 

 

It was the best of all times, it was the worst of all times, it was the dawn of despair, it was the season of hope, it was the age of sackings, it was an era of promotions…It’s no longer news that Nigeria won the 2013 African Cup of Nations held in South Africa, our first victory since 1994 exactly 19 years on, it’s no coincidence that the man wearing the number 19 jersey Sunday Mba, scored the 2 most important goals of the tournament on 2 different Sundays, the goal that knocked out Ivory Coast the continent’s strongest team on paper, and the goal that won the trophy for Nigeria in the tournament’s final game. What stood Sunday Mba out was he was and presently is a home based player.

Not much was expected from the Nigerian Super Eagles at the tournament for many reasons like we did not qualify for the last tournament, something that had not occurred since 1986 (26 years before), Nigeria did not have many players plying their trade in Europes top clubs, and of the few in the other clubs not many were regulars and the few regulars were out of favour with the coach Stephen Keshi, Odemwingie and Taiwo come to mind. Coach Keshi’s final tournament list and Odemwingie’s rant dismissed the little hope many had for the team to make any impact, as the list included 17 debutants and 6 home based players. This was quite a departure from former Coach Samson Siasia who made a name by blooding home based players but failed to qualify Nigeria for the last tournament when he relied on big name foreign based players who disappointed him and the nation. Both Keshi and Siasia had almost the same kind of footballing education and otherwise, both attended the famed St. Finbarrs College, Akoka that produced about 10 Nigerian internationals. Father Dennis Slattery was the principal, both represented the school team in the Principal’s Cup completion for secondary schools, and both were junior internationals representing Nigeria and later became full internationals. Stephen Keshi was the pioneer that opened up Belgium for African footballers after he, Henry Nwosu (another St. Finbarrs allumni) and some NNB FC of Benin players were unjustly banned for a year, Siasia was one of the first players to join him there. Both were first team players at the beginning of the Clemens Westahof era, so both of them knew the secret of his success was getting the right blend of foreign and home based players in the national team and that merit mattered more than big names as both of them were later dropped from first team roles even though Keshi was team captain. Siasia took after Westahof by developing the home based players and he was successful winning Silver in the 2005 junior world cup and in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. On the back of his achievements he was appointed Head Coach of the Super Eagles and he focused more on foreign based players and there was no sense of competition in the team again, this culminated in failure to qualify for the Cup of Nation competition and he was promptly sacked. Keshi on the other hand had moderate success In Togo and Mali, and was appointed to take over from Siasia. He promptly started grooming the best home based players in the land, he had seen from the examples of Westahof and Siasia that a competitive spirit must be fostered on the team and home based players deserve a chance also. Keshi’s all conquering Nations Cup team had six home based players, 2 of them were regulars; Godfrey Oboabona played in central defence while the hero of the hour Sunday Mba played in the Midfield.

Keshi would do well to build on his success by giving more home based players opportunities and his teams should all be merit based, if he can do that, who says the Super Eagles can’t win the next World Cup?

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A MAN CALLED SHANKLY

The history of Liverpool football club can be divided into three parts, the pre-Shankly, the post-Shankly and the Shankly era, this testifies to how this man of humble beginnings built perhaps the greatest football team Britain has known. The importance of this great man to Liverpool can never be overemphasized. He was born in the hardy Glenbuck mining community of Scotland, where it was either the mines or football. Luckily for Shanks and his 5 brothers it was football. He had an eventful career which included winning the FA cup with Preston North End in 1938 before the 2nd World War interrupted football. He went into management shortly after the war, and was interviewed by Liverpool in the early 50’s but he declined when he was told he would not be in charge of team selection, a common practice of those times. He went on to manage other teams until he was invited back to Anfield for another interview. He was asked if he was interested in managing the best team in England, to which he replied “is Matt Busby packing up at United?” Liverpool then in the old 2nd division, was in the shadows of United who were arguably the best team in the land with Busby rebuilding the team from the ruins of Munich a year before. Shankly got the job and was given a free hand to run the team this time. It’s hard to understate the ordinariness of Liverpool’s position in 1959. Languishing in the old second division, with a crumbling stadium, poor training facilities and a large unwieldy playing staff, the challenge facing Shankly was enormous. Liverpool’s, and his, good fortune, was that in Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, and Reuben Bennett, the club had an experienced and resourceful backroom staff, they were the foundation of the famed boot room, the last link to the Anfield boot room is Jamie Carragher, but he will retire at the end of this season. Shankly went to work reducing the playing staff and getting new players that would take Liverpool to the next level. Ron Yeats was his first signing; Yeats asked “wasn’t Liverpool in the 2nd division?” To which Shankly replied ‘Yes, but when we sign you, we’ll be in the first’. Shanks was a master motivator, few coaches in the modern era come close, perhaps Jose Mourinho. Ian St. John soon joined from Motherwell. Ian Callaghan was promoted from the youth ranks, during this period, Billy Liddell ended his playing career, he was perhaps the main reason Liverpool did not slump below the old 2nd division into obscurity, he was a Great Britain and Scotland International, and he spent his entire playing career at Anfield. It was sad he was not part of Shankly’s team that won promotion. Shankly led Liverpool to the first division in the 61/62 season after narrowly missing out by coming third in the 2 previous seasons. Liverpool had an average first season, but won the league in the following year with new signings Peter Thompson and Willie Stevenson. Shankly led Liverpool to its first FA cup triumph at Wembley in 1965, and he won the league the following year, Liverpool were narrowly eliminated in the champion’s cup at the semi final stage and lost the European cup finals during this period. He was an expert in commonsensical psychology, he suggested Liverpool put on an all red strip as opposed to red and white stating that Yeats looked bigger and would terrify the opponents in it, he placed the ‘This is Anfield’ sign on the Anfield tunnel to remind the Reds who they were playing for and the opponents who they were up against. By the mid 60’s age had caught up with his team but he kept faith with them till the 70’s before he broke up the old team and built a new one around the talents of Tommy Smith, Emlyn Hughes, Stevie Heighway, and later on Kevin Keegan. His new team got to the finals of the FA cup in 70’ but lost in extra time to double winners Arsenal. What struck me was the hero’s welcome the team received when they arrived at Liverpool, he addressed the crowd telling them that Chairman Mao the Chinese communist dictator had never seen a show of great strength and that he had told the players before that they were privileged to play for the supporters and if the players did not believe his statement before, they now do, everyone out there was hanging on his words and if he wanted he could have ordered them to riot, such was the power of the man. On the day Shanks signed young Emlyn Hughes, they were stopped by a policeman as they drove to Melwood, Shanks said ‘do you know who is in this car’, the copper replied ‘I’m afraid I don’t know you’, Hughes thought this was the old do you know who I am? routine.  Shanks blasted ‘not me you fool, it’s the lad the future England captain’. Emlyn Hughes later became England’s captain. Shankly’s last official game in charge of the Red’s was the 3-0 FA cup triumph over Newcastle at Wembley. At the final whistle, he went over to the deflated magpies and had an encouraging word for each of them, Malcolm MacDonald probably felt more heartaches than the rest of his mates because he boasted before the match telling the world what he was going to do to Liverpool, Phil Thomson shackled him. Super Mac recalled that he sat on the pitch with head bowed when the game ended and Shanks walked up to him and spoke in his hardy Scottish accent words along this lines, ‘well done son don’t worry so much about today, you’ll be back son believe me, you’ll be back!’ What a gentleman. Sadly Shanks retired shortly after the game, he simply was tired, he expected a place on the board but had long alienated himself to them with statements like ‘In football there is a holy trinity of the coach, the players, and the fans the directors are not part of it, they only sign the cheques’, the board was also very aware of the way Matt Busby’s appointment as a director affected Manchester United culminating in them getting relegated, so Shankly waited but no offer came along. He soon realized he missed football too much and was regular at the Red’s training sessions, which was a bit awkward for Paisley his former number 2 man now the Gaffer, so he was politely turned away. It was a disgrace that he was even more accepted at Everton than at Anfield during his retirement. He passed on 7 years later in 1981, but he lives forever in the hearts of Liverpool supporters the world over. A statue of him at Anfield and the Shankly Gates are a memorial to the greatness of a man who made the people happy.

 

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THE GLORY OF THE GARDEN

Happy 2013 everyone. I’ll love to share some of my thoughts on the work of my favourite poet, Rudyard Kipling. This poem was written in 1911, just a year into the reign of King George V and 3 years to the conflict known as the Great War. Queen Victoria who had passed on about a decade before, would have found it hard to believe her grown up grand children would soon be plunged in war. England was enjoying prosperity fuelled by riches from her empire where “the sun never set” Victorian morality was the order of the day. Kipling, who was the apostle of empire building, showed his concern in this poem about its maintenance, yes the empire had been built but he warned against complacency so it could be sustained. He starts by describing the beauty of England comparing it to a garden, but he is careful to say “the Glory of the garden is more than meets the eye” and it also “abideth not in words” he described the tools and implements used by gardeners to create and maintain the garden’s beauty, they did not just spend time talking about and praising its beauty, and “resting in the shade” or complaining about their problems; they worked hard to get the garden to its present state. In seeing England as a garden he saw that everyone had their part to play in improving her and there was always something for everyone to do like, rolling and trimming the lawns and sifting the sand and loam, because “the glory of the garden occupies all who come” Kipling implores his countrymen to take personal responsibility for the garden because all in all it reflects them, they share of the glory or shame depending on its state. He concludes by writing that the garden is built by working, but it is established by praying. The Glory of the Garden was penned 102 years ago but the words are timeless and true, whether we be in the UK, Nigeria, or the US we need work hard and smart to build our garden and we should not forget to pray so what we build is worthy, and strong enough to last beyond us.

THE GLORY OF THE GARDEN

Our England is a garden that is full of stately views,

Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues,

With statues on the terraces and peacocks strutting by;

But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.

For where the old thick laurels grow, along the thin red wall,

You will find the tool- and potting-sheds which are the heart of all ;

The cold-frames and the hot-houses, the dungpits and the tanks:

The rollers, carts and drain-pipes, with the barrows and the planks.

And there you’ll see the gardeners, the men and ‘prentice boys

Told off to do as they are bid and do it without noise;

For, except when seeds are planted and we shout to scare the birds,

The Glory of the Garden it abideth not in words.

And some can pot begonias and some can bud a rose,

And some are hardly fit to trust with anything that grows;

But they can roll and trim the lawns and sift the sand and loam,

For the Glory of the Garden occupieth all who come.

Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made

By singing:–”Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade,

While better men than we go out and start their working lives

At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives

There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick,

There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick.

But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done,

For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.

Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders,

If it’s only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders;

And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden,

You will find yourself a partner in the Glory of the Garden.

Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees

That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,

So when your work is finished, you can wash your hand and pray

For the Glory of the Garden, that it may not pass away!

And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away!

Rudyard Kipling (1911)

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 3 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

This is a 1946 movie revolving around George Bailey, a man who sacrificed his dreams so that others around him could go ahead. The movie began on Christmas Eve, with prayers being offered for George reaching heaven, and then angels conferred and sent angel second class Clarence Odbody to his rescue telling him George was discouraged. George’s life was shown to Clarence so he would have a picture of how George arrived at that situation. At the age of 12 George rescued his younger brother Harry from drowning in an ice cold pond, in the process, he lost hearing in his left ear.   Later, working in the local pharmacy, George noticed that the druggist, Mr. Gower, despondent over his son’s death, had mistakenly filled a child’s prescription with poison, and saved Gower from killing the child and irrevocably ruining his own life. George has plans of lassoing the moon and bringing it down, travelling round the world, and having his honeymoon in an exquisite place, but he sacrifices it all for others while he and his family barely make it economically. He like his father before confronts the local slumlord Mr. Potter and prevent him from fully taken hold of the Town. Mr. Potter attempts to buy George off, offering him a three year contract to work for him, George angrily rejects the offer. George Is unable to enlist during the war because of his hearing, so he becomes air raid officer, and organizes the rubber and scrap drives while his brother becomes a decorated navy pilot with 15 kills who saves a ship from a kamikaze pilot. The town plans a hero’s welcome for him on Christmas Eve, George’s uncle inadvertently loses $8000 of bank funds while taunting Mr. Potter with a front page newspaper report of the welcome, who snatches the paper and the money from him. This meant bankruptcy, George in desperation goes to Mr. Potter for help. Instead of helping he reminds him of how he scorned his job offer and he calls the police to report misappropriation of funds by George, he also tells him he is worth more dead than alive, referring to the life insurance policy George wanted to offer as collateral for a loan. George comes home, lashes out angrily at everyone then, leaves as he makes his daughter cry. His wife and children pray for him, so angel second class Clarence is sent to help, he also has the opportunity to earn his wings. A frustrated George goes to the river and thinks of jumping in and drowning, all of a sudden Clarence jumps in and cries out for help, George casts of the garb of self pity, forgets his sorrows, he jumps in and rescues Clarence. When they were drying their wet clothes and getting warm Clarence tells him he only jumped in so that he could prevent George from drowning himself, and that he was an angel sent in answer of his prayers and many others in that town. George does not believe him he still harbours thoughts of suicide and even wishes he was not born. Clarence showed him how life would have been if he wasn’t born. His brother drowned in the pond because he wasn’t there to rescue him so the kamikaze pilot crashed his plane into the ship and 800 men were lost, he was not there to save the local pharmacist from prescribing the wrong drugs so a child died and he was imprisoned and became a rejected derelict. His wife was an old maid working at the library, the town was now known as Potterfield after the slumlord, and was filled with places of vice as per 1946, drinking and dancing bars, gambling and pawn stores etc. George realized that the seemingly little things he had done mattered and affected many people in the town in more ways than he imagined. He prayed for God to give him a second chance, and he got it. He ran back home in high spirits wishing everyone along the way including Mr. Potter a merry Christmas. When he got home the police and the press where waiting for him, he wished them a merry Christmas and gave his children as big as a hug could be. His wife came in shortly and she tells him how all his friends were looking for him. Soon many he had helped one way or the other started coming in giving him money because they heard he was in some sort of trouble, a friend from London sent him $25,000. Many said things like if not for George Bailey, I would not have a house, business and the like. Clarence got his wings and wrote in a note in the Adventures of Tom Sawyer he left for George “Dear George: Remember no man is a failure who has friends. P.S. Thanks for the wings!”  His brother Harry also came by to give his brother support and toasting him as the richest man in town.

This is a great Christmas story, where Christ is still in Christmas, and it tells us that no matter how despondent and hopeless the situation is, there is always hope, or light at the end of a dark tunnel. It also shows the connections between human beings, how our actions no matter how minuscule, affects people around us, and that life is a wonderful gift from the creator.

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COLONIAL HISTORY OF NIGERIA

Nigeria is the most populous African nation; it is also the nation with the highest number of black people. She is a nation of over 250 ethnic nationalities; it’s a marvel how so many diverse people could come together.

The earliest written record of a foreign visit to the geographical region of Nigeria was by Hanno the Carthaginian. He sailed down the West African coast probably as far as Cameroun in the 5th century bc. The earliest recorded Europeans to visit were the Portuguese circa 1485; they were sent by Prince Henry the Navigator and led by the explorer, Alfonso D’Aveiro. The Portuguese later exchanged ambassadors with the Olu (Paramount ruler) of Warri and sent some priests to evangelize his kingdom. This was not successful because the Europeans fell prey to malaria, caused by mosquito bites. They tried to train Africans as priests but this was also not successful as they rejected celibacy, this was too far for a people who had been practicing polygamy for generations . The contact was soon lost when Portugal ceased to be a major European power.

The next major contact with the Europeans was with the slave traders. A European priest stationed in South America famously or infamously stated that one African is as strong as four South American Indians he said this because they Indians were being worked to death, and so began the “slave rush” in Africa as Africans replaced the Indians in the plantations and mines. West Africa was the focal point and the “Nigerian” coast where most of the slaves were sold from was called the “Slave Coast” just as Ghana was called Gold Coast and its francophone neighbor Ivory Coast.

The Liverpool merchants played a big role in the transatlantic slave trade; they were part of the starting point of the “golden triangle” where their ships sailed from Europe to West Africa, the second point of the triangle. They bought the slaves and sailed to the Americas the third point, and returned back to Europe, the starting point with their profits. By the 1800’s when slavery and slave trade was abolished after great work by the abolitionists the Liverpool merchants, in order not to lose all their investments started exploring the possibilities of other legitimate trade.  They found many opportunities but they felt the middle men at the coastal cities were preventing them from making as much profit as they wanted. They now sent in the explorers who looked for land and water routes to the hinterland so the middlemen could be bypassed. Explorers like Mungo Park, Hugh Clapperton, the Lander brothers, William Baikie explored the hinterland trying to set up trade routes, and they were closely followed by the missionaries. At first they were hampered by the deadly mosquito, as very few white men were immune to malaria fever. This led to funded research to find the cure for malaria, the French discovery of the effects of Quinine and Sir Ronald Ross’ research led to significantly less malaria deaths, so West Africa ceased to be the “white man’s grave”.

Gunboat diplomacy was used to solve the middle man problem leading to banishment and detention of Ovonramwen Nogbaisi the Oba of Benin, Nana Olomu, a Warri Chief, and King Jaja of Opobo. During this period British companies in the area came together under Sir George Taubman Goldie to form the United African Company (UAC). This company was later chartered and the name changed to the Royal Niger Company (RNC). It represented Great Britain’s interest at the 1884 Berlin conference that partitioned Africa to various European powers, the RNC also administered the region of present day Nigeria from 1884-1899, all these occurred because Britain did not have the funds for a large scale administration at the time so they let the RNC lay the groundwork for them (public private partnership).  Sir Goldie started indirect rule in Nigeria because of the shortage of qualified administrators and laid the foundation for the Nigerian army and the police. On the first of January the British took formal control of Nigeria from the RNC, and its first Governor-General was Lord Lugard, the commander of the army under Sir Goldie’s RNC. Sir Goldie was an unassuming man as the name Goldisia was suggested for the region just like Rhodesia after Sir Cecil Rhodes was the former name of Zambia and Zimbabwe which was also company ruled, instead the name Nigeria referring to the Niger River area was accepted by him.

In 1993 for three months Nigeria was ruled by a former CEO of UAC Chief Ernest Shonekan.

Right now we have over a hundred thousand politicians running the country but things are going haywire, but then in the days of the RNC as little as 300 men oversaw the nation’s affairs perhaps more efficiently?

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GORDON, SUDAN, AND CONGO

The modern history of Africa among other things includes the tales of underdevelopment, wars, human right abuses, political instability, corruption and poor human capacity development. Two nations that underscore all these are the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Republic of Sudan. They are the largest African countries in terms of land mass; both have experienced at least 2 civil wars and armed conflict with neighbours. In July 2011, following the result of a referendum, Sudan was partitioned into Sudan and the South Sudan after over 30 years of civil wars, but this has not put an end to the series of conflicts in both Sudans, a 2009 survey carried out in the Congo showed that at least 76% of the people have been affected in some way–either personally or due to the wider consequences of armed conflict.  A lot of what has gone down in Congo and the Sudan have their roots in the European colonization of Africa.

In 1884 Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck invited the European powers to Berlin so as to draw up an agreement on how they would partition Africa among themselves in such a way as to avoid conflict with each other; naturally Africa was not represented at this conference. Africa was divided among the various European powers, Congo was given to the Belgian Monarch King Leopold II while Sudan recognized as an area under the British sphere of influence. The 19th century was the age of adventurers and empire builders one of whom was the British General Charles Gordon. He was a seasoned administrator who was loved by most wherever he went. He was the commander of the ‘Ever Victorious Army’ that put down the Taiping rebellion in China. Gordon was appointed Governor General of Sudan at two different times. During his first spell he among other things suppressed slave trade in the region and he pacified most of the tribes under his domain. Gordon, an evangelical Christian, was a humane administrator who genuinely loved the people he governed. He resigned his appointment due to exhaustion caused by years of incessant work.

King Leopold invited him and offered him the appointment of the Governor General of the Congo, he declined at first, the King persisted then he accepted and returned to London to make preparations, but soon after his arrival the British requested that he proceed immediately to the Sudan, where the situation had deteriorated badly after his departure another revolt had arisen, led by the self-proclaimed Mahdi, Mohammad Ahmad who was waging a jihad. Perhaps had Gordon left for the Congo instead, he could have made a difference there and millions of lives might have been saved in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Gordon’s was asked to evacuate Khartoum the capital of Europeans and Egyptians as the Mahdi intended to slaughter them, but the British Government did not intend to engage troops in Sudan. He was in a dilemma because evacuation was difficult as a result of the Mahdi’s siege, so direct British military engagement was needed. Prime-Minister Gladstone ordered him out of Sudan but he stayed and organized the city’s defences, as he followed his convictions and could not abandon the people. Public opinion in Britain was in his favour the press and public pressurized the government to send a relief force to Khartoum. The government relented and sent a force under General Wolseley. The relief expedition arrived two days late, Gordon had been killed and Khartoum had been sacked and Sudan still suffers today.

Belgium is a small European country; Congo is in fact about eighty times its size, so it was understandable that Leopold shopped for an experienced administrator like Gordon, unfortunately for Congo, no administrator of Gordon’s caliber was found. The Belgians in their ‘civilizing mission’, used the Congolese as forced labourers in their rubber plantations and had a policy of amputating the limbs of workers who did not fulfill their daily work quotas, this was done after slave trade/slavery had been abolished. Some independent reports like that of Roger Casement and Adam Horschild, state that about half the population of the Congo perished in that period. These abuses were widely reported so the embarrassed Belgian government took over the running of Congo from the King, but little changed. The policy was to get cheap labour to exploit the resources so the Belgians did not provide for post primary education which in their wisdom was not needed for cheap manual labour. By 1960 when most African countries including Congo gained independence, Congo had just a handful of graduates; simply put they were not prepared for self-rule. This led to instability and mutinies within weeks of independence, soon Congo became the mercenary capital of the world, had 2 civil wars, because of the cold war the people endured three decades of Mobutu dictatorship before the Laurent Kabila rebellion. Hopefully Congo’s worst days are behind her, but one can’t help but wonder what might have been if Gordon with his evangelical background administered Congo especially since his mission to Sudan seemed doomed from the onset.

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