By Prof. Chuka Onwumechili
As Joseph Yobo approaches the all-important 100 appearances for Nigeria, it is important that we get it right and research the information with care and attention that it deserves. In the past, we have been concerned by inability of our Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) to provide accurate records concerning Nigerian football. Thus, the NFF must work with diligence to ensure that we all get it right on matters related to Yobo’s number of appearances for Nigeria. After all, it is an impending historical moment and a time to duly celebrate.
Presently, there is uncertainty on whether Joseph Yobo has appeared 93 or 94 times for Nigeria. Though in a recent article by Kickoff.com, I read that Yobo has played 95 games. As we note with the above, there are already three different totals for Yobo! Which one is the correct number of appearances for Mr. Yobo? That is the most important question and my advice is that the NFF take the time to investigate in order to avoid future embarrassment. This is a matter of accuracy and a matter of history and legacy. Let’s not fumble, let’s not confuse, and let’s not prevaricate.
First, let me state that the number produced by Kickoff.com is quite surprising as it seems to be completely off. I would like to see the source that leads to this total of 95 games. In any case, let us review the issue of whether the correct number is 93 or 94 games. At least those appear more reasonable. My contention is that Yobo has played in 93 games and he is without question the Nigerian with the most appearances for the national team. But why 93 and not 94 appearances? Below I answer that question.
On April 6 of 2011, Kunle Solaja published on Supersport.com an article titled Yobo’s Caps: Putting the Records Straight. Kunle put up a list of all Yobo’s games for Nigeria. It was a comprehensive list from Yobo’s first international for the Super Eagles on March 24, 2001 against Zambia in a Nations Cup qualifier in Chingola, Zambia. This was the team list on that date:
Peterside Idah – Joseph Yobo, Emeka Ifejiagwa, Isaac Okoronkwo, Garba Lawal – Tijani Babangida (cpt), Pascal Ojigwe, Bosun Ayeni, Bina Ajuwa (63rd Thompson Ode) -- Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Benedict Akwuegbu (82nd Uche Okereke).
I keep an elaborate list of all games played by each player that ever played for Nigeria from the national team’s first game against Sierra Leone in 1949 to date (see Yobo’s list of games in excel). Thus, I could easily compare Mr. Solaja’s list with Yobo’s list of appearances in my database. I did just that and there was one game that Solaja listed for Yobo that caught my eye. That was an African Nations Cup qualifier against Lesotho in Warri on September 8 of 2007. Here was Nigeria’s line up for that game in Warri:
Augustine Ejide (12) – Apam Onyekachi (46th Richard Eromoigbe (16)), Rabiu Afolabi (15), Danny Shittu (6), Taiye Taiwo (3) (72nd Onyekachi Okonkwo (10)) – John Utaka (7), Seyi Olofinjana (14), Mikel Obi (18), Osaze Odemwingie (11) – Nwankwo Kanu (cpt – 4), Ayo Makinwa (17) (63rd Ikechukwu Uche (9)).
Yobo was not on that game list! While Solaja may have made an honest mistake, the NFF owes Nigerians an assurance that no mistakes are made going forward. Unfortunately, Yobo continues to get credit for the Lesotho game, which he did not play bringing his total number of appearances to 94 instead of the more accurate 93 appearances. If this continues we will be celebrating Yobo’s 100th appearance when in actuality he would have appeared in 99 games!
The fact was Yobo never set foot on the Warri field against Lesotho. While he had been a consistent player for Nigeria most of his career, Yobo missed several games under the tenure of Coach Berti Vogts who managed the Nigerian national team in that game against Lesotho. As a matter of fact, after appearing for Nigeria against Uganda in June of 2007, Yobo proceeded to miss the next two games against Niger Republic and Macedonia before the Lesotho game. At the time, Yobo was reported as having a groin injury and was subsequently unavailable for the Lesotho game on the account of the same injury. He also missed the next four games after Lesotho (Mexico, Australia, Switzerland, and Sudan) before returning for the Nations Cup tournament in 2008 against Ivory Coast in Sekondi, Ghana.
To be clear, Vogts invited Joseph Yobo late in August to join the team and prepare for the Lesotho game. But Yobo never appeared against Lesotho! Importantly, the Lesotho game was live on NTA and the NFF could easily verify whether he played or did not play in that game. This should be the way forward instead of wandering in the dark with information that may not be accurate.