Monday, September 26, 2016

Give me Rangers or I die!!!

By China Acheru

I was in Enugu on match day duties to catch the game between Rangers International and Sunshine Stars in the Nigeria Professional Football League.

I had heard of the match day experience at Enugu especially since the current season and I had seen games on television but it would be my first time at the stadium to watch a game this this term.

I was in Omoku the previous day for the game between Go Round FC and Delta Force in the lower division so I only arrived in Enugu about 3pm and went straight to a hotel that was a five minute walk to the stadium.

As I made my way to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium now rechristened, The Cathedral, it was like there was a war about to start in the town and people were running away.

It was frenetic as everybody was walking as fast as possible to the stadium, talking excitedly at the top of their voices.

Since my pace was slow, voices that passed by me talked about Rangers winning the league this year.

The most popular statement I heard was Rangers g’emeri asompi League a (Rangers will win the league this year)

Others looked at the short term and basically talked about winning the game at hand against Sunshine Stars. Sunshine Stars agaghi a kwusi nwu anyi (Sunshine Stars cannot stop us)

Remember, the last time Rangers International League title was in 1984, a whole thirty two years ago.

In that year, Rangers topped the table ahead of New Nigeria Bank complete with Stephen Keshi, Sunday Eboigbe, Bright Omokaro, Henry Nwosu, Samson Ozogula and the rest of those super stars. Shooting Stars finished in third place while Abiola Babes were 4th on the final table.

Rangers last title winning team in 1984 had the likes of Paul Obiakor, Felix Chukwuma, Ike Ofoje, Sunday Ikwuagwu, Jude Agada, Kingsley Onye, Benji Okaro, Aloy Atuegbu, Christian Isiadinso, Chris Ogbodo, Charles Anyaegbunam, Justus Enwendu, Emmanuel Amadi, Albert Addi Jr, Kenice Chime, Joseph Nwofor, Charles Okonkwo, Geoffrey Madueke, Ifeanyi Onyedika, Mazeli, Louis Igwilo, Mike Emenalo, Mike Ogbuodudu, Amaechi Otti, Godwin Nosike, Emeka Akabueze, Anthony Orji, Patrick Okala, David Addi Sr., Mike Nwanolue, Benedict Ugwu, Okwuchukwu Obiora and Nnamdi Nwokocha.

A star studded squad, if you must know.

The nostalgia

The stadium was already packed by the time I got in just ten minutes before kickoff.

There was excitement in the air as fans still trickled in to fill up the few empty seats left in the twenty five thousand capacity cathedral.

The fans sang the Rangers anthem and the feeling was one of nostalgia.

I had visited stadiums in Nigeria and had match day experiences of championship winning sides just before they won the title but none whatsoever was like this.

Certainly not Aba with Enyimba, Port Harcourt with Dolphins, Yenagoa with Bayelsa United or Kano with Kano Pillars. I had seen all these but none matched the Enugu scenario.

There was just something different about the atmosphere in Enugu as the fans saw it as three match days left to glory.

I asked the coach, Imama Amapakabo at night after the game why he thought it was so, because it was not just about Enugu but the whole of the country, except of course, Bauchi, Nnewi and Port Harcourt (for obvious reasons), seven out of ten people wanted the Enugu side to win the league.

Was it because of sympathy for a team that hadn’t tasted glory in thirty two years, the fact that they played “Champagne football” or that they had a sweet talking coach Nigerians loved?

Imama told me it was a little of all three but most of all because Rangers played football that was pleasing to the eyes and I agreed he was right.

Different matter entirely on the pitch

By the time the game kicked off, it was a different matter entirely on the pitch as the Enugu lads played like a group possessed by a kind of spirit or on some performance enhancing drug.

It is no secret that Rangers are probably the finest playing side in Nigeria today. Add Wikki Tourists to that list and, maybe, MFM FC and it was a delight to watch them on the day against Sunshine Stars.

Their passing game was sublime, their positioning, shape, and ball transition and all just showed Rangers to be a well-coached side and the fact that they eventually won the game 2-0 was no surprise.

Each time Rangers scored, the fans in unison sang the “Holy, Holy Holy Holy, Enugu Rangers” anthem of the club and I tell you when twenty three thousand people sing in one voice the goose bumps will be all over you.

The people of Enugu were having a party. All twenty three thousand of them and I was a guest in that party and was enjoying every bit of it.

Even when it rained, while some ran for cover, most of them stayed wet, drenched in it, yet singing, dancing and enjoying the moment.

It reminded me of the late 80s and 90s in Port Harcourt when I was simply just a fan of Sharks and had danced in the rain too whilst celebrating great victories.

The after party

At the sound of the final whistle, the people refused to go home.

Having won the game 2-0, they stayed back pitch side under the rain, singing and dancing for another half hour.

As far as they were concerned it was just one hundred and eighty minutes to glory.

They sang the Rangers anthem time without number, they sang a couple of religious songs (remember, they were doing this under the rain), and then they sang a song with the hook, “thirty two years” depicting the fact they had not won the title in thirty two years.

As I looked on, took pictures and made a video I noticed that not one person in that singing crowd looked more than thirty two years so apparently none of them was born the last time Rangers won the title.

As I made my way back to my hotel, I couldn’t help but watch those videos over and over again.

The people of Enugu deserve a league trophy and this is the closest they have been to it since 2005 when they finished a close second to Enyimba.

If this is how the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium is every match day, then the only place I want to be on Match Day 38 is Enugu as they take on Elkanemi in what may be the title decider.

Watch Video of the fans celebrating below




Nigerian clubs must look beyond playing for three points

By China Acheru

With the Nigeria Professional Football League just one match day to go, the more serious clubs should begin to plan for the next season already.

Of course there is still the fight against relegation at the bottom of the table while the top of the table clash has to do with either winning the title or qualifying to play on the continent.

One thing that has been clear since the Nigerian league began in 1972 is the fact that Nigerian clubs are structured to play for three points every match day and in between match days little or nothing happens.

Sadly, in forty four years of league football in Nigeria, the clubs are still set up just to play for three points every match day

The professional touch

However, after an eight day trip to the Spanish cities of Valencia and Cadiz where they attended training sessions, Nigerian football administrators may begin to look beyond three points as the reasons why their clubs were set up.

Chairman of Abia Warriors, Emeka Inyama who was part of the group that visited Spain for the Laliga tour is optimistic that things can change and says he will look for experts to run different departments in his club.

“We need to look for experts because football is not a one man show,” Inyama said.

“In Spain last month for the La Liga tour, we learned that improving on player capacity and development is as important as the three points we play for every weekend.

“The tour was well packaged and the challenge for us now is to go back to our clubs and put the things we learned into developing our football,” Inyama said.

General Manager of Warri Wolves, Moses Etu agrees with Inyama, saying that that professionals must be brought in to run Nigerian clubs.
“We will certainly restructure Warri Wolves but this will be done at the end of the season because there is no time to do it now,” Etu said.

“We will look at the staff quality and certainly those that are not useful to us may go.

“We also need professionals to manage the commercial side of the club and then a human resources manager.

“The fans are our number one priority now and we will strategise on improving our relationship with fans of the club,” Etu said.

No hurry about changes

But chairman of Nasarawa United, Danladi Isaac insists that though they are anxious and eager to make changes to the way their clubs are run, they will not jump head long into it.

“We are anxious and eager to make changes and we believe there will be changes in the way our clubs are run from next season, but we must be cautious and understand that Rome was not built in a day.

“I learned a lot and I am sure my colleagues learned a lot but these changes must be gradual so we don’t upset the apple cart.

“For us at Nasarawa United, we are especially looking at the issue of fans attendance and engagement as we will try to create peaceful and entertaining environments to bring the fans back,” Isaac said.

Beyond the three points

For chairman of the League Management Company, Shehu Dikko, Nigerian clubs must look beyond three points as they continue their restructuring programs.

According to Dikko, the three points acquired on match day is only about thirty percent of what makes a football club.

“We learned our lessons from the LaLiga tour and everybody has a story to tell and I am sure the club administrators cannot wait to begin to implement these in their clubs.
“We need to do a lot to improve our game. It’s about participation and improving fans base which in turn improves revenue. It must be beyond the three points and that is why ahead of next football season, we will start a campaign with the slogan, ‘beyond the three points’

Dikko cited fans engagement, a proper admin structure, physical club structures, the business of football amongst others as seventy percent of what makes a football club.

“The three points our clubs play for every match days is just about thirty percent of what makes a football club while there are other aspects which are as important or even more important because the three points without fans means low commercial value that will affect the club in the long run.

“The same way three points without a proper club structure, playing philosophy or marketing plan will count for nothing in the long run.

“We need to change that mentality so people know they would be judged more on stadium structure, admin structure, media visibility, etc, rather than just the three points,” Dikko said.

And to this, Danladi Isaac agrees by saying, “Playing basically for three points puts lots of pressure on the players.”

Isaac says the stadiums must come alive again.

“We want to return our fans to the terraces. We are looking at a situation where we will have a full house every match day.”

As fans and watchers of the league wait patiently for the next football season to begin to see the benefits of the Laliga tour in August, Mutui Adepoju also pleads for caution from club owners, the media and fans alike.

Adepoju who played most of his football with Real Sociedad in Spain in the 90s now runs the LaLiga office in Nigeria and says Organisation and structure must work for the gains of the recent tour to show fruition.

“If we can have a structure that works, then we will see the best of Nigerian football, but let us not act like there will be no challenges,” Adepoju said.


“There are obvious challenges in Nigeria, but having been to Spain and attending all the workshops and interactive sessions, I believe things will change this time around,” Adepoju said.

Super Eagles Watch: Five star Iwobi wrecks Chelsea as Nigerian stars get ready for Zambia

By Samuel Omaenikun

In a thrilling weekend of ups and downs for Nigerian players abroad Alex Iwobi was king as he was named man of the match for inspiring his team to an unprecedented win over rivals Chelsea as the gunners beat the blues for the first time in five years.

Below is a roundup of Nigerian performance in diaspora over the past weekend.

England

ARSENAL crushed Chelsea in a spectacular display and Nigerian Alex Iwobi was instrumental to his sides’s win.

Iwobi was involved for the opener and was lively in most of Arsenal's best plays in the match that ended 3-0 in their favour.

In the same game Victor Moses was an unused substitute in the game.

Kelechi Iheanacho was named in the match day squad but was not called upon as Manchester City battled past a determined Swansea City 3:1.

Carl Ikeme was again in goal as Wolverhampton Wanderers defeated Brentford 3-1.

It was a resounding display from the goal keeper.

Sone Aluko returned to action for Fulham who lost 4-0 to Bristol City. The Nigerian forward played all 90 minutes

Italy

Joel Obi started for Torino but was substituted in the 23rd minute as he picked up an injury. Torino still went on to beat Roma 3-1.


Germany

It was yet another sad news for Nigeria as defender Leon Balogun got himself injured and was subbed in the 9th minute. His team Mainz 05 lost the game 3-2 to Bayer Leverkusen

FRANCE

Things continue to go from bad to worse for Lille goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama as he picked the ball three times from the back of his net against Saint Etienne.

The game ended 3:1 leaving Lille bottom of the table.

And fellow Nigerian Dickson Nwakaeme didn't fare any better as he was brought on in the 71st minute by Angers only for him to score a 90th minute own goal to give Monaco the lead.

Full time ended Monaco 2 - 1 Angers

Netherlands

Fred Friday was an 84th minute substitute for AZ Alkmaar but could do nothing to alter the course of the game as AZ Alkmaar lost a 2 goal lead to end the game 2 goals apiece. AZ Alkmaar 2 - 2 Go Ahead Eagles.

Greece

Brown Ideye was on from start to finish but could do nothing as Olympiacos lost their first game of the season. AE Larissa 1 - 0 Olympiacos

Turkey

Emmanuel Emenike was in fine form as he scored in the 21st minute to give Fenerbahce the lead as he played the entity of the game.

The final score was Fenerbahce 2 - 1 Gaziantepspor

Meanwhile Emem Eduok was seen as good enough for the bench but not for enough to play as he sat helpless watching his team lose 1-0 to Bursaspor.

Aminu Umar saw 80 minutes of action for Osmanlispor FK who forced Istanbul Basaksehir to a 2-2 draw on Saturday.

Adam Maher replaced Umar with ten minutes left to play in his fourth league appearance for Osmanlispor.

Despite scoring four goals in the UEFA Europa League Aminu is yet to open his goal account in the Turkish Super Lig.

Still in Turkey Ogenyi Onazi came on for Okay Yokuslu with one minute left to play in Trabzonspor’s 1-0 win over Konyaspor.

Finland
Nigerian trio of Nnamdi Oduamadi, Taye Taiwo and Paul Onovo all featured as HJK lost 6-5 on penalties to SJK after regulation time ended 1-1 in the Suomen Cup final.

China


Anthony Ujah scored a brace for his club, Liaoning Whowin FC in Saturday’s 3-0 victory against Yanbian Fude FC in the Chinese Super League.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

How Gernot Rohr should play his Eagles

By Samuel Omaenikun

For a team with some of the best players around the world and Europe to be more specific the performance of the Nigerian male national team has been nothing short of disappointing and nowhere near what is expected by the fans.

In recent years the Super Eagles as they're called have lost their fear factor and ruthlessness in front of goal, coaches have also failed to get the best out of the players.

When Stephen Keshi won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013 we had a promising squad and Nigerians could dream again but three years down the line the country has failed to get the best out of their players and have subsequently failed to qualify for two AFCONS back to back.

Criticisms have come the way of the players and coaches have been fired all in a bit to turn things around but questions were also asked of players like Odion Ighalo and Ahmad Musa.

These two were tested scorers for their clubs in the last two seasons but have failed to transfer that form to the Eagles.

The Super Eagles midfield most times seemed flat in spite of Mikel Obi and Ogenyi Onazi featuring regularly in it.

The defense was guilty of too many mistakes as the only area which looked solid was the goal keeping department.

So what exactly could be the problem causing lethargic performances at the Super Eagles?

The Problem

Nigerians believe they have a team which is capable of being world beaters and this could be true.

However, our coaches at national team level have failed to play to the strength of the players.

Odion Ighalo has been deployed in numerous positions for the Super Eagles, way different from what he is used to playing at Watford.

At Watford, Ighalo has the constant support from his strike partner Troy Denney they both run around each other and create chances for one another.

But when he comes to the Eagles he is most times left isolated upfront and left to feed off scraps from long ball thrown forward not yielding much results.

Ighalo is not the first to fall victim to such cruel tactics as Emmanuel Emenike also suffered similar fate after the AFCON win in 2013.

At the AFCON, Emenike was constantly played alongside Brown Ideye who is a very mobile striker and who provided distractions and created space and assist for Emenike.

After the AFCON leading to the World Cup, Ideye was dropped and Emenike found himself isolated all through the tournament in Brazil as chances created for him were few and far between.

Emmanuel Emenike would go two years without a goal for the Eagles and ended up retiring from International football.

This takes us to the midfield where the Eagles have failed to deliver most times.

We have watched the midfield be uninspiring, flat footed and failing to be the bridge between attack and defense.

Mikel who plays as a holding midfielder for Chelsea has seen himself play more advanced roles for the Eagles sometimes doing well and other times failing.

Ogenyi Onazi thrives as a central midfielder for club but for country he is given a deeper role playing as a deep laying midfielder which sometimes he cuts a frustrated figure playing.

The defence has seen several players being deployed leaving a lack of understanding and consistency.

Proffering a Solution

Judging by the game against Tanzania, the new man in charge, Gernot ROHR has shown he is a coach that likes his players expressing themselves.

We saw the Eagles play a high pressing game with lots of energy and for the first time in years we saw a team that had a glimpse of the Eagles past.

If not for poor finishing from the likes of Victor Moses the game would have ended more than the 1 nil score line.

Kelechi Iheanacho scored the winner in the Tanzania game and keeps getting goals for City while Alex Iwobi is in fine form so the coach should play to the strength of his players.

Odion ighalo shouldn't be left isolated as Iheanacho could be played behind him in a supporting striker role.

Brown ideye should also be given the chance to lead the attack or play around Ighalo.

The wingers

Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa have both been given the responsibility of breaking out through the wing and crossing for the center men but most time they fail to cross and decide to cut in to finish themselves which is not a bad thing if you have space ahead.

In the last game against Tanzania both men failed to deliver an accurate cross and were guilty of making a lot of wayward attempts at goal.

They have pace and are skillful so the best option would be for them to stick to the wings and play with the left back or right back behind them.

Both men should think less about cutting in and getting the goals for themselves and think more as suppliers for the strikers in the box.

The midfield

John Mikel Obi has the skill set to play in an advanced role but seems a little uncomfortable doing so at times.
The best will be to play him as a deep lying midfielder where he'll hold the ball, shield the defence and use his passing range to pick out attackers.

With runners like Ahmed Musa, Odion Ighalo and a striker like Ideye, Nigeria should thrive from this kind of play maker.

Onazi should be by his side doing the tackling etc. Since Onazi isn't much of a ball player he's more comfortable running and tackling and taking shots.

A steady defence

Enough of the trials as it's time to stick to a back line, and give them time to build an understanding.

Leon Balogun and Williams Troost-Ekong have the qualities to be outstanding center backs and should be allowed to grow and make mistakes together.

Troost-Ekong is brave and not scared of tackles while Balogun is calm and keeps things tidy at the back.

Elderson Echejile and Musa Muhammad should be allowed to be on the flanks in defence.

In the goalkeeping position, Vincent Enyeama wants to remain retired so I think we should let him be while Carl Ikeme be allowed to tend the goal and Daniel Akpeyi be the second choice.


A formation in this mode might do

               Ighalo  

              Iheanacho

Moses                       Musa


           Onazi
                  Mikel


Echiejile  Balogun  Troost-Ekong   Musa M.


              Karl Ikeme

   

4-2-2-1-1

Looking at the above formation it gives lots of cover to the defence and still width to the attack, Mikel would be better suited to control games and it also solves the striker isolation problem bringing goals to the team and as we know goals win games.

With barely two weeks to the start of the World Cup Qualifying matches, Gernot ROHR will need to get his acts together quickly.


For now, we wait and look to see what the future holds.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Why are our Eagles' stars club heroes and country zeroes?

Super Eagles attacker, Odion Ighalo
By Toritseju Williams

Nigerian players are enjoying a stellar 2016 so far with Kelechi Iheanacho making the headlines for Manchester City, Victor Moses finally earning a place in Chelsea and Brown Ideye scoring his first Career hat trick.

Things also seem to be going on so well for the defenders as well looking at Troost Ekong and Leon Balogun also establishing themselves in their respective clubs

Nigerians also have lots of young players doing very well all around the world like
Moses Simon who was in the champions league last season, Sadiq Umar signing a big deal with Italian Giants AS Roma not forgetting Kelechi Nwakali and Taiwo Awoniyi who also got good deals.

The likes of Odion Ighalo, Ahmed Musa, Isaac Success and John Mikel Obi cannot be ignored but the big question is “with all these talented players why don’t Nigeria have a super “Super Eagles”

Why don’t we ever see this quality translated to the national team?

The statistics

Former Super Eagles captain Ahmed Musa joined EPL champions Leicester City in the summer but he might just be a perfect example looking at his club and international records

Last season Musa scored 17 goals in 40 games for CSKA Moscow the team’s top scorer, celebrated and exalted but compare that to Nigeria where the Pacey winger has managed just 11 goals in his 6 year stay, an average of about 1 goal every 6 games compared to last season’s 1 in 2.3.

Odion Ighalo is a beast for Watford averaging 1 goal just over every 2 games but for the Super Eagles he has managed just 3 goals and looks isolated up front in the green jersey

It's not just about the goals, it's about the performance generally as Arsenal youngster Alex Iwobi makes things happen for the north London outfit but isn't so influential in his native colours

Why are they club heroes and country zeroes?

It's never easy to bring players from different leagues and fit in the different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in a few days expecting to be picture perfect.

A talented bunch might not have the needed team chemistry to be world beaters

Looking at captain John Obi Mikel for example, the midfield dynamo held the hopes of Nigerians for years on end to fill in the boots of midfield king, Austin Jay Jay Okocha.

But Mikel plays and trains with Chelsea most of the 365 days the year has to offer and he isn't played in a role that allows him express himself so much so isn't it asking too much to expect him to come to the national team and in about five training sessions change from the mindset of an inhibitor to that of a catalyst? I think it is.

The Spanish are known for their quick circulation and stinginess in possession, passing the ball around until their opponent are dizzy and this isn't learned in 3 or 4 training sessions.

It is a tradition, a religion that has been tattooed in the impressionable mind of the raw talents of academy players ask around their country

Germany have endless work horses, who are a lot more direct and physical but very tactical.... They also have this registered in their minds as how football should be played

You might say these teams have world class players but let's take a look at the Italians

Not the most star studded bunch, mainly new players in the whole team but look at their exploits in the last 3 Euros, they have a philosophy they use as the bedrock of all their tactics a definite approach to the game

Nigeria has many talented players who play for top teams who hold the ball and build up patiently with the ball at the ground but coming to the national team the players have to switch to long balls even in the absence of a big man up front.

Football has evolved over the years and Nigeria has been left behind

Without a plan B, it seems the system is "if the long balls aren't working, try better long balls" and that is not a plan B.

Coaches interaction

Sometime ago, it was mooted on social media that the Super Eagles coaches, from Stephen Keshi to Sunday Oliseh and then Samson Siasia should have a word with
Ahmed Musa’s coach at CSKA Moscow to find out hidden things about him.

How come he plays every well for his club and scores well too but is almost incompetent at the national team?

The same applies to Odion Ighalo who runs around like a headless chicken at the national team but is the messiah at Watford?

The same could be said of Brown Ideye who averaged two goals in five games at his time at Dynamo Kiev but found it difficult scoring for the Super Eagles.

To the new man in charge Gernot Rohr, you might have your work cut out for you.

You might find out that you didn't bargain for a lot of issues that might come up (but then again you submitted copies of your contract to FIFA) so I guess you have an idea.

But to get this team clicking ahead of the World Cup Qualifiers you might have to

1. Pick out a squad you can work with
2. Play players in the positions they play for their clubs week in, week out
3. Please eliminate the predictable long ball strategies, or at least come up with a plan B that isn't "Modified Plan A"
4. Odion Ighalo does not thrive as the lone striker in a team, he may consider pairing him with someone else (the twin striker formation), maybe Brown Ideye who or Kelechi Iheanacho.

Ahmed Musa could be played on the left as we saw against Argentina at the World Cup as he has pace and once he cuts in he could beat the best keepers but on the right his crosses could be pretty poor

Victor Moses could do well on the right as his ability to beat players and deliver crosses will be useful to the team.

I think it is simple. Players will be more at home playing the way they do at their clubs while at their country because, they train with their clubs every day of the week and play weekly in those positions.

The national team is just four training sessions before games unless at a tournament, isn’t it?

These players thrive for their clubs playing in a particular position and a particular style, something that changes when they come back home, so Gernot Rohr must as a matter of urgency look into it.

And while we are at improvising on these, we could throw in some beautiful cheerleaders to give the players that gladiatorial feeling of not wanting to "fall their hands" in the presence of cute women.



Thursday, September 22, 2016

Omeruo, Iwobi return to Super Eagles

Alex Iwobi to return to international football
The duo of Kenneth Omeruo and Alex Iwobi will make a return to the Super Eagles team to play Zambia in next month’s World Cup Qualifying match.

Both were not part of the last international game against Tanzania in Uyo due to different levels of injuries sustained/ recuperation.

Anderson Esiti who plays his football in Belgium also makes a return to the team after his only cap came against Chad in Kaduna with Stephen Keshi as coach of the team.

Nigeria’s Technical Adviser, Gernot Rohr, on Thursday afternoon made public a list of 23 players invited for the game against Zambia that will take place in Ndola next month.

The Franco-German retained belief in the squad that pipped Tanzania 1-0 in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match in Uyo on 3rd September, but has added Alanyaspor of Turkey defender Kenneth Omeruo, KAA Gent midfielder Anderson Esiti and English Premiership duo Isaac Success and Alex Iwobi.

Skipper Mikel John Obi, assistant skipper Ahmed Musa, goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, defender Elderson Echiejile, midfielder Ogenyi Onazi and in –form Manchester City of England forward Kelechi Iheanacho are in the 23 –man roster.

Rohr has excused Watford FC forward Odion Ighalo, who will attend his father’s burial in Nigeria on Saturday, 8th October – eve of the big match at the Levy Nwanawasa Stadium in Ndola.

Injured striker Moses Simon is listed after assuring Rohr that he has started treatment and would be fully healed well ahead of the encounter.

All invited players are expected to start arriving in Abuja as from Sunday, 2nd October.

ALL THE INVITED PLAYERS

Goalkeepers: Carl Ikeme (Wolverhampton Wanderers, England); Emmanuel Daniel (Enugu Rangers); Ikechukwu Ezenwa (FC IfeanyiUbah)

Defenders: Leon Balogun (FSV Mainz 05, Germany); William Paul Ekong (Haugesund FC, Norway); Kenneth Omeruo (Alanyaspor FC, Turkey); Jamiu Alimi (Kano Pillars); Abdullahi Shehu (Anorthosis Famagusta, Cyprus); Musa Muhammed (Istanbul Basaksehir, Turkey); Elderson Echiejile (Standard Liege, Belgium), Kingsley Madu (SV Zulte Waregem, Belgium)

Midfielders: Mikel John Obi (Chelsea FC, England); Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor, Turkey); Wilfred Ndidi (KRC Genk, Belgium); Nosa Igiebor (Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel); Anderson Esiti (KAA Gent, Belgium)


Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Leicester City, England); Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City, England); Moses Simon (KAA Gent, Belgium); Victor Moses (Chelsea FC, England); Isaac Success (Watford FC, England); Brown Ideye (Olympiacos FC, Greece); Alex Iwobi (Arsenal FC, England)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Brown Ideye’s resurgence in Greece and why England didn’t turn out well

By Fisayo Dairo
Additional write up by China Acheru

Brown Ideye may have had a poor season in England but he has certainly been doing the business since he moved to Olympiakos in Greece last year.

His much heralded record breaking move from Dynamo Kiev to West Bromwich Albion didn’t end with the fanfare it started with as he was soon replaced with Salomon Randon and then sold off to the Greek champions.

But after that unfortunate 12-month spell in England, Ideye seems to have found a home in the land of Aristotle.

The former Sochaux of France striker has enjoyed a new lease of life at Olympiakos and it is noteworthy that while Ideye is not the most prolific of strikers around, what he is all about is exactly what he has delivered for his Greek team within the 12 calendar months he has spent in Piraeus.

A handful of goals, assists and selfless team contribution that makes him the foil for his attacking teammates.

To football aficionados in this part of the world, the Premier League in England is undoubtedly where the attraction is.

Viewing centres and newspaper stands are always agog every match day and non-match days as fans trot in and out to catch a glimpse of their famous stars.

Manchester City starlet Kelechi Iheanacho has hugged the headlines for all the fantastic reasons in recent weeks after having made the most of Sergio Aguero's domestic ban.

Iheanachor has consistently made himself one of those doing the business for Pep Guardiola at City, but Ideye, unlike Kelechi didn't find life in England quite roseate but has also quietly started a second year in a new found haven very impressively.

Ideye’s goal scoring averages per league played in

As important as Ideye's ten (10) league goals and six assists for Olympiakos might have sounded last term (2015/16), the foil being talked about above saw his strike-partner Kostas Fortounis get a return of 18 league goals for the team, an effort that landed them the Greek Super League on a canter.

In all of last season, Ideye scored thirteen goals from thirty five appearances.

This term (2016/17), Ideye has already weighed in with four goals and one assist in two league games including his first career hat trick on Match Day one and a winner against Iraklis on Match Day two.

Also in his side's only Europa league group game so far, he provided the assist for veteran Esteban Cambiasso's winner in their 1-0 victory at Swiss side Young Boys.

He also got a goal in their Champions League playoff match.

If in forty two matches he has garnered eighteen goals to his name in Greece, how come he was only able to seven in thirty one games in England?

He has averaged a goal every 2.3 games in Greece, whereas his ratio in England was a goal every 4.4 games.

Remember, in Ukraine Ideye also scored a goal every 2.3 games totaling forty five goals in one hundred and six appearances while in France at Sochaux he managed a goal every 2.6 games. At his first European side Neuch√Ętel Xamax, he averaged a goal every 2.4 games.

So what happened in England that he just could not find his feet? Statistics show his best goal scoring moments where just before his England move and of course, just after his England move.

What went wrong for Ideye in England?
Ideye at West Bromwich Albion did not work out so well

For a striker with credible physical and mental awareness and one with a good pace, many were left stunned that Brown Ideye's sojourn to England failed to exceed one year.

As such, it could not have been said to be a successful sojourn.

Indeed, four reasons readily come to mind on why Ideye's move to West Bromwich Albion did not quite turn out as we expected.

1. Lack of proper pre-season: Considering all the challenges that a player is expected to face in a new environment, the importance of having a proper pre-season with his new club cannot be overemphasized.
Unfortunately for Ideye, failure to get a working visa to the United Kingdom ensured he missed the whole of pre-season and with Albion manager, Alan Irvine having sarcastically said "He knew nothing" about his club's record purchase, it was really a union built on a faulty foundation. Being part of your club’s pre-season gives you the fitness level required of the manager, it bonds you with the rest of the team and most of all, it is the period the manager infuses in his players, his philosophy, ideals and style of play. Ideye was not part of all these so he was always going to struggle.


2. Weight of expectations: For a club's record signing who is handed the prized Number 9 jersey, an average fan of the football club will expect the player to score with every touch of the ball or at least better the existing goal scoring records at the club. If indeed Ideye was expected to have done that, it looked an inordinate expectation based on the lad's antecedents. The point enumerated in (1) above also made it more mountainous to achieve. Ideye hardly got games because he was still building fitness and in that time, Saido Berahino was doing the business of scoring. The man who doesn’t play cannot score.

3. Sack of Irvine and normal first year hiccups: Despite claiming not to know the young man, Irvine all the same went about integrating Ideye into his plans but an injury setback when he scored his first Albion goal in late September further brought back the hand of the clock for the 27-year old. His first league goal for the club was also to be followed by the dismissal of Irvine three days later in the end of 2014 and although he enjoyed a decent spell in February, a marriage between Ideye and Tony Pulis will never be a good match. Remember, though that it would have been difficult for Brown considering that Irvine preferred a one striker formation with Berahino being the chosen one.

4. Tony Pulis’ style: With the coming of Tony Pulis, it seemed things would change. At least he would play a classic 4-4-2 which he did and Ideye scored four times in a six-day spell in February 2015 with goals against Burnley and Swansea City in the Premier League and two against West Ham United in the FA Cup, but it was always going to be difficult for strikers to get goals at West Bromwich Albion as the midfielders, Claudio Yacob, James Morrison, Craig Gardner, Chris Brunt, Youssuf Malumbu and Darren Fletcher, it was obvious and visible that the attackers Ideye, Berahino and Anichebe received little or nothing from the men in the middle.
Little wonder West Brom’s top scorer in all competitions that year was Saido Berahino with 20 goals, followed by Ideye on 7 and Victor Anichebe on 6. They would always have poor returns.

In a previous interview with naijafootball247.com, Ideye was asked how he liked to play and where he loved his ball.

Brown Ideye has been asked before, where he wants the ball when receiving a pass- at his feet or on the run?

“I’m a runner. That’s what I learned at the national team so if I get the ball on the run, I will always get to it and do what I have to do, but every striker, especially in the box wants the ball at their feet so I am not different in that regard.

“Sometimes when I am in the box, I like a cross in the air so I can head home.”

He hardly got these at West Bromwich Albion.

How he likes to play

His best position has always been in the center of attack. He always wants to lead the lines though he’s comfortable on the left or right and even behind the striker.

At Ocean Boys in Nigeria he led the lines, and it was the same at Xamax, Sochaux and Dynamo.

In England it was difficult because of the factors mentioned above, but having gone back to status quo in Greece, his goals form is not surprising.

He is a natural attacker but his versatility and ability to help out in key tactical play for the team has often seen him being used as either striker, support striker or a wide man. The fact that he has a trick or two in his feet gives him the ability to ease past defenders and makes it easy for him to adapt quickly to any position and despite not having the biggest of frames.

Apart from goal scoring which is his forte, he also helps in defending set-pieces and then joins the attack in a counter.

While taking on defenders, Ideye makes use of a deadly change of pace which often leaves defenders in his wake.

Another major significant strength of his is his fitness. Brown has little or no history on the injury front and despite not having a bulky stature, you can underestimate his strength at your own peril.

And these are reasons why Olympiakos will enjoy him.

Should West Bromwich Albion have had more patience?

Patience is lacking in today’s football. No club will wait for you, especially when you are their record scorer and they expect instant returns from you.

The England sojourn was a misadventure for Brown Ideye but he is probably looking at himself in Greece, enjoying European football every season and scoring goal too and telling himself he is happy he is out of the hell hole that was West Bromwich Albion.

The fans loved him (obviously) but the club probably thought signing him was a mistake. The media too did not give him time to settle.

In Greece, just like in Ukraine, France and Switzerland he will score more goals because he is a natural goal scorer and he has taken time to settle down in his new environment.

Every time he scores in Greece, those at West Bromwich Albion will only just wonder what would have been.