Diary of a mad journo: Remembering the bundle of skills

Orjinmo Nduka

It’s not easy to fill the shoes of a great man as has been proved time and again.

History is replete with such great men, whose voids are yet to be filled. Many have tried, even many more have failed.

Those who have tried and failed mostly end up as impostors, their fall thud-cracking when they hit the rocks. To quote one clichéd line, “if e no be panadol, e no fit be like panadol”.

So came Christian Obodo, touted to be the next Jay Jay Okocha. He came from the same state, had braided hair like Jay Jay, was of the same height, and also had that same puerile smile.

The only thing missing from his costume was the trademark Jay Jay red boot won during the glory days. In fact, he was even perfect with mis-hit free-kicks.

Then the sporting media went to town, led by the incorrigible daily sports tabloid we all know.

They sang his praises, announced to Nigerians that the new Jay Jay had been found.

They assured us that we were back to the days of the flick balls, the mesmerizing runs, the split passes, the sweet non-chalance of a maestro.

They told us that never again were we going to suffer Justice Christopher and Emmanuel Ebiede.

Even James Obiorah was advised to flee. The much maligned and hated Wilson Oruma exited international football in that period without announcing it, bowing out sans the fanfare that celebrated his Japan 93’ exploits.

Everything was in the hands of Christian Obodo; that sports daily even dubbed him the “bundle of skills”.

It would have been suicidal if he had not been called up to the Super Eagles and the coach then, Christain Chukwu wasted no time in inviting the new pearl to the team in 2003.

It took one twist and one mis-cued pass for Nigerians to know that he wasn’t the real deal. Obodo flattered and flattered but nobody bought it.

The clearest indication that he had no place in the team and had been relegated to that maligned position was when he failed to make the team to the 2004 AFCON in Tunisia.

When Ikpe Ekong edges ahead of you into the Super Eagles, then you know that you are indeed finished with the team.

Needless to say Wilson Oruma was also dropped, it was understandable. Jay Jay was still in the team, his skill and artistry developed to a laborious pitch of menacing long-throws. That was what playing in Bolton had done to the legendary number 10.

Obodo only had to bid his time, the team to the Nations Cup in 2004 of Romanus Orjinta and Gorge Abbey fell in the semi-finals.

Then his time came, he became one of those players to always be called up for the odd qualifying match in Antananarivo or Gaborone.

He had grown in stature and could miss the irrelevant LG Cup, but was happy to bake in the Algiers sun. I imagine that he at some point received direct calls from Jay Jay to go for those matches.

Chukwu left, Eguaveon took over and gave way for Amodu. The name Obodo was still mentioned.

Perhaps a dream team of him in the middle, red boots blazing, George Abbey at full back, Peterside Idah in goal and a central defensive partnership of Isaac Okoronkwo and Furo Iyenemi was cooked up in the crooked mind of one of those coaches (my pick would be Eguaveon).

Somehow, he still found his way into the team in that period and fell to the same mis-use over and again.
Yes, mis-use. Obodo was no Okocha though he was a terrible look-alike physically. He had his own style of play but the Nigerian system and football philosophy was forcing him into filling a void we had at that time.

Okocha was past his prime and a replacement was sought frantically, so whoever came into the team in that position was immediately likened to him and not treated on the merit of his ability.

Obodo was forced to play as the creative mid-fielder in a 4-4-2 system, carried over since the much praised Westerhorf days by our coaches.

Their inability to dispense with a system they lacked the personnel for ultimately cost many talented players who would have broken through if the coaches had maximized their potentials.

Obodo was one of them. He wasn’t a creative midfielder in the number 10 role, but someone who could flourish in the middle. He was no defensive midfielder as he lacked the build and marking ability for it, but he loved to pick the ball from inside.

I recall Obodo always coming to the defence to pick up the ball and start the attack. That is a deep lying creative midfielder that would have been best suited to a 4-4-2 diamond or a 4-1-2-3 formation. His duty wouldn’t have been that of a destroyer like Sunday Oliseh or a creator in the final third like Okocha, but someone like Luca Modric or Mikel Arteta. Someone to move the ball vertically and keep possession and also blessed with the ability to pick a pass from deep inside his own half, Obodo would have excelled in this formation.

But he fell to the curse of stepping into that hurried comparison Nigerians always make with that USA 94 team whenever any player comes through. Every new player must be compared to Rashidi Yekini, Uche Okechukwu, Finidi George or Emmanule Amuneke.

Ishola Shuaibu was touted as the new Amuneke and was forced to play like that, Victor Agali was likened to Rashidi Yekini, and Mikel Obi was labeled as the new Okocha. No wonder these players are quickly forgotten when they fail to live up to the comparisons foisted on them.

The true talent of Christian Obodo meanwhile was shining in Italy. He even had that spell in the UEFA champions league but was sadly outshone by the colourful face-caps of his flamboyant coach then who was more interested in the jersey of Ronaldinho in that game against Barca than in the fortune of his team.

Obodo’s demise from the heights of the game and his decline into obscurity came to the fore when he was kidnapped not so long ago in Delta state.

In his prime, he would have been lounging in fragranced rooms in Lagos or Abuja but opened himself up for that skinning with that trip back home. Thankfully, he was bailed by the commando division of the Nigeria Police, proof that he was once loved. That division came out last in the hunt for Erastus Akingbola.

Nothing was heard from Obodo again, not after a space filled monotonous interview granted Channels TV after his release.

Then he came into the news from nowhere, released by his club Udinese after the close of the transfer market last month.

So where will he go to after the close of the market? India? To be auctioned for the second time in his career or back to the Nigeria premier league to be a constant reminder of a potential unfulfilled.

To think that this was the man that was supposed to galvanize the Super Eagles midfield alongside Ikpe Ekong, Pius Ikedia and Femi Opabunmi makes me shudder at the thought.

You can follow Nduka Orjinmo on twitter- @orjinmonduka

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