To match Interview NIGERIA-ELECTION/

DRAWING FOOTBALL PARALLELS FROM NIGERIAN ELECTIONS

By Nurudeen Obalola:

The innovative Complete Sports Saturday lead kicked it all off. On the day of Nigeria’s pivotal general election last Saturday when political stories grabbed all the attention, Complete Sports found an audience. NIGERIA’S POLITICAL EL CLASICO: GOODLUCK JONATHAN 11 VS MUHAMMADU BUHARI 11 was the headline that ‘killed it’, as young people say these days when someone has done something spectacular.

The football pitch graphics with each party having an actual team of political strategists was the icing on the delicious cake.

That iconic headline set the stage for some hilarious but apt football memes on Twitter and Facebook as results trickled in and Professor Attahiru Jega of the Independent National Electoral Commission kept us in suspense for three days with his slow, but meticulous scanning and release of results.

Delta, Rivers and Enugu states became the ruling Peoples Democratic Party’s Karim Benzema,

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale after delivering huge numbers. But the main opposition All Progressives Congress counterattacked with (Kano) Lionel Messi, Bauchi (Luis Suarez) and Sokoto (Neymar) with even bigger figures as the ‘final’ got stretched.

And, like the last El Clasico, where Messi and Co won a very tight game, APC ran out winners.
But El Clasico was not the only football analogy to describe the presidential election.

It was also a bit like this season’s Champions League round of 16, especially the tie between Arsenal and Monaco. Arsenal were the PDP, Monaco APC.

Just like Arsenal underestimated Monaco and assumed it was going to be a breeze into the quarter-finals, the PDP consistently underrated the APC and their candidate, General Buhari.

The President’s men, including Doyin Okupe, Femi Fani-Kayode, Ayo Fayose and Adamu Mua’zu, probably assured him that there was no cause for alarm, that General Buhari did not have enough support to win the election.

These men kept telling us how popular the President was all over Nigeria and how an ‘old and ailing’ Buhari was there for the taking. As a matter of fact, Okupe was so confident that he fired a series of tweets days to the election totally dismissing Buhari’s chances.

Here are some of the tweets: “Voting is done by real people in real time, not online. Buhari may win online but will NEVER win an election in Nigeria.”

“…Buhari will get about 8-10million against Jonathan’s 4-5million in the North West and North East. Jonathan 22million (in total). Buhari will get 8 million in South West, South South, South East and North Central.”

“…Jonathan will win in four zones out of six, namely South West, South South, South East and North Central. He will win in two states out of six in the North East: Adamawa and Taraba.”
“…Buhari’s votes will be so low, even I will be shocked.”

Okupe did not seem to have any doubts about his boss’s impending victory and he arrogantly predicted victory. Like most Arsenal fans arrogantly predicted victory against Monaco. Or Super Eagles fans against Congo and Uganda.

Other strategists in the PDP hierarchy apparently felt that way too. They felt they had done their homework and Buhari would soon be history. They were wrong.

Clearly, they dismissed Buhari’s following on social media and failed to factor it into the big picture.

This deadly error got them eliminated and even a late rally from Delta and Rivers votes could not rescue the situation.

Arsenal also ignored Monaco’s run in the group stages of the Champions League, forgot about the French side’s impressive defensive record; instead the Gunners were already looking ahead to the quarter-finals.

A few Arsenal players even took to social media to ‘celebrate’ after the draw pitted them against Monaco, the supposedly weakest team they could have drawn.

But Arsene Wenger and his men got stung 3-1 in the first leg at home and the fightback in Monaco was too little, too late.

The key lesson in all of this is that in football and elections – and in life – never assume you have won anything before the actual event. Do not focus on your own strengths alone, study what makes the opponent tick and find a way to counter it.

We should always remember that underdogs can also win. Upsets happen now and then and we must be prepared for them.

Indeed the whole election was like a cup final: tense, exciting, riveting, underdog versus favourite, hardly a neutral in sight at the stadium.

The referee was Professor Jega and he was fair, firm and fearless.
BACK TO NORMAL BUSINESS

Big relief. Club football is back after the international break and there are big games all over the big leagues.

In England, there is the battle for Champions League places between Arsenal and Liverpool on Saturday.

One position you don’t want to fight Arsenal for is a Champions League spot. The Gunners have it on lockdown and dislodging them has become almost an impossible task in recent years.

But Liverpool are desperate to return to Europe after they exited the continent with barely a whimper this season. The Reds are currently in fifth place, one spot outside the Champions League places, and know falling further behind could end their ambitions.

A Liverpool loss would play well into the hands of their bitter rivals Manchester United. The Red Devils are fourth and could be eight points clear of Liverpool if results go their way.

A Liverpool defeat and a Manchester United win over Aston Villa, also on Saturday, would leave Liverpool trailing Arsenal with nine points and United with eight points, with seven games to end the season. Real steep mountain to climb.

It’s still all up in the air, but it would be entirely out of Liverpool’s hands if they fail to get something out of Saturday’s clash at the Emirates.

In Germany, runaway leaders Bayern Munich face Borussia Dortmund in what used to be a title-deciding clash. But Dortmund have fallen so far behind this season that a Europa League spot would be seen as a minor miracle. They were even facing relegation fears at a point this season.

Although Bayern slipped up two weeks ago with a home loss to Borussia Monchengladbach, you just know it’s a little bump on the way to retaining their title. Nothing is going to stop Pep Guardiola and his men.

Resurgent Marseille versus star-spangled Paris Saint Germain is the other big clash in Europe this weekend. This one has got everything: sworn enemies, feisty clash, first versus third, title on the line.

And in Africa, we have to wish our remaining representatives the best as they face potentially tough ties.

Enyimba take a slim 1-0 win to notoriously difficult Egypt as they face Smouha in a CAF Champions League tie, while Warri Wolves go to Ethiopia with a 2-0 advantage over Dedebit of Ethiopia in the CAF Confederation Cup.

While these two retain some hope and Wolves indeed are favourites to go through, Kano Pillars are staring elimination in the face after losing 4-0 at Tetouane of Morocco in their first leg Champions League tie.

This should be a cracking weekend of football, some let-your-hair-down time after the tension of the Presidential elections.

MOAN OF THE WEEK

Please settle this Stephen Keshi matter, the Nigeria Football Federation. I’m not sure I’ve even seen any contract this drawn out before.

We were told weeks ago that Keshi and the NFF had agreed to work together, but both parties seem to be dancing around each other.

Keshi should either take what is on offer or look for employment elsewhere. The NFF should either employ Keshi or get somebody else.

Enough of this endless drama. Nobody is enjoying it.

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