Several things are on my mind this weekend. But let me start with my most hilarious.
Nigerians enjoyed the longest weekend this year this past weekend – the normal weekend plus two extra days to mark the Muslim festival of Eid Kabir. I spent one of the days with members of The Black Table, a social, family club made up of a group of friends, some fiercely passionate football fans in Nigeria that I know.
On Monday, we were having our usual lunch and football talk about the Barclays Premier League.
Usually, I would just sit, listen and enjoy the loud arguments, only occasionally adding my voice to express an opinion that is also always greeted with some reserved acquiescence apparently out of respect for my position as a patron of the club and my past as an ex-football player that does multi-media analysis.
No one, therefore, wants to argue with me over any football matter! My opinions usually hold sway even though I, deliberately, do not often participate in the heated debates because members all know that my favourite team in the world is not in the English Premier League.
This past weekend, I overstepped my bounds, it seems!
At a point the arguments drifted to the match between Arsenal and Chelsea. Chelsea had just extended their regular trouncing of Arsenal since Jose Mourinho became manager of Chelsea in a masterful 2-0 victory that was done with almost effortless ease.
“The way Chelsea have been playing I am going to put my money on Jose Mourinho winning the Premiership this season”. That was I, stupidly interjecting in a conversation.
The response from one of the members, an Arsenal FC fan was unexpected, loud and furious: “What? Mourin..what? Is that the name of an animal, a place or a thing?”
The entire clubhouse first went silent mode before erupting into fits of uncontrollable laughter. There is no bettering that response is there?
The return of Barca and Tiki Taka!
My favourite team in the world, the club that has played the most unique, the most beautiful and the most entertaining brand of football in the past decade, at least, are on my mind.
With the manner of their failure to win the La Liga last season and the capitulation of the national team of Spain during the 2014 World Cup, a team that contained a significant number of players from the Barca squad, many thought the end of FC Barcelona and of Tiki Taka had come!
Since the start of the present season, however, rather than ‘die’ as was predicted FC Barcelona have been reborn, Tiki Takaing to the delight of their fans all over the world.
Indeed they have led the La Liga table since the start of the league and only lost a match in the European Champions League away to Paris Sainte Germaine FC in a terrific, entertaining and dramatic match played in Paris.
Unfortunately, even with their winning streak this season it appears the demystification of their style of play seems imminent, with more teams now joining Athletico Madrid and Real Madrid to neutralize the quick, short passing, backward, forward and sideways movements with the ball and the players, the quick pressing of opponents once possession of the ball is lost. Teams are no longer as afraid and helpless as they used to be psychologically. At a point in the last previous seasons FC Barcelona appeared to other teams like aliens come from another planet.
So far this season, with Messi and Neymar getting better in their attacking partnership up front, FC Barcelona are slowly but steadily still entertaining and getting close to their old form!
Back to the Premier League.
With my mouth now firmly in a permanent state of shut-up, I started thinking and looking closer at the 4 usual contenders for the BPL.
I had noted one week into the league season that Chelsea FC looked very seriously like the team to beat this season.
Manchester United FC, until last week, have looked out of sorts with Luis Van Gaal left wondering whatever happened to his football magic wand, conceding that this has been his worst and most challenging experience since he started coaching and how difficult it now appeared to be for the club to rise again and play like the champions of old. Although it is still morning in the league, the signs don’t indicate a typical Man U resurgence. Whatever happened to Rooney, Van Persie and the new mercurial on-loan striker, the Colombian Radamel Falcao?
He looks lost in the Man U team! Di Maria, when he finally starts to play well as we all know he is capable of doing, may well become the Joker in the pack and alter the fortunes of Man U for good.
The Gunners, with their heavy spending this season, still need to spend some more to get the perfect combination going.
Sanchez that came in with great credentials from FC Barcelona, for me, has been a great disappointment. His performance during the World Cup for Chile was so fantastic that even I believed that any club would be lucky to pry him away. Instead, he has looked rather slow and uncertain about how to play in Arsenal, just as the team also continues to display great vulnerability when defending.
The team’s performance has kept oscillating between brilliance and abysmal!
Arsenal also, like Manchester United, have not played like potential champions. Arsene Wenger still needs to make use of the next transfer window for players that can to shore up the team’s defense. Or, this may be his last season with the gunners!
Liverpool FC have just not struck a great rhythm yet. They have played with the promise of great things, but have failed to be firm in their delivery. There is more bottled up in side the team than being displayed so far.
Manchester City FC have been impressive. They are improving with every match, and may indeed have the best front line in the Premiership this season with several attacking options upfront led by Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero, and Hazard.
Yaya Toure continues to inspire with his week-in week-out textbook demonstration of how to play in central midfield. He is the perfect bridge, the anchor, between defense and attack. He surely must be in contention for the best central midfield player in the world, and a leading contender for Africa’s next Player of the Year Award again this December!
But it is Chelsea FC in England (not in Europe where they have looked boring and have been played tamely) that have shown quite clearly their intention to win the Premiership. The team has played every match with the signature of Jose Mourinho written all over it.
The shoving spat between Wenger and Mourinho last weekend, when Chelsea trounced Arsenal with consummate ease, really confirmed Chelsea’s strength and determination this season.
Stephen Keshi and the Ides of March!
The last thing on my mind as we approach this weekend is the most discussed issue in Nigerian football at the moment, As the Super Eagles of Nigeria play away in Sudan the match could determine Stephen Keshi’s fate as manager of the Super Eagles.
Undoubtedly the Super Eagles have been anything but super since after the World Cup.
Before then Keshi could do no wrong. He had amassed the most successful record for a Nigerian in the history of football in the country.
Then he took Nigeria to the World Cup where he put up a fairly good performance until some immature behavior by the players, that many people have said he encouraged and benefitted from, crept in to ruin everything he had worked for. With a new Executive Committee that appears not want him but cannot get rid of him easily, he now faces the biggest threat to his stay as manager of the national team.
For now he is hanging on to the job with the skin of his teeth, and is likely to be laid off should the Eagles fail to impress this weekend.
The biggest thing going for him is the absence of any alternative to him as coach of the Eagles.
In this era of ex-internationals, no other Nigerian ex-international has his rich football management credentials. So, to consider anyone amongst a list of the few in his category is difficult. It can’t be justified.
Samson Siasia, whose name is being dangled as a possible replacement, would be a hard sell. Nothing has happened in Siasia’s career since he was replaced by Keshi to indicate that he is now a different and better coach.
Perhaps, Sunday Oliseh? He looks the part. But can he walk his talk?
I do not like the setting of this weekend’s match at all. I wonder why CAF would allow a match of this magnitude to be played on artificial turf. This could well spell doom for the Super Eagles.
I do not like it one bit! But good luck Eagles!