Friday, April 29, 2011

Nigeria's age problem

"He's only 25, albeit a Nigerian 25, and so if that is his age he's still got a good few years ahead of him," Everton manager David Moyes about his striker Yakubu Ayegbeni, 21st February 2008.

For those of you who don’t know much about Nigeria and its football, this quote might sound a bit odd to you. Allow me to give you a short background about Nigeria’s “Super Eagles” and African footballers in general. Nigerians, like most African footballers, had always been considered by Europeans as physically strong players that are technically gifted but tactically inept. That was the common perception about African nations and their footballers around the world up until the 1990 World Cup when Cameroon finally made an impression on the biggest stage of them all which led to major European clubs standing up and taking notice of these stars.

Enter the nineties and European clubs began recruiting players from African nations (mostly from West African nations that were colonized by the French or English) as they had finally found players that they could get cheaply, that could be offered a minor amount of cash to lure them, that they could provide with a work permit and of course, most importantly, a way out of Africa thanks to their talent.

This became the dream for many potential African footballers and it still is. In Nigeria however, some players seemed to have the door to their dream closing on them for one particular reason: their age. So they took that matter into their own hands. Bearing in mind that most, if not all, of these players have come from extremely poor backgrounds and are brought up in a country which has one of the lowest rates of social, health and educational care for its locals, you wouldn’t blame these individuals for not knowing their true birth dates, birth places or even having their own birth certificates. They’ve struggled in poverty and were lucky enough to be blessed by their footballing talent, with some luck and smart maneuvering along the way, to get them into Europe. So what happens when a European scout finds a talented Nigerian footballer, who has no papers, on the streets or at some local club? Well the player, regardless of his age, creates a new identity which would match the demands that could get him into Europe.

You might think that this sounds too unrealistic to be true, but I’ve heard of a story like this from someone linked directly to a famous Nigerian professional footballer. In the summer of 2001, I played football against Obafemi Martins’ younger brother while I was still living in Nigeria and he told me that his brother was 6 years older than the age that was written on his birth certificate which was presented to Italian football Club Reggiana before they signed him. Several Nigerian footballers, apparently, falsify their age throughout their careers to allow themselves to reach the heights of European clubs. How does this happen? Simple. In Nigeria you can simply go to the immigration office, pay a minor sum above the normal require sum to obtain a passport, and in a short while you’ll have it all at your disposal – a new name, a new age and new birthday. Congratulations, you now have a footballer’s identity.

Just imagine it, a footballer whose physique and mental awareness are those of a 25 year old, but who is considered to be 18 years old by all governing footballing bodies! It’s a scary thought to think of, but it’s a true one nonetheless. Very rarely have we found African players still performing to their normal standards in their early thirties. Their game seems to "fade" quicker than Europeans. Rumors about age falsification by Nigerian players such as Nwankwo Kanu, Taribo West and Jay-Jay Okocha had become rife during the final stages of their careers as there were physical signs that were apparently proving that the players were much older than they claimed to be. Their managers began doubting their ages publicly and that was the most troubling part of it. Age catches up with all footballers and sooner or later, they will be found out. But one thing is for sure, if someday Nigerian players feel that they can’t cope with the pressure and stress of being a top flight professional footballer in Europe, they have another escape; they can always go back to the immigration office in Nigeria and create an even better certificate – a death certificate. Yes, you can pay for one of those too.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Motivate your team, make them watch porn

Picture the scene. It is matchday. The players are on the bus on their way to the stadium. One of the players puts on a good old rough rock song to get the team pumped up for the game. Just like when it happens to us sometimes, you can imagine the players getting the blood pumping in their bodies thanks to a song. Sometimes you see the players listening to their I-pods before the games and you can just imagine the intensity of the moment in their minds. Sometimes you need a little bit of inspiration from another form of art to help enhance a performance: a speech, a song, an image, a video…etc. They can all be used to get players driven. Well, it seems there’s a new form of motivation which has recently been used to motivate players: Porn.

Yes, you read it right, Porn. Palermo (US Citta di Palermo) coach Serse Cosmi makes his players watch porn movies in the team bus before matches to “motivate them”.  He recently stated that “I give them porn to watch on the team coach on the way to games. It's a good way of getting them ready for the match. It creates a great atmosphere and motivates the troops.” Cosmi is quite an eccentric coach. He’s recognized for almost always wearing a cap and shouting all the time; he sometimes even wears sunglasses during games. You can’t miss him. Definitely a face that is easy to remember. But will this new form to motivate his players work? Will other managers follow this method?

I find it difficult to imagine a group of adult men, sitting in a bus before a professional football game, getting motivated to play football by watching porn. It’s very hard to imagine and it is hilarious to even think of it. There is a disputed myth that footballers are not allowed to engage in sexual activities 24 hours prior to kick off because it would not allow them to perform to their optimum level (again, this is a disputed myth as there is no substantial evidence that players keep their willies in their pants before games – and I don’t think we’d care to know or have any evidence about that). For those of us who do play football regularly, I can assure you that most of us (again, debatable) avoid sexual activities on the day of the game itself because we know that it wouldn’t allow us to perform as well as we would in normal circumstances.

So let’s say this myth was in fact true, would it be effective if these players, who are already subject to limitations in their private sexual lives, are getting turned on or getting their imagination stirred before going out and performing? So far, it seems his methods are not really making much of a difference. Since Cosmi has taken over, Palermo have won 3, lost 3 and drawn 1; not exactly what one would consider a success.

Prior to the Champions League final in 2009 vs Man United, Pep Guardiola famously made his Barcelona players watch a video he put together which had clips of Barca’s best performances during the season all presented in a hero-like manner inspired by the movie “Gladiator”. It worked extremely well as Barcelona played like warriors on that night. I wonder what goes through the minds of these Palermo players after they watch some porn before playing. Are they going to perform like porn-stars on the pitch? Run around naked and feel like “real men” possibly. Maybe Cosmi just enjoys watching porn and does it to make sure he’s the one watching some of his best movies before a game. Maybe that’s why he looks crazy. Maybe that’s why he looks a bit like a retired porn star. Either way, Football needs more personalities like Serse Cosmi. He’s good entertainment.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Arsenal crumble...again.

It must be all too familiar for Arsenal fans. Starting off the season flourishing and scoring goals for fun, playing the most attractive football in the Premier League, challenging on all fronts and looking confident, being tipped as potential Champions in more than one competition, reaching January with fans pleading for new signings to bolster the squad, getting a few injuries that dampen the squad, blaming the refs and lady luck and then finally ending the season trophy-less. It sounds like it has been Groundhog Day every season for the past 5 or 6 years for Arsenal, and their fans must be frustrated about it.

I, for obvious reasons, enjoy watching Arsenal’s demise every season. It brings me great joy in seeing their team being billed up as potential this and potential that but then shooting themselves in the foot every season. Some of their supporters say it is lady luck and what not; but it isn’t. I believe it is simple stubbornness and naivety from Arsene Wenger in refusing to acknowledge that some of his players are simply not good enough and that he needs a bigger squad. The same mistakes every season is not being unlucky: it’s simply a refusal to learn.

Regarding their usual injuries which have become a trademark of theirs, I strongly believe that their training regime must be pretty mediocre as 3 months into every season (for the past 4 or 5 years) they always get a load of weak injuries (calf, hamstring, etc..) at such an early stage of the season. Their players just seem frail and very injury prone because of the fact that they are weak physically. Whenever major injuries have occurred (ex: Diaby, Eduardo, Ramsey) they have all been, in my opinion, incited by the fact that Arsenal love keeping the ball on the ground and this aspect in the Premier League, more than any other league, entices tackles to come in flying. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some statistic that proves that Arsenal are, probably, the most fouled team in the Premier league.

Arsene Wenger set a standard so high of Arsenal Football Club when he first joined them that success became mandatory for the club; the past few seasons, despite finishing in the top 4 every season since he's joined, have been regarded as failures. If football was won on aesthetics, then Arsenal would be the Premier league champions every single season; but it’s not. They play some of the most attractive football in Europe and are able to keep possession of the ball so well that they are almost (I said almost) a match for Barcelona in that feature of their game. I’ve done some research and found that Arsenal are the team who have the most completed passes in the Premier League this season with an astounding 14204 passes. With that in mind, you’ve got to ask yourself what is the point of passing the ball to death if your players can’t shoot? I can’t recall the last time Arsenal players were recognized for taking shots from outside the box. They seem to want to pass it into the net.

Over the weekend Arsenal lost 2-1 away to Bolton and this effectively ruled them out of the title race this season...again. Having been knocked out of every other competition, you couldn’t blame Arsenal fans for believing they would mount a more serious title challenge. But it proved not to be the case (thankfully). This weekend they face Manchester United at the Emirates stadium and could be playing for pride by beating their old rivals. But I don’t think that's good enough for Arsenal fans or Arsene Wenger.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Arsene Wenger is a top-class manager, but he really needs to have a look at his team and ask himself if his current squad is good enough. His refusal to buy top players over the past few years and his refusal to acknowledge when his players are wrong (“I didn’t see it” – I quote) is pitiful and must be infuriating for their supporters. I remember a time when everyone feared Arsenal, a time when players like Pires, Henry, Ljunberg, Bergkamp ran teams ragged for 90 minutes and when Vieira, Edu, Toure, Keown, Lauren and Cole scared teams to death. Their physical presence alone was scary. What has happened to that Arsenal? They don’t have any commanding figures that strike fear into opponents anymore. You look at Arsenal now and you see boys, not men. It has been quite a few years that people have been saying that this is a young team and their time will come. But what I’ve found is that in comparing the average age of the Arsenal squad and that of the Barcelona squad that beat them earlier this season you’ll find that Arsenal’s average age is 25.36 and Barcelona’s is 25.33. So you must wonder, when will their time come? Or is this it? It seems the analogy I recently read to describe this current Arsenal team is perfect: they are exactly like the Eiffel Tower, bloody gorgeous to look at but pretty pointless.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The divers: your turn to post!

Today I’m going to do something a little different. I don’t think there is a single football fan out there that tolerates diving. We all agree that it ruins the game and that it has become so familiar in the game that we’ve almost accepted it as part of it. Some of the biggest names in world football today are seen going to ground easily and feigning injury – including players that don the shirts of the clubs we support. Usually we shrug it off and sometimes even laugh at it, but it's quite shameful. If the decision goes your team’s way, there’s always a little bit of bitterness at the back of your mind despite the outcome being in your favor.

So, just for fun, I would like you to post on the comments area some videos of incidents (one incident only per video, but you can post numerous videos) of players that dive. I’ll start off with a few big name players that dive. Some of these players are supposedly “clean” players that don’t dive (ha!) and most of these are in the Premier League. Enjoy them, and looking forward to your posts and videos!

P.S: please avoid the diving compilation videos. 

Here are mine:
Thierry Henry:
Lionel Messi:
Cristiano Ronaldo:
Wayne Rooney:
Andres Iniesta:
Steven Gerrard:
Didier Drogba & Jens Lehmann: