By Tunde Olusunle

Several years after he retired from his illustrious career as a professional footballer, Peter Osaze Odemwingie was in the news a few weeks back. Very thankfully, his rebound was not a worrying piece of news. It has become customary for the medical plight of many of our former sportsmen to jump into our faces from the pages of tabloids. Often times, such unsavoury appearances, come with alms-solicitation bowls, foregrounding the dire situations of the subjects at those points in time. Odemwingie’s narrative, however, is a very heartening piece of news. He belongs to a new breed of our sports greats who are able to reinvent themselves after they cease to feature in big leagues across the world, even as we view them regularly on our television screens. Odemwingie’s example is one which should inspire our sports professionals, serving and upcoming.

Osaze Odemwingie by the way, played professional football for nearly two decades, specifically between year 2000 and 2018. A broad-based study of the careers of most footballers across the world is that their years of top, on-field performance averages 15 to 20 years. They sign their first professional contracts when they are about 18 years of age and will be fortunate to keep playing at optimum levels two decades after. Not every football player can be Roger Miller of Cameroon; Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe of Portugal; Sergio Ramos of Spain, James Milner of England, or our own Kanu Nwankwo and John Utaka. These outfield players grossed or overshot two full decades on the turf for their respective clubs and countries in many instances. Goalkeepers in football have been known to enjoy careers well beyond two decades. They burn less calories within the space of their goal area, than defenders, midfielders, wingers and strikers. The latter are almost ever in motion snuffing out potential encroachments in their space and also shopping upfront for opportunities to unsettle their opponents.

Odemwingie was born in Tashkent, in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, (USSR), which is now in the country Uzbekistan. He began a professional career in football, however, with Bendel Insurance Football Club of Benin City, Edo State, home state of his father, in year 2000. He went on to play for nearly 10 other clubs in Belgium, France, England, Russia and Indonesia before retiring in 2018. He played over 400 games and scored 125 goals for his various employers. He also played for Nigeria’s senior men’s soccer team, the Super Eagles, 65 times over a 12-year period, between 2002 and 2014. Odemwingie scored 11 goals, earning personal and group laurels. He played in four African Cup of Nations, (AFCON) tournaments; two World Cups and earned an Olympic medal in 2018, playing for Nigeria. Odemwingie was not reputed for the kind of tantrums typical of some of his teammates who had spats with the nation’s sports governing body, the Nigeria Football Federation, (NFF) or his managers. He was a remarkably temperate professional.

Much as he took a backstage from club and national footballing, however, he decided to explore other career options. He was just about 37 years old at the time and considered himself still productive. He thus conscientiously pursued a new vocation in the game of golf. He subjected himself to a three-year programme culminating in the receipt of a bachelors degree certificate in one of the courses within the gamut of golf education. June 25, 2024, Odemwingie graduated from the Professional Golfers Association, (PGA) academy. He spoke of the pain of adjustment from the group sports of his footballing career, as against the individuality of golf where one’s only company could be his caddie, for those who could afford one that is. Nonetheless, he is excitedly looking forward to his first PGA tour as a professional as he looks to leave his imprimatur on his new vocation.

Odemwingie is not the only Nigerian, nay African player to have sought new vocational vistas in sports-related concerns after retirement. Some ex-internationals have explored coaching, player management, scouting, punditry and similar possibilities. Super Eagles supremo in the years the team was known as Green Eagles, Segun Odegbami, multi-tasks as broadcast media proprietor, brand ambassador and newspaper columnist among others. Moses Kpakor a very uncompromising defensive midfielder who was particularly outstanding in the 1990 AFCON in Algeria, returned to the classroom, earned a masters degree in sports administration and is Director of Sports at the Benue State University, (BSU), Makurdi.

Retiring after a professional career of over 15 years, Augustine Cerezo Eguavoen, arguably one of Nigeria’s most rugged defenders in his time, managed clubsides in South Africa, Malta, Mali and Greece. He has been the Technical Director of the NFF since 2020. His teammate at Nigeria’s first participation in the FIFA Senior World Cup, “USA ’94,” Michael Emenalo a very effective left back, blossomed beyond his teething years in “Enugu Rangers Football Club,” to global football management. He has been Director of Player Development; Chief Scout; Technical Director and Sporting Director across clubsides in the US, England and France. More currently, Emenalo is Director of Football in the growing Saudi Arabia Professional Football League.

After what may pass as perhaps the briefest stint ever by any coach of the Super Eagles, Finidi George has taken up an appointment as Technical Adviser of Sharks of Port Harcourt Football Club. Sunday Oliseh has been manager of a number of clubs in Belgium and Germany. He also managed Nigeria for a few months. He has been severally appointed by the Federation of International Football Associations, (FIFA) as a technical expert for many FIFA-organised competitions. Emmanuel Amunike who is also a member of that generation of Nigerian players has had coaching spells in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia. He was an assistant coach under Eguavoen and presently serves in the same capacity with the national team. Austin Jay-Jay Okocha the skillfully admirable baller is involved in production and the entertainment industry. Nwankwo Kanu famously known as Papillo is the Chairman of Enyimba Football Club and is said to be involved with real estate, hospitality as well as oil and gas.

Victor Ikpeba who was nicknamed the “Prince of Monaco” in his active playing years as a forward in the French club by the same name, is a familiar face on satellite television football discussion programmes. Yakubu Aiyegbeni is reported to be active in the property market in England and owns a number of gas stations in Nigeria. Emmanuel Emenike is said to own one of the most modern hospitals named Emenike Hospital in Owerri, Imo State. The ex-international reportedly conceived of it to be the “go to” medical facility in Nigeria’s South East. Erstwhile defensive midfielder, Seyi Olofinjana, 36, was recently appointed Director of Talent Management for Africa at Chelsea Football Club. His compatriot Sone Aluko, 35, has been appointed First Team Coach at Ipswich Town Football Club, which has been newly promoted to the English Premier League, (EPL), while little-known Lukas Babalola, 27, is the new Assistant Manager at Feyenord Football Club in the Dutch first division.

This preceding narrative is an improvement over what has become the norm, rather than the exception with regards to our ex-internationals. Hitherto, it had almost, always been unsavoury news filtering from the homesteads of many of our former stars. The septuagenarian Christian Chukwu who led Nigeria to her first AFCON success in 1980, had to be rescued by billionaire Femi Otedola who paid for his medical evacuation and treatment abroad 2019. Charles Bassey, a marginal former player also has Otedola to thank for showing up for him when he was all but grounded with a protracted ailment in 2021. Henry Nwosu the youngest member of the 1980 AFCON team came down with a stroke two years ago, is a beneficiary of the kindness of the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Nigeria’s mobile telecommunications giant, Globacom on the directives of its billionaire owner, Mike Adenuga, intervened last year to keep the folkloric national team goalkeeper, Peter Fregene, on this side of the divide.

Newer ex-internationals it would seem, have learnt from the experiences of their predecessors and have largely become more cautious in the management of their resources. Who would have imagined that a successful former player like Wilson Oruma would become a virtual tramp on the streets? He reportedly lost his life savings in excess of one billion naira to a self-styled fraud posturing as a clergyman who designed all manner fake investment prototypes for him. Another player, Femi Opabunmi also reportedly fell to the designs of a false prophet who fleeced him massively, under the pretext of helping to cure him of glaucoma-induced blindness. Misled by youthful exuberance, some Emeritus players have also frittered their savings on ostentatious and glamorous living. Wasn’t Dan Amokachi reported to own a jet which serviced his frolics in his heydays? Celestine Babayaro, Etim Esin and Ifeanyi Udeze, have been grouped in this category of sportsmen who “ate with all their fingers” to borrow from a Yoruba wise saying. Babayaro and Udeze are said to be gradually finding their feet.

Kanu and John Utaka are examples of ex-players who are giving back to society. Kanu, generally regarded as the most decorated African footballer, established the Kanu Heart Foundation to provide relief for indigent Africans and support people born with congenital heart defects, a health condition he once managed. He overcame this impairment to become one of Africa’s greatest of all time. Utaka established a football academy in Minna, Niger State, far away from his home community in Enugu State. Let’s hope that our former stars will ruminate deeply about the infinite possibilities available to them as they prepare for certain retirement. Let’s hope our erstwhile idols put a stop to hanging around the secretariat of the NFF and the Sports Ministry, desperately craving coaching engagements as sole panacea for their obvious apparent lack of planning.

Tunde Olusunle, PhD, is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (FANA)

Satguru Maharaj Ji Wants Dissolution Of NFF Board 

The Living Perfect Master and founder of One Love Family, Satguru Maharaj Ji, has called for the immediate dissolution of the present board of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).

The call came in the wake of the country’s poor 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifying campaign, labelling it “unacceptable” after a 2-1 defeat by Benin left the Super Eagles winless from their opening four games.

Following draws with Lesotho, Zimbabwe and South Africa, Nigeria sit fifth in Group C with three points from a possible 12.

Only the group winners are guaranteed a place at the World Cup finals, which will be jointly hosted by the USA, Canada, and Mexico.

In addition to the call for the mass resignation of the NFF board, Maharaj Ji also advocated for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s football structure to arrest the current drift.

“The country had not witnessed such inept football administration in its entire history as the current board is made up of self-seeking individuals who have no inkling on how to develop the game.

“This time around, the ineptitude of the team and the mediocre nature of football administration, was bared for all to see, unlike in the past when we would have attributed the blame for the loss on poor officiating by the match officials.

“We now have a Technical Committee, whose head was more concerned about inconsequential things to the detriment of our football,” he said.

Meanwhile, Maharaj Ji has called for the prosecution of the politicians who imposed the Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gusau – led board on Nigerians.

“It is clear that Gusau and his team have no pedigree in football administration, as they were appointed to achieve cheap political patronage.

“Their predecessors qualified for major competitions but these people cannot pass the simple test of adequately preparing teams; much less qualifying for competitions.

“The country will only get a sound set of football administrators only if it adheres to the rules and regulations pertaining to electoral matters, to guard against the foisting of mediocre individuals on football administration in the country,” Maharaj Ji posited.

“If it were in other climes where integrity is the watch word in every public office, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) board, led by Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gusau, ought to have resigned en-mass with an unreserved apology to Nigerians. The board goes down in history with the worst performance record since the creation of the Football Association in 1945.

“Imagine how the NFF treated one of the technical assistants before and during training just to discourage the whole team to failure.

“We are unreliably informed that 50% FIFA support fund for the upliftment of soccer has been used by one of the chairmen to build an Estate and that they the NFF management have now commenced negotiation to spare the football team and coaches twenty percent (20%), if so, how can we ever move forward in football sports in Nigeria.

“We would recommend that Coach Finidi George, Daniel Amokachi and co. should be recalled and Austin Jay Jay Okocha and Kanu Nwankwo be made Chairman and Vice Chairman respectively of NFF while Fani Amun and all the Atlantis brothers who defeated Brazil (Bebeto and Co.) in USA be made ex officio members of the board.

“A situation where hard-working people are treated as monkeys in the name of “sin and repent for the Baboon to chop” should stop now, for Nigeria is neither a pariah state or colonial territory.

“As reported earlier, and/or in the past, the black man has now connected with the Creator to enable constant pure positive and magnetic vibration flow within us now to prove that the Creator  loves all and therefore the black people have the Grace to compare favourably, comparatively with the Oyinbo to prove that we are the origin of man to lead the human race from the dreg of failures, scarcity, wars and disappointed hence hiring of Oyinbo Coach becomes a taboo if not sacrilege and recolonization.

“Sack the NFF now. Also sack and replace all the Senior Oyinbo coaches now. They are unfit to manage soccer in the present circumstances, if we want to win.

Liverpool battle Man Utd for Lookman

English Premier League clubs Liverpool and Manchester United are set to slug it out for Super Eagles forward Ademola Lookman this summer.

Lookman has been impressive at Atalanta since he joined two seasons ago. The Nigeria international has registered 32 goals and 18 assists in 78 appearances for La Dea.

However, he raised eyebrows after his superb end to last season, when he scored a hattrick for Atalanta to help them to a resounding 3-0 victory over Bayer Leverkusen in the UEFA Europa League final.

Recently, there have been talks that Lookman is eyeing a return to the English Premier League, two years after he left Leicester City. And in a new development, per Caught Offside, Manchester United and Liverpool are interested in signing Lookman this summer.

Liverpool are looking to add to their firepower going into next season with new coach Arne Slot.

Meanwhile, Manchester United do not have enough quality on the wings, and Lookman could add a lot to the team with his experience and talent.

Lookman is valued at €40 million according to Transfermarkt. But Atalanta could demand up to €51 million for the deal to happen.

Premier League experience

Lookman already has Premier League experience and would be a good addition to any team he joins. But Liverpool and Manchester United are both in delicate situations. Slot just took over at Anfield and is under pressure to perform as well as Jurgen Klopp did.

Also, Manchester United are desperate to start churning out the results after a disappointing campaign that saw them finish eighth.

If Lookman joins Liverpool, he would get stability-something he has experienced in his career. The former Everton man had hardly spent more than two consecutive seasons at any club. But if he joins Liverpool, he could stay there for a while.

The downside to the Liverpool deal is that Lookman’s playing time will be reduced drastically because the Reds have a stocked squad.

On the other hand, the 26-year-old could enjoy playing time at Manchester United because of the inconsistencies of players like Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho.

But United are also quite inconsistent at the moment, and the club has witnessed a lot of failed transfers in recent years. Soccernet

Super Eagles coach: NFFdenies contacting Renard

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has dispelled reports it has established contact with Herve Renard for the vacant Super Eagles coaching job.

Reports emerged on Monday that the NFF has opened talks with the Frenchman to take charge of the Super Eagles.A top official of the soccer house has now denied the claim.

“This report is inaccurate. We’ve not contacted Renard or his representatives,” the official told BBC Africa.

Renard is expected to quit his role as head coach of the French women’s national team at the end of the 2024 Olympic Games.

The 55-year-old is eager to return to Africa, where he has achieved great success.

Renard led Zambia to win the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and also repeated the same feat with Cote d’Ivoire in 2015.

The NFF is looking for a new coach for the Super Eagles following Finidi George’s resignation from the post.

A new coach is expected to be in place before the Super Eagles begin the qualifiers for the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations in September.

Ukraine out of Euro 2024 after 0-0 draw with Belgium

Belgium qualified for the last 16 of Euro 2024 on Wednesday after a 0-0 draw with Ukraine, who exited the tournament despite all four teams in Group E finishing level on four points.

Romania took top spot ahead of Belgium after scoring more goals in the group following their 1-1 draw with Slovakia, who also go through as one of the four best third-placed sides.

Belgium supporters reacted furiously at the final whistle in Stuttgart, with captain Kevin De Bruyne appearing to tell his team-mates not to go over to acknowledge them as the whistles and jeers grew louder.

They will play France in the next round and have landed themselves on the tougher side of the draw which also features hosts Germany, Spain and Portugal.

Ukraine’s brave run came to an agonising end as they became the first team since the tournament increased to 24 teams not to progress with four points.

It had been the first time ever at the European Championship all four teams in the same group had gone into the final round of games locked on the same number of points.

Leandro Trossard replaced the suspended Dodi Lukebakio for Belgium, wearing their kit which pays to the comic book hero Tintin, with pale blue shirts, brown shirts and white socks.

Ukraine were without wingers Mykhailo Mudryk and Viktor Tsygankov because of injury, switching to three at the back with Oleksandr Zinchenko dropping out and Roman Yaremchuk starting after scoring the winner as a substitute against Slovakia.

– Ukraine fans honour fallen comrades –

Ukrainian fans unveiled a banner displaying the portrait of a 21-year-old soldier who died in battle last month, an image generated by artificial intelligence using the photos of 182 football fans also killed in combat.

“Peace has a price. Thousands of football fans have been killed in the war since February 2022,” read an accompanying message, referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine that started two years ago.

Romelu Lukaku, who had three goals ruled out in his team’s first two games of the tournament, scuffed straight at Anatoliy Trubin when well placed after a slick through ball from De Bruyne.

Yaremchuk tested Koen Casteels and he might have given his team the lead if Artem Dovbyk had found him in the area after getting the better of Arthur Theate.

Twice De Bruyne was unhappy with a laser being pointed at his face as he took free-kicks, nearly catching Trubin out at the near post on one occasion.

He had another curling attempt held shortly after Yaremchuk fizzed a pass across the Belgium area while trying to pick out Dovbyk.

Lukaku saw a weak shot smothered by Trubin, who then beat away a much firmer strike from Yannick Carrasco as Belgium chased the goal that would have clinched first place in the group.

Ruslan Malinovskyi’s corner left Casteels frantically scooping the ball to safety at his near post as a nervy finish ensued, Ukraine desperately needing a goal that Belgium knew would spell disaster for them.

Johan Bakayoko curled wide for Belgium and Malinovskyi’s piledriver was blocked by Timothy Castagne, with Georgiy Sudakov unable to find a way past Casteels in stoppage time as Ukraine’s adventure came to an emotional conclusion.

Romania, Slovakia reach last 16 at Euro 2024 after tense draw

Romania and Slovakia both qualified for the last 16 at Euro 2024 after a tense 1-1 draw in their last Group E game on Wednesday.

Ondrej Duda put Slovakia ahead in the first half but Romania’s Razvan Marin equalised with a penalty before the interval.

With all four teams in the group earning four points from their three games, Romania finished top having scored more goals than second-placed Belgium.

Slovakia went through in third place thanks to a superior goal difference to fourth-placed Ukraine.

It was a memorable moment for Romania, who are into the knockout stages of the Euros for the first time in 24 years.

Romania had only qualified once for the last 16 in their five Euro appearances, but Edward Iordanescu’s tenacious side have ended that long drought

They responded to Iordanescu’s pre-match challenge to make “history” with a combative display fuelled by their army of vociferous fans, who turned the stadium into a sea of yellow.

Slovakia are into the knockout stages of a major tournament for the third time.

They reached the last 16 in the 2010 World Cup and made it to the same stage at Euro 2016.

Knowing a draw would send both teams through, cynics had suggested they would play out a mutually beneficial stalemate.

But there was no sign of Romania settling for a point as they made a fast start.

They threatened an early goal when Andrei Ratiu’s stinging strike was pushed away by Martin Dubravka, with the rebound lashed wildly over by Ianis Hagi.

– Romania mosh-pit –

Marin smashed a free-kick narrowly wide from long range moments late as Romania looked to capitalise on their early dominance.

Slovakia were inches away from snatching the lead as Lukas Haraslin’s free-kick went through a crowd of players and almost crept in at the far post.

It was a warning Romania failed to heed and Slovakia went in front in the 24th minute.

Juraj Kucka whipped in a deep cross that caught the Romania defence standing statuesque, leaving the unmarked Duda free to power his header past Florin Nita from eight yards.

Romania’s response was emphatic as they drew level in the 37th minute thanks to an incisive raid from the son of former Barcelona and Real Madrid star Gheorghe Hagi.

David Hancko’s foul on Hagi was adjudged a penalty by VAR after referee Daniel Siebert initially ruled the offence had taken place just outside the area.

Marin stepped up to drill the spot-kick high into the roof of the net to the deafening delight of the hordes of Romania fans who turned the arena into a frenzied mosh-pit.

The searing Frankfurt heat gave way to a heavy storm in the second half as thunder, lightning and rain swirled around the stadium.

It was a suitably dramatic backdrop to a tense clash that was close to swinging Romania’s way when Marin forced a good save from Dubravka before Denis Dragus skimmed the roof of the net.

Haraslin’s curler flashed past the far post as the storm abated, but, while there was no winner, both sides ended up celebrating their progress to the knockout stage.