Tag Archives: John Obi Mikel

Moses and Mikel to the fore as Act Two brings revenge for Chelsea

10 Nov

Last night’s Capital One Cup clash between Chelsea and Manchester United saw the Blues obtain a measure of revenge for their recent league defeat – Goal Nigeria reports on a match refreshingly high on action and low on complaint.
No one was quite sure what the sequel would bring. No one knew for certain whether the tensions born on Sunday would bubble over and explode. No one could say precisely how these two giants of the English game would approach a cup tie where both had everything to lose.
The only certainty was that no one wanted a repeat of Sunday’s debacle, where the goals flew in and the action occasionally inspired, but the enduring taste was sour. Their league tie brought controversy and ugliness; nobody wants a sustained focus on a referee, and nobody wants to see allegations flying around of the ilk that Chelsea F.C. levelled at Mark Clattenburg following Sunday’s defeat.
Fortunately, yesterday’s battle was free of injustice and complaint, liberated from the controversies and inequalities that have come so readily to association with these two great clubs in recent times. Once again we were treated to high-end drama, but this time it came not in the gestures, cards, (and allegedly the words) of a referee, but at the twinkling toes of Daniel Sturridge, the effortless anticipation of Javier Hernandez, or the extraordinary awareness of Eden Hazard.
At the final whistle, Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo spoke of ‘justice’ – a 5-4 victory in the cup erasing the perceived wrongs of a 3-2 defeat in the league. Ramires’s glorious finish in extra time cancelling out Chicharito’s offside goal on Sunday, young Scott Wootton’s errors in defence helping fans forget about Branislav Ivanovic’s dismissal, and Chelsea’s penalties last night ‘justice’ for Fernando Torres’s dubious red.
The Chelsea boss will have been delighted to have witnessed the impact of Victor Moses, enjoying a rare start for his new side. The Nigerian forward was one of the key protagonists in an enthralling encounter. Among the many young players on show, he was arguably the most impressive – constantly troubling United’s defenders with characteristic direct running and ferocious rapidity; it took an impressive stop from Anders Lindegaard to keep the frontman off the scoresheet, but the damage had already been done, panic befalling Alex Buttner in the first half forcing him to illegally halt the Nigerian vortex.
But Moses hasn’t been the only Super Eagle to have impressed recently. As reported by Goal Nigeria’s own Babajide Alaka, Jamie Redknapp in his capacity as a Sky Sports pundit has been quick to lavish praise on John Obi Mikel. In a week where the midfielder’s name has been associated with racism and controversy, it’s encouraging to hear some praise for his on-field activity. While his influence was brief last night, being withdrawn before the break, the midfielder has been proving recently that he can be the reliable rock that allows Chelsea’s artists to conjure and create in front of him. Like his predecessor in the role, Claude Makélélé, Mikel is showing himself to be a crucial component in any Chelsea success.
Moses was one of several Pensioners’ players to commend his team’s supporters after the game, praising them for their comportment, and looking forward to a Quarter Final tie with Leeds United up in West Yorkshire. However, a gentle footnote to the evening was made, depressingly, in the form of a Chelsea fan’s racist gesture apparently aimed at Danny Welbeck. The last thing the club needs now, after the trauma of Terry and the commotion of Clattenburg, is one of their own undertaking such a public act of idiocy. We are presented with an ugly irony; the growing influence of two Nigerians, and the sustained racism associated with the Blues.
But, for now at least, let us linger on a brighter evening for the superclub of West London; let us enjoy the whirling triangles of their attack, a sense of the sequel’s redemption, and the comprehensive contributions of two of Nigeria’s favourite sons.
The Champions of Europe, they know what they, but at this rate, they may be adding the League Cup to their extended honours list.
Ed Dove

Mikel at the centre of controversial United/Chelsea clash

10 Nov

Manchester United and Chelsea met on Sunday in a battle that will be remembered as much for its controversy as for its scintillating action – with incident aplenty, Goal.com picks through the action from Stamford Bridge
It feels like the same old story this Monday, a tale as old as time – a game spoiled, ruined even, by the hands, eyes, and whistle of one man. That poor soul in the middle, the hapless arbiter, the English referee. My father once decreed that being an umpire was possibly the finest way to lose friends, and as the dust settles from Chelsea and Manchester United’s bruising encounter, Mark Clattenburg may well be inclined to agree.
The referee was at the heart of many of Sunday’s flash points, regrettably so, as I have always felt that umpires, like good songwriters, ought to be almost invisible in their influence. Clattenburg, sadly, was not, and the commute’s discussion of the Sabbath’s beautiful game can’t help but bear his name. Indeed, Blues boss Roberto Di Matteo left no doubt as to his opinion of Clattenburg’s officiating, stating bluntly that he thought the game had been ‘ruined’ by poor decision making.
Where to begin? Chelsea have their reputation – the snarling, smug, superior powerhouse of West London, the Roman Empire, the Prem’s pantomime villains; never afraid to ruffle a few feathers, to assert themselves, or to employ the dark arts. Yesterday, the Pensioners were stunned by a five minute period in which they received two red cards – even by their standards this was bad.
First, Branislav Ivanovic was dismissed for a cynical foul on Ashley Young as the midfielder broke through on goal, and minutes later, Fernando Torres was sent packing for a second yellow – received after Clattenburg had identified a Torres tumble as simulation. Whilst Ivanovic’s straight red is hard to contest, opinion has been split as to whether the Spaniard deserved his second caution. It was a bold, brave decision to make, and Clattenburg made it.
As Di Matteo stated afterwards, to make that choice, the ref needed to have been 100% sure – could he have been, truly, sincerely, 100%?
It was only a matter of time before Chelsea’s nine succumbed to United’s eleven, but to add insult to very serious injury, the winner had more than an ounce of dubiousness about it. Another close call from the refereeing team, and another error – Chicharito ghosting in from an off-side position to slip the ball past the despairing clutches of Petr Cech.
The darker allegations came after the match: Chelsea, no strangers to the prescribed mores of racial discourse, allegedly submitting an official complaint against the language used by Clattenburg. Goal’s own George Ankers reported earlier that a formal grievance made by the Blues indicated that the referee used ‘inappropriate language’ towards two of their player, whilst the BBC also referred to a ‘racial’ aspect to the Clattenburg complaint, indicating that John Obi Mikel was once of two players offended by comments made.
Doubtless this narrative will run and run, but whatever becomes of the official charge made by Chelsea, an engrossing weekend of Premier League action has once more ended on a sour note, once more it is gripe and grievance that takes the spotlight from goals and glory.
May justice be done, but may we also be given back our game.
Alas, I am loathe to let controversy and complaint steal all the lustre of what was a pulsating and, at times, mesmerising encounter at Stamford Bridge – well worth its Super Sunday billing.
Chelsea know what they are, apparently, never hesitating to announce to anyone that will listen that they are ‘Champions of Europe’ – everyone hears it, as Shakhtar play hosts in Ukraine: ‘We know what we are’, as Spurs are put to the sword: ‘We know what we are’, as Norwich or Nordsjaelland are taken apart: ‘We know what we are’. Every time, the same song rolled out, a snarling smirk to the opposition, a superior strut…inevitably to victory: ‘Champions of Europe, we know what we are.’
But not this time. To suggest that Manchester United were devastating from the off is almost an understatement. The Reds tore out of the blocks, and seemingly went right for the jugular. Before the rotating choruses had even begun in West London, United struck – David Luiz opened the scoring, but unfortunately for him, the ball was inadvertently turned passed his own keeper. Van Persie doubled Chelsea’s trouble soon after, a trademark strike setting United up with a seemingly unassailable lead.
However, even shorn of their two talismanic figures – John Terry and Frank Lampard missing the match through suspension and injury – this Chelsea team are made of steely stuff. Even with United attacking them competently down the flanks, they managed to first reduce arrears, and then draw level – Juan Mata and Ramires the saviours either side of half time.
The late controversy eventually stole the headlines, before Javier Hernandez’s contentious winner essentially closed the game as a contest. It was engrossing, pulsating, and at times mesmerising, there was finesse and there was power, there was technique and there was trickery, there was genuine passion, and authentic style…not that anyone noticed.
A different day, familiar protagonists, and the same old story in English football.
Ed Dove

Remembering Olubayo

5 Apr

Remembering Olubayo, and the ’05 generation

African football has a wonderful propensity for moving on. Being rescheduled for the beginning of next year, the African Cup of Nations will provide the giants of African football with an immediate prospect of redemption for the failures of 2011. In Nigeria, a generation of players arriving at their prime have the chance to spearhead this redemption.

This generation has some pedigree, most notably at the U20 World Cup in 2005. The team qualified from a group containing Brazil, before beating Ukraine and hosts Holland en route to an All-African semi-final with Morocco. The quarter final with the Dutch was a particularly gruelling encounter; the Nigerians eventually winning 10 – 9 on penalties. The North Africans were overcome emphatically in the semis, before the Super Eagles were eventually outdone in the final by a little fella called Lionel Messi.

Players from that tournament such as Falcao, Llorente, Silva, as well as Messi himself, are approaching their prime and yet are already writing their own histories, and carving out their own spots in footballing folklore. It’s hard to say the same for many of the Nigerian squad, despite their impressive showing in the Netherlands, and a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics three years later.

Of that crop, Taye Taiwo is currently sampling life in West London with Q.P.R., John Obi Mikel – the star of the team – has been in England a while longer, struggling to be truly effectual at Chelsea. Sani Kaita, despite being a mainstay of the national side, has failed to settle at various clubs, and is currently playing in the Ukraine. The exciting Promise Isaac has yet to debut for the seniors, and of the ’05 generation, it is perhaps only Chinedu Obasi who is in the business of carving out a legacy for himself, having recently signed a permanent contract at Schalke.

Arriving in Holland for the Youth Championships, Olubayo Adefemi was one of the less heralded members of the squad. Coach Samson Siasia’s original plans didn’t have him in the starting eleven. He made his first appearance for the team in the final group game against Switzerland, starting in a match that Nigeria needed to win. After impressing here, he kept his place, contributing a penalty in the shootout against the Dutch, and a crucial goal against Morocco.

Adefemi became a central component of the U20s team, and then the Olympic team in 2008, opening the scoring in the emphatic semi-final victory over a strong Belgian side. His club career progressed and he began to forge a career at teams across Europe, leaving Nigeria in 2004 to play in Israel, Romania, Austria, and in France, for Boulogne, in their maiden season in Ligue 1. The versatile defender made his debut for the Super Eagles senior side in 2009, before moving to Skoda Xanthi, of Greece, in 2010. In April last year, he lost control of his car, and was killed in the collision. He on the way to the airport, scheduled to fly home to make preparations for his upcoming marriage to his girlfriend Folashade.

I shared correspondence with Olubayo in late 2009, as he adjusted to life in France. He visited London, and enjoyed the White Hart Lane stadium tour, having photographs taken in Ledley King’s hallowed spot in the changing room. He confided however, that were England to ever be his port of call, it would be Arsenal, and not Tottenham, that would be the preferred destination.

Team mates, following his death, spoke of a warm character, and a fantastic sense of humour. It was a personality evident in his exuberant celebrations and committed performances. Christopher Katongo, who captained Zambia to their 2012 Afcon victory, was a team mate of Adefemi’s at Xanthi. He described his friend as a good man, who was well liked, and was like a brother to the Chipolopolo skipper.

Olubayo was a young man when he died, just 25, just approaching his peak years as a player, and beginning to arrive at his most effective for club and country. The youth team of 2005 were taken into the hearts of Nigerians, they succeeded in forging and sustaining a relationship with the fan base, one that existed above and beyond their accolades on the pitch. It is a reality sadly lacking from the current convocation of Super Eagles.

Nigeria are currently in the process of qualifying for the 2013 Afcon competition, to be held in South Africa. An away draw in tiny Rwanda doesn’t auger well, but the Super Eagles will certainly be confident of getting the result they need in the return leg on June 15th, and progressing to the Second Qualification Round.

Young, impressive players have been brought in to augment the generation of 2005: talented midfielders Ahmed Musa and Joel Obi are already establishing themselves as international performers, despite being only 19 and 20 respectively. Victor Moses’s decision to opt for the land of his birth, as opposed to England, has boosted Nigerian fans – even if his exciting build up play at Wigan isn’t yet to be matched by a polished end product.

The Naija community was awash with complaints and solutions following the draw in Kigali; Yakubu not hungry enough for victory, Odemwingie too greedy for money; the coach clueless, the players lacking commitment. Some Nigerians propose a total rebuilding of the national team, an overhaul of players, staff and ideas. Others are quietly confident that Nigeria are merely at a crossroads, a step further towards their emergence as an African superpower once again.

If redemption is to come at the African Cup of Nations, then the generation of 2005 need to step up. Even the mightiest eagle may need to return to the treetops to rest, but come 2013 and South Africa, Nigeria will call for their team to soar once again.

Ed Dove, London



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