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Shuaibu Amodu: The Hounded Victor

“In victory humility and in defeat gallantly”

The above is one of the soul lifting messages relayed during matches from the then military President – General I.B. Babangida to the national under 21 team when the Flying Eagles was the indomitable force in African youth football in the eighties, and the darling of the nation with their result oriented and breath taking football under the great coaches of that era (Hamilton, Udemezue – both of blessed memories and Tunde Disu), in a period when the then male football national team was rechristened the Papa Eagles instead of Green Eagles due to the slump in performance and nose dive in fortune.

Unfortunately, the same nation never appreciated the humble but football savant Shuaibu Amodu whose sudden death on Friday 10th June, 2016 still remains a painful event as he was vilified and never valued by the underachieving employers. While rushing to meet up with an appointment on the mainland and listening to a radio programme on Saturday June 11th, just three days after the death of Stephen Keshi, I heard the presenter
asking listeners and callers to honour  Shuaibu Amodu and my spirit was lifted as I felt we just turned the corner and will value our living legends and not pour encomiums on them posthumously, but alas I was dead wrong as the next caller was almost weeping on why Amodu should passed on so soon after Keshi and while driving I could feel the numbness.

My special affection for him could be traced to the then Challenge Cup previously known as the Governor’s Cup (later became FA Cup and now the Federations Cup), this prestigious tournament is contested on a state basis as the state champions are drawn together in the national draw. Curiously for something the media later dubbed the jinx, the cup competition was always won from teams from the southern part of the country since the 1953 sole victory of the Kano side over Lagos Dynamos and this was the scenario till a certain 32 year old rookie  came on board to alter the status quo as his team, Gboko based BCC Lions defeated Iwuanyanwu Nationale in 1989 (for the records Iwuanyanwu was the hottest property in Nigerian football after the demise of Leventis United and Abiola Babes, the team lost in the finals of the CAF champions Cup 1-4 the previous December to Entete Setif of Algeria). This feat was also a personal victory for me as I was a student in FGC Ugwolawo, Benue State before the creation of Kogi State in 1991, hence the personal interest in the man that made the impossible mission possible.

How could the competition not have been won by one of the old guards that were the renowned coaches of that period afterall the coaching business was and is still a recycling business, the seed of the curiosity to know more about this young man who was not named Alabi Aisien, Adegboyega Onigbide, Zachary Baraje, James Peters, Chris Udemezue, Ben Duamlong, Jossy Lad, Ganiyu Salami Joe Erico et al allbeing the power house then was sown. Achieving that feat at 32, when Bundesliga side Schalke  appointed the 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco is making the headline ditto for Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann appointed in 2016 at 28 (but these were just appointment and the achievements like Amodu). From the historic feat with BCC Lions on the domestic scene, Amodu on his debut further conquered the continent through the defunct African Cup Winners Cup (Mandela Cup) in 1990 with the bandana man – Ben ‘Surugede’ Ugwu and other true lions in Tunisia, the cup he only surrendered in the final of the defence as he lost in the final as the defending champion to Zambian’s Power Dynamos.

On four occasions, he lifted the Challenge Cup with BCC Lions and EL Kanemi Warriors of Maiduguri before the peaceful town became synonymous with Boko Haram. Cheerfully recalling his treble from 1992 – 1994. Amodu’s
name is equivalent with rescue operations as he joined South African side, Orlando Pirates a year after he was conscripted by the Military Administrator – Col Ahmed Usman to salvage the Ibadan based 3SC CAF Champions Cup outing, and he modestly played in the final before losing on penalties to Zamalek through Demola’s Johnson miss in the shootout in Cairo after a 3 all draw (who can forget the bullet packed free kick of Ajibade ‘Kunde’ Babalade in the first leg). For all Amodu’s success at the club level, it was only natural that he steps into the national scene and this progression was the beginning of the crisis for Amodu, who never failed but always hounded by the powers that be.

Amodu on six different occasions received SOS messages to bail out the national team, and as a faithful compatriot he obeyed and achieved whatever set target before him but instead of grace it was disgrace galore that followed suit. Rising from the departure of the very successful Dutchman, Clemens Westerhof, the English national team, Three Lions needed to learn the trick from the African Champions and world’s 5th best footballing nation, it was Amodu that was called upon to lead the Super Eagles to Wembley for his debut which the Eagles lost 0-1 (no African side has beaten the Red Lions till date). He equally led the team to the Intercontinental Cup with a 4th place finish after losing the final spot to the Argentines on goals difference and the 3rd place to the Mexicans on penalty shootout (he was unbeaten in the competition).

The Okpella born Amodu with the duo of Erico and Keshi were assistant to Bonfrere Jo who was sacked after the unimaginable defeat to the Sierra Leonian Lone Stars in Freetown without the free points, it was to Amodu that the NFA turned to rescue the World Cup ticket and the rest is history as the ticket was delivered from the ashes of imminent defeat, but the shock was a sack as thank you for reasons best known to the Nigeria Football Association. Fast forward 2008 after the Berti Vogts AFCON misadventure of 2006 (quarter final exit when ‘golden’ bronze was our birthright) and the NFA bungled 2006 World Cup ticket against the Angolans in the humidity of Kano, it was to Amodu the nation turned to again secure the 2010 edition ticket on African soil, and the mandate was clear – an AFCON semifinal and a mundial ticket, the cerebral Amodu (always top of his courses both home and abroad) promptly delivered and got the boot for the greatest fraud ever delivered at the glass house with the emergence of Lars Lager back the failed manager of the Swedish national team that could not qualify his swede team for the same world cup Amodu sweated for! The current Senate President – Bukola Saraki also mentioned how Englishman Glenn Hoddle was shortchanged because he refused to play ‘ball’ with the US Dollar thirsty and hungry officials.

It is instructive to note that a very partisan press in collaboration with the Amodu’s employers were responsible for the serial hounding of Amodu forgetting in the words of the CP Scott the editor of the British newspaper Guardian during double celebration of the newspaper’s centennial year and his own golden jubilee as the editor in 1921 that “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”. Today I take deep solace in Scott’s words as it concerns Amodu who featured in three World Cup qualifiers and remained unbeaten yet never featured at the World Cup in contrast to the former
Italian Captain Giuseppe Bergomi who never featured in a world cup qualifier but played in four editions and also a winner in 1982. What an irony but such is life.

I am glad that as the head of Sports desk at Afemai Voice newspaper you emerged as our Personality of the Year in 2001, ‘Coachee’ as I fondly called you, the knowledge garnered from your training sessions which I have witnessed and not a few times will remain unforgettable. The consolation is that Amodu chose not to tow the part of the Hungarian born Benfica Manager Béla Guttmann that allegedly placed a curse on the serial euro failure team after he was disrespected when asking for pay rise as he famously declared ‘Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion’ which has remained true till date after 8 successive agonising euro finals without success. Contrary Amodu as the appointed Technical Director of the federation was the ‘poorly’ remunerated national team coach that never asked for a pay rise but customarily owed wages even until death!
As the Super Eagles prepare to take on the Croat Vatreni (The Blazers) on Saturday 18th June, 2018, my condolence goes to the widow, family and compatriots. Shuaibu Amodu has been away for two years, but his good works remained indelible.

Opeyemi Ajala FCA

Former Presenter – Eagle Sports Hour on Eagle Cable Television

Lagos, Nigeria

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