The currents generated by the unnecessary and unprovoked YouTube rants of Nigeria’s national football team coach, Sunday Oliseh, is still having ripples and have remained in the front burner even with barely weeks to scheduled back-to-back African Nations Cup qualifying duel with front runner, Egypt.
This is not a diversion, but I have chosen to honour one of Nigeria’s early footballers. Last weekend, a telephone call from informed me of the passing on of Asuquo Ekpe, popularly called Ekpe Senior in his playing days in the late 1950s up to the mid 1960s.
Perhaps to most current generation of Nigerian football followers, his name may not ring a bell. But not so with those trying to give shape to our fast fading records.
Asuquo was a captain of the national team. He was in the national team, then called “Red Devils” that beat Gold Coast (now Ghana) 3-0 in the 1956 bilateral Jalco Cup. He was indeed the scorer of Nigeria’s first ever goal in the African Nations Cup when Nigeria first featured in Ghana in 1963. He was one of the country’s early generations of footballers and had 14 goals to his credit. He made his debut for Nigeria in an October 6, 1956 friendly match with Togo and played his last in a 1-1 All Africa Games qualifier duel with Dahomey (now Benin Republic), getting 28 international appearances.
When Ekpe scored his second goal in the brace he achieved in the 3-0 defeat of Morocco in a November 16, 1963 Olympic Games qualifier, he became the second Nigerian player after Elkanah Onyeali to reach the double figure in international goal scoring.
While Onyeali who scored his 10th goal in the brace he achieved in the 6-2 home loss to United Arab Republic (a short-lived union of Egypt and Syria) on December 13, 1959 Rome Olympic could add just one more goal to his name two years later, Ekpe raised his total goals for Nigeria to 14 when he played his last match for the country.
He is famously known to be the scorer of Nigeria’s first ever goal in the African Nations Cup history.
That happened in Nigeria’s 6-3 loss to Egypt in Kumasi, Ghana in 1963. His goal for Nigeria initially put the score-lines at 3-1 in favour of the North Africans. Till date Nigeria has scored 118 goals in the Africa Cup of Nations finals. The landmark 100th goal was scored by Obinna Nsofor in a February 4, 2006 quarter final duel with Tunisia in Port Said, Egypt.
When Asuquo Ekpe played along with his younger brother, Effiong Ekpe (then called Ekpe Junior), in a February 2, 1963 4-1 defeat of the then Dahomey (now Benin Republic), it was the first time a set of sibling was playing for Nigeria. The pair went on to play a couple of more matches for Nigeria.
Asuquo had played for Duke Town primary and secondary schools in the 1940s and 1950s. He was a nephew of the famous Etim Henshaw, the captain of Nigeria’s first national team, the famed UK Tourists of 1949. It was his uncle, Henshaw that also scored the first goal in the final match of Nigeria’s premier football competition, the Governor’s Cup which is the today’s Federation Cup.
Asuquo Ekpe played for Welch XI and Lagos Railway II from 1954 to 1956 before going to Ibadan where he first played for Secretariat FC and later the Ibadan Lions and Western Rovers. His team mate in Ibadan included Dejo Fayemi. With the Ibadan team and playing alongside the legendary Tesilimi “Thunder” Balogun, he won the national cup competition, the Challenge Cup in 1959. He was also in the Ibadan team that lost 4-1 to ECN in the 1960 cup final. He scored the consolatory goal for Ibadan.
Asuquo captained and played alongside Balogun, Ayo Adeniji to win the Challenge Cup again in 1961 for Ibadan thus making him to play in three consecutive final matches. According to family sources, Asuquo died in Calabar on January 30. He will be buried on April 1 at Henshaw Town in Cross River State after a wake-keep the previous day. His burial is coming a week to that of Sam Ibiam, Nigeria’s first goalkeeper and perhaps the last of the famous UK Tourists of 1949.
Ibiam, according to a family source, will be buried in Uwanna, near Afikpo in Ebonyi State on Saturday April 9.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
The above title was the title of an old America Science fiction film and the headline adapted in an article written by Tai Solarin in the mid 1970s prophesying an imminent end to a regime. This may be very apt and instructive for the Super Eagles’ chief coach, Sunday Oliseh who is well known for his low tolerance of any form of criticism.
His temperament was cited as a reason by those who opposed his engagement as the national coach. That is apart from the fact that he had no previous experience as a top coach. Oliseh in 2007 was sports director at Belgium’s lower division side Königliche Allgemeine Sportvereinigung Eupen (often simply known as Eupen). From 2008-2009 he was with R.C.S. Verviétois, a second division side that was relegated to the third division in Belgium. He has proved those critics right.
Among those who predicted failure were former Nigerian national team handlers, Adegboye Onigbinde and Clemens Westerhoff. There words have turned proverbial. What elders can see while seated, a child standing on top of a high ladder may not be able to see it.
In spite of a good playing career, ill temper had been his undoing. Despite being the skipper, he was omitted from Nigeria’s 2002 World Cup squad for disciplinary reasons. Two years later, he was sacked by German side Borussia Dortmund after punching team-mate, Vahid Hashemian while on loan at VfL Bochum.
The recent outburst which he posted on the social media only strengthens the fact that he has not learnt to put his emotions under check. He has not learnt a lesson in football and art of diplomacy.
We have seen how seasoned coaches absorbed pressures and criticism. In the past five seasons or so, Arsene Wenger has been under constant attack globally from the press and fans. God bless Louis Van Gaal and others in their clime who daily take dosages criticisms without losing their minds.
No one was spared in Oliseh’s acidic attack, not even his former mates and current employers whom he claimed begged him to take the job which he twice turned down until the “intervention of a highly placed friend in government”.
He claimed journalists approached him for inducements so that he could be spared of criticisms. He should be honourable enough to name such journalists. There is an ongoing war against corruption in the country. Our sports sector should also be cleansed.
Oliseh believes the criticism he got was unwarranted handled in 11 matches (not 14 as he claimed) and losing just two, one of which was an official match. The two duels against Angola and Cote d’Ivoire in Pretoria are not considered as official matches by FIFA. They are practice matches, hence had no effect in monthly ranking.
As a pundit, he should analyse the teams he had played against. His biggest win so far is perhaps the 3-0 defeat of Cameroon in Belgium last October.
But you will only need to check the line-up of the Cameroonian side and compare it to the one fielded in their 3-0 World Cup qualifier away defeat of Niger Republic which Nigeria had to bank on the lottery of penalty goal to beat in Kaduna.
But the Cameroonian side beaten in Belgium was largely experimental. Only four of those in the starting line up eventually made the World Cup squad against Niger Republic. The goalkeeper of the day, Joseph Fabrice Ondoa Ebogo, who conceded the three goals, was not even on the reserve bench.
Perhaps in Coach Oliseh’s reasoning, not losing to Tanzania and Swaziland are great achievements worth of celebrations. The earlier Oliseh knows that competitions are getting keener with every passing day the better for him.
In next month’s back-to-back clash with Egypt, anything short of getting a maximum of four points will set doom to any aspiration of picking direct ticket to the Africa Cup of Nations. In the upcoming World Cup draws, the possibility of tough fixtures is high.
The teams involved are no doubt the best 20 in the continent. Titanic battles are ahead. He should honourably take his exit if he finds the heat in the kitchen too much. Oliseh is lamenting criticism from his former colleagues as if he was not one of the top critics of Stephen Keshi while on the saddle.
Great thanks to Patrick Omorodion who posted Oliseh’s comments on the social media following Keshi’s inability to steer the Super Eagles to last year’s Africa Cup of Nations. Oliseh lashed out at the way Keshi handled his critics, saying in his blog: “It is a crime to air your opinion, give advice or suggestions on how to better the Super Eagles without the handlers throwing insults at you or crying out that you seek their job”.
Oliseh pointed out that Keshi and his technical crew lacked the proper qualification requirements to lead a team like the Super Eagles, and that also means they were unable to achieve success in the long haul even though they won the AFCON 2013.
Why then is Oliseh crying foul that his former teammates are criticizing him?
LIKE KESHI, LIKE YOBO
Put aside the disagreement the duo had in 2013 after Nigeria’s African Nations Cup victory. Stephen Keshi and Joseph Yobo certainly share some common attributes. Both were former Super Eagles’ skippers.
Also, both ended their national team playing in the World Cup. Keshi’s career on June 30, 1994 playing a last group match against Greece at the Fox Boro Stadium in Boston US. Yobo followed the same path exactly 20 years later, June 30, 2014, playing a Round of 16 World Cup tie with France. Both matches ended in 2-0 score-lines. Keshi had his testimonial match in Lagos. Yobo is doing the same.