I chose today’s topic primarily in pursuit of spotlighting my all time favorite “Omo Naija” football Peter Osaze Odeminwingie. But after much consideration and careful thinking, I recognized what a sinful act I was committing by losing sight on the great heroes the once striking, unconquerable and dominating force that made up the Nigerian national team. Yes, it is true that Odemwingie embodies core values dear to us all such as heart, passion, commitment, perseverance and an unwavering love for his father’s homeland. Funny thing is I have never met the footballer to engage in a conversation with him before, but since the moment I saw him take the pitch in the 2004 African Nations Cup something about watching him on the pitch resonated with me immediately.
In recent years I have engaged in countless debates with my older siblings about who is the greatest Nigerian footballer? They all have there favorites; Nwankwo “Papilo” Kanu, Austin “JJ” Okacha, Segun Odegbami, Rashidi Yekini, Daniel “The Bull” Amokachi, Finidi George, Emmanuel Amunike, Peter Rufai, Etim Esin, Taribo West and the list continues.
What has been missing in recent years is the fervor, enthusiasm, obsessive, and fanatical appeal a national team football match use to create for myself and the people of my homeland. I recall as a youth, growing up in Nigeria attempting to keep myself awake or going to sleep during daylight in order to watch Etim Esin captain the under 17 team in an international match at 3:00am and loved every minute of it despite a heart breaking loss. Gone are the days of watching Rashidi Yekini captivate an entire nation with his heart felt goal celebration in the 1994 World Cup announcing that Naija has arrived on the world’s biggest stage. Or shall I remind you of the electrifying talents and display of one J.J. Okacha that mesmerized and baffled all of Europe during his professional and international career.
So here I stand pleading to today’s generation of “Omo Naija” footballers that take on the responsibility of representing my homeland. To the Obafemi Martins, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Jon Obi Mikel, Taye Taiwo, Joseph Yobo, “Big” Danny Shittu, Obina Nsofor, Vincent Enyemas of the world it is no longer acceptable to be labeled and considered “Joy Killers” and not exhibit a level of pride that will lift up your play when representing the Green/White/Green. My support for you all and the national team is everlasting.
However, recognize and understand the burden you sign up for like many of your predecessors before you that appeared on that world stage knowing that the weight of their fellow countrymen/women fell on their shoulders. More importantly embrace it; play the games like you did on the dirt fields of your local playgrounds, remember that you are playing a child’s game, loosing up and relax. But never forget that when you take that pitch after the singing of our national anthem, you are prepared to die for the shirt…
Up Naija/Up Supa Eagles