Nigeria has participated in many Africa Cup of Nations but that of 1988 in Morocco was unique for many reasons. Apart from being one of the most competitive in the history of the biennial competition, it left lingering memories in the heart of many Nigerians. In the semi- final against Algeria, Green Eagles (as Nigerian national team was then called), Ademola Adesina was controversially sent off. Subsequently, Eagles defender, Bright Omokaro injured an Algerian player, thereby reducing the Desert Foxes to 10, which earned Omokaro the nickname 10-10. More controversy was to follow in the final against Cameroon after Henry Nwosu’s goal was wrongly disallowed for an offside. Kunle Adewale writes about the exciting episode
Ademola Adesina was a tough player whose presence in the midfield often gave opponents jitters. Now, there are those telltale signs of age. He still eagerly rekindled memories of his heydays as he made out several precise passes to teammates and deflected shots aimed at his goal in several of the warm-up matches he partakes in.
Adesina started football an early age against the wish of his parents. Driven by the passion he had for the game, he persisted and went on to play for his secondary school after which he got invitation to play for Igbalaye FC of Oshogbo and later NEPA FC, also of Oshogbo.
“In those days, my parents never wanted me to have anything to do with football; all they were interested in was for me to face my studies. I even had a brother then, Olatunji Adesina, who did everything to discourage me from football, but all was to no avail. Sometimes I will return home with injuries for which I’ll get flogged before being treated.
“Yet, all that did little to kill my passion for the round leather game, as I carried on up to secondary school where I went on to play for the school team. Before I knew it, invitation started coming from clubs within Oshogbo which made my parents and brother to give up and allowed me take to my passion, which is football,” he said.
The former international, however, admonished youths to give attention to formal education.“It is now that I appreciate why my parents were hammering it on me to concentrate on my studies then. And I have been telling the generation after me to concentrate on their studies even while in sport,” the technical adviser of Prime FC of Oshogbo said.
Adesina got his national team call-up when he was discovered by one of the coaches of the then Green Eagles, Eto Amaechina, during the 1981 National Sports Festival in the old Bendel State.
“I was in the contingent as a sprinter but Coach Adegboye Onigbinde said since I played football for Osogbo NEPA, I would be useful to the football team. I was on the reserve bench in a match involving Oyo State and Niger State and we were trailing Niger by 3-1 and I was called upon and I scored three goals and we eventually won the match 4-3. After the festival, I was invited to the national camp and after the screening I made the grade and was selected to play in the 1982 Nations Cup. I was playing as a striker then but the late technical adviser, Otto Gloria, said because I was so strong I would be more useful in the midfield than upfront. That was how I became a midfielder,” he said.
On whether any of his children had taken after him, the ex-Nigerian player said: “My first boy is currently playing for an amateur club in London while the second one that is very tall is playing basketball. I did a lot in encouraging them to take to sports because I know sport is one of the quickest ways to make it in life just as I equally insist that education must be a priority.”
The former international deplored the state of the local league especially the near absence of fans at stadia.
“Fans play a big role in making football grow and where there are no fans to cheer the players what will they be playing for? It is the crowd that makes the players do some exceptional things on the field. So in their absence, whom do you want to impress? But you don’t get to blame the people for not coming to the stadium because there are no players that will attract them to the stadium. There are no players in our league that can attract people to the stadium unlike in our days when you will want to see Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala, Segun Odegbami, Muda Lawal and the rest. I feel saddened each time I watch matches and the stadium is empty. I don’t think such situation gives anyone pleasure.
“But kudos must go to the League Management Company (LMC) for its effort at improving the league. The fact that the winner of the league in the just ended season only emerged on the last day is a pointer that the league is improving and the large fans that trooped out to watch Enugu Rangers win the league for the first time in 32 years was encouraging,” he noted.
“One of the banes of the league is that players are in too much a hurry to play in Europe and they end up being sold below their worth. They should rather be patient and make their name in the local scene before traveling abroad to play professional football. There are still plenty of talents in the Nigerian league waiting to be harnessed and that is why some of us are still very hopeful about the future of Nigerian football,” Adesina said.
The former Shooting Stars of Ibadan midfielder admonished the Nigeria Football Federation and national team coaches to concentrate on home-grown footballers rather than seeking for Nigerian born footballers outside the country.
“I support the total use of home-based players in the national team. There is nothing strange about it and if we continue judging the boys by the standard of our own league, we are making a great mistake. The players in Europe started from here but it is just unfortunate that once a player travels to play abroad, our coaches start running after them,” he said.
Adesina said the national team coach should work regularly with the players at home, adding that frequent training would bring the best out of them. While condemning the attitude of players based in Europe, he also questioned their claim to automatic place in the Eagles team.
“None of us played abroad before becoming stars in the Eagles and I am surprised that Nigeria suddenly began to rely on players who are either not playing regularly in their clubs or play in very small clubs and non-competitive leagues, just because they play outside Nigeria. The home-based players can take our football to where it rightly belongs. I’m not saying we don’t need the foreign-based players but they should not be the bedrock of the national team. In our days, we only had Richard Owubokiri, Sylvanus Okpala and Okey Isima coming in from Portugal to beef up the team. But the core of the national team were the home-based players,” Adesina noted.
One moment in his career that will always be etched in Adesina’s memory was the semi-final match of the 1988 Africa Cup of Nations which paired Nigeria against Algeria.
“I was wrongly given a red card by the centre referee because I was not the person that erred. As soon as I was shown the red, I knew I will be missing the final but considering the vacuum my absence was going to cause the team, I began to doubt if we could beat Algeria with a man down not knowing that Bright Omokaro had other ideas. He reduced the Algerians to 10 by injuring one of their players after they had completed their two changes (a team could only make two changes as at 1988) making both teams to play with 10 men.
“Losing the final of Maroc ’88 was very painful, more especially losing through dubious officiating. Henry Nwosu’s legitimate goal was overruled. In the semifinal, I got an undeserved red card against Algeria in a case of mistaken identity. It would have been difficult holding them with a man down in as-much-as I don’t think what Omokaro did was right, which eventually gave birth to his nickname, ‘10-10’. I however still feel if I had played the final against Cameroun, we could have won. As they say, the rest is history.”
During his playing days Adesina played under different coaches, but one coach whose influence remains indelible is Christopher Udemezue.
“Chief Adegboye Onigbinde did a lot in my life as a footballer and I really appreciate him. ‘Wonder Boy’, Paul Hamilton also affected me as a footballer; so too was late Father Tico and late Brazilian tactician, Otto Gloria. But none of them can compare to what late coach Udemezue did to my career. He was a disciplined man and he did a lot in shaping my football career.
“Otto Gloria thinks and behaved like a Nigerian. He was aware there was division in the national team but he did well to integrate the old players with the new ones. He told the late Muda Lawal that I had not come to take his place but rather that I have come to take over from him after he leaves and charged him to take care of me.
“Onigbinde was a teacher and I owe my confidence from the penalty spot to him. During the 1984 Nations Cup qualifier against Morocco in Casablanca and the game was to be resolved on penalty shootout after goalless 90 minutes. Nobody wanted to take the first kick but the Modakeke high chief called me and asked me to open the way.
“The late Udemezue was a disciplinarian. A particular Nigeria Football Association, NFA (as NFF was refered to then) chief had issues with me and asked Udemezue not to field me in a Mexico ’86 World Cup qualifier against Liberia. But he fielded me against all odds and I even scored in that match. Such was the trust Udemezue had in me,” he recalled.