I am grateful to the Creator of the Universe for making it possible for me to watch some of the most exciting and dramatic football matches in my life, back-to-back, in the space of the past few days. I am not a gambler, but at the start of this week I could confidently and readily have wagered that not one of the over 7 billion inhabitants on planet earth would have envisioned and put their money on the possibility that when we arrived at the terminus of the two club football league championships in Europe – the Champions League and the Europa Cup – all the teams left still standing would be from the English Premier League, EPL.
Two weeks ago, when the first round of the semi-final matches of both Leagues was to be played any ‘expert’ that remotely suggested that one of FC Barcelona or Ajax Amsterdam FC would not be in the finals of the Champions League would be considered out of their mind. Or that it is Arsenal FC and Chelsea FC, two teams that had not been at their mercurial best in the EPL, would be playing the finals of the Europa League.
Miracles do happen also in football, and that’s what the world has had to face this outgoing week. In the Champions League, the world witnessed two of the greatest comebacks in European football history, with two English teams coming back from the brink of exiting the competition with wide goal deficits from the first legs, playing against two of the teams considered the strongest in the world this season, Ajax FC and FC Barcelona. Of course, this very young Ajax Amsterdam FC team had created great upsets by halting the ambitions of Real Madrid FC and Juventus FC on their way to the semis.
The great FC Barcelona FC, with their unique Tiki Taka style that had mesmerized the football world for over a decade and with a player in the team considered the best and most influential in the world, had also almost effortlessly dealt with every opposition up till last week. Meanwhile, the oppositions were Tottenham Hotspurs FC, third only in the English Premiership table, and Liverpool FC, second on the table with a mathematical chance of winning the league title only if their main contender for the title, Manchester City FC, with two-points ahead of them, falter at their last hurdle and lose to a team at the bottom of the rung.
Needless to go into the details of what happened on the night when the supposedly best team in the world, parading the god of football, capitulated to the power, speed, strength, hard tackles, physicality, superior tactics and determination of an endlessly running and hardworking set of Liverpool players that covered every blade of grass of their Anfield home ground and deservedly earned an impossible victory. Barcelona strolled through the match led by a coach that did not exist on the night. It may be the poorest match played by the team in over 10 years. It was pathetic.
Needless also to attempt to explain what happened in the Ajax FC/Tottenham Hotspurs FC match. There is no plausible explanation for a victory that did not make sense. Ajax FC had no business losing that match, and Tottenham had no business winning it either because on the balance of performance they did not deserve it. But they won on the night nevertheless, scoring the most welcome goal that changed the story of the 2018/2019 from thin air, 5 full seconds past the official 5 minutes of added time to the 90 minutes that Ajax had under their belt and control throughout, despite the goals.
Even Pochetino, the Tottenham FC coach, admitted that no one can explain how the victory came about. The elements played that match. So, on Thursday night, there is surely going to be a fairytale to cap the season. Liverpool FC could end up runner-up in the English Premier league but deserving champions of Europe. What a story that would be.
Or, Europe will have a new Champion in Tottenham Hotspurs FC that came from nowhere, ‘wobbling and fumbling’, almost unnoticed, to get to the finish line!
I tip Liverpool to win to become the next Champions of Europe.
In the second-tier Europa Cup, I also tip Chelsea to edge out Arsenal.
The 2018/2019 European football season has set new standards and records that are probably unmatched in European football history. It may also mark the unofficial change of guards from Spain to England as the new centre of the best of European football for some time to come.
Tomorrow, in England, the world will be shuttling between Farmers Stadium, home of Brighton FC, and Anfield Stadium, home of Liverpool FC where ‘You Never Walk Alone’, to find out who will be 2018/2019 Champions of the EPL.
I have a feeling there could still be one more twist to the final tale, even though my head tells me that Manchester City will get the job done!
The Twilight Zone – George Omokaro on my mind.
This week my joy was dampened by the news of the death of my friend and colleague, the one I have written about severally in my columns, former Bendel Insurance FC of Benin football legend and Green Eagles midfield giant in the late 1970s, George Omokaro.
He died on Monday night following complications associated with his poor health condition in the past 10 years at least. I am immensely pained, not necessarily by the fact that he died at all (that is an inevitability that we all shall confront one by one along life’s circuit) but by my complete helplessness to do more for him whilst he needed just a little support from friends, the Edo State government and even the Federal Government in order to live a longer and better life than he did.
George would not have died now if only he had got the little assistance he needed to complete the simple surgical operations in India he needed to fix his arthritis-riddled knees, before they worsened and created more health issues that ailed him through the many years of his lying on his back at home (and between hospitals) unable to walk or work! His death came almost as a relief.
George bore too much pain for too long. His condition challenged and tasked his small family to the limit. His wife, Mama Charlie, gave up her own life to look after him and to take care of his every need, praying ceaselessly in hope for the help they needed but that never came, or came in frustrating trickles, always insufficient to take care of the cost of operating on both George’s knees until they deteriorated. Last Monday night, fed up with his helplessness and hopelessness, George gave up the ghost and went back to rest with his Creator.
George Omokaro’s death this week is yet another reminder of our poor situation as retired sports heroes. We are calling for the attention of State and the Federal governments to lay the foundation of a scheme to address the issue of athletes in the twilight zone of their lives, when age catches up and nature starts to take its toll on battered bodies that were ‘brutally’ used to serve sport, club, State and even the country, in complete ignorance of any long-term consequences, and without adequate preparation for life after sport. The Edo State government has inherited one of the largest contingents of retired sports heroes in our country’s history and should take a lead in establishing a scheme to take care of their retired sports heroes from a certain age, at least. This will definitely go a long way in ensuring that they do not live in penury and pain, and die miserably with a curse on their lip. The Edo State government should also help the family that George has left behind and support to give him a simple burial befitting of the legend of the great Bendel Insurance FC.
Georgie, ‘Omonoba’ this is wishing you a painless journey back to your Creator.
I shall surely miss you, but your wife, my sister, ‘Mama Charlie’ and the rest of the Omokaro ‘army’ will surely miss you more.
Adieus my friend.