A New Experience

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (December 6th 2014)

Return to Tunisia

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I am definitely outside my comfort zone – in a strange environment, amongst stranger people. I’m back in Tunisia – a country that has pleasant memories for me – but this trip has nothing to do with football. I have not read any newspapers or watched any news channel on television since I arrived here a week ago.

Tunisia is a French and Arabic speaking country and there are no English speaking news channel such as CNN, BBC, or even Aljazeera, etc. on television here. Although there is a channel that shows some sports, including some football matches and analysis, that too is in Arabic and only once did I see a recorded Barclays Premier League match with Arabic commentaries.

So, do not blame me if my column this week has nothing of my regular comments and analysis on football matters. Having said that, permit me and enjoy me tell you a little of my experiences.

Memories

In the past one week I have been in Tunisia. The last time I visited the North African country was some 20 years ago on the occasion of the 1994 African Cup of Nations. The Eagles won the championship,Tunisia ’94 then, marking the second time Nigeria won the prestigious African competition.

The first time was in 1980.1 In that same year, 1994, the Green Eagles were re-christened Super Eagles, and qualified for the first time to represent Africa as one of Africa’s five representatives to the 1994 World Cup. So, I have very fond memories of Tunisia, which was unlike any other North African Arab country I know. Although it is a Muslim country, it does not shove religion in the faces of visitors.

So, from my visit 20 years ago I remember Tunis, Souse and also Carthage – a city rich in history and culture that Rome owed its emergence as a world power to and which could not be fully erased from history despite Romeʼs best efforts.

Segun at Wembley

A footballer at the 2014 African Basketball Championship

I did not know about Sfax then. But here I am in the city attending the 2014 African Basketball Club Championship for Women in my capacity as consultant to one of the two Nigerian clubs at the championship, the First Bank Basketball Club. The team is known as the Elephant Girls.

Seven days in Sfax have been some sort of education and also baptism for me into the world of international basketball. It is a world that I find completely different from football. It is simpler and less political, even though it also not without its own idiosyncrasies and intrigues.

In the past two years I have been involved in basketball as well as footbball. This is my first international trip with the current national women’s basketball champions of Nigeria, and make no mistake, they are serious contenders for the African title here in Sfax.

I am learning pretty fast. I am interacting at close quarters with some of Africa’s top female basketball players and administrators;. I am observing how the championship is run, meeting with those that run it and exchanging information and views about the differences and similarities between football and basketball administration. I am sharing experiences and expectations; observing the teams and sharing their moments of joyful celebration as well as painful losses.

In short, with all its headaches (and there are a few) this trip has provided me the opportunity to peep into the world of basketball.

The Sfax Experience

Sfax is a large seaport situated some 270 kilometres east of Tunis on the Mediterranean coast. I am told it has the largest fishing trawlers in Africa and has the world’s second largest deposit of Phosphate. However, for some reason Sfax is dusty. The entire city is covered always in white dust blown probably from the desert located to the south.

There is a regular pall and smell of tobacco in the air. It is everywhere. As our guide, Mahmoud, told me, (I guess he may be exaggerating) about 90% of all adult Tunisians smoke heavily. That’s probably why there is no law prohibiting smoking anywhere in Tunisia, public places inclusive.

The hotel we are staying in must be one of the most polluted places in the world. You need to see and experience it to understand what I am talking about. Every corridor, the restaurant, the lobby, the lounges, the bar, everywhere is filled with the reeking smell and fumes of cigarette smoke. It assaults the eyes and nostrils everywhere you turn to.

Marginally Worse

There is, however, one other place worse than the hotel – the indoor sports hall of the CS Sfax Sports Club – venue of the ongoing African Women’s Basketball Championship. Although it is a massive beautiful edifice with excellent state-of-the-art facilities, the place has little ventilation and, so, regularly suffocates with the acrid smell and fumes from tobacco consumed freely within this enclosure.

It is often packed with thousands of cigarette-smoking spectators whenever CS Sfax Sport Club, is playing. In one week I must have involuntarily inhaled more cigarette-fumes into my lungs than I have done in the totality of the rest of my life. It is that serious. This totally negates the health intentions of sports.

Something Different

Beyond that, Sfax is really different. Here, no one uses seat belts whilst driving their cars. There may also be no enforcement of restrictions about answering mobile phones whilst driving, as everyone’s driving with a handset in one hand. Cars are parked randomly everywhere.

Despite being a predominantly Muslim country alcohol is available in every hotel bar.

Credit and debit cards are only sparingly used, if at all, and in my experience, only in the banks. The Internet is not easily accessible. I hope all of this is limited to Sfax.  

When we attended an official reception for the heads of delegates of all the participating countries at the championship, the entire programme was conducted in French and Arabic. No one interpreted for those that did not understand either of the languages and no apologies were offered. Yet there were participants from Nigeria, Kenya and Angola.

Life in Sfax is leisurely. The unofficial clothing of the people is jeans. Two out of every three Tunisians (male and female) wear jeans on a regular basis. It is everywhere. This simple act itself tells a lot about their liberal society. There are hardly any security personnel visible around the town. We are told there is no need for them.

Finally, the championships we came for itself has been excellent and the matches competitive, particularly with the addition of professional players in all the participating teams. The practice is that when clubs qualify for the African championships they are allowed to recruit a certain number of professionals from outside their country to strengthen them. That way the standard of the matches is higher and sponsors are attracted.

First Bank Basketball Club has three Nigerian players from the USA. They are making a big impression here and have been great ambassadors of the sport. The championship ends this Sunday. It’s been a truly new and different experience, I mean, for a footballer to experience life in the world of basketball.

Kalusha Bwalya 2

1Odegbami played a vital role in the success of 1980. He was Nigeriaʼs best player and scored 2 of his teamʼs goals against Algeria in the 3-0 triumph, which resulted in Nigeria winning the African Cup of Nations trophy for the first time. He was rewarded with the captaincy. He retired from international football the following year. Nigeriaʼs second title came in 1994, ending Zambiaʼs impossible dream to win the trophy months after the devastating Gabon Plane Disaster, which killed the Golden Generation of the Chipolopolo with the exception of perhaps their greatest ever player and current President of the Zambian Football Association, Kalusha Bwalya. The Super-Eagles won it for the third time last year: The Editor.

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Mouthwatering

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (October 24th 2014)

Segun at Wembley

El Classico – Another War

This weekend there is going to be another battle of epic proportions. It will be fought between two of the biggest and most powerful ‘armies’ in the world. The battleground is the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, home of Real Madrid Football Club. The invading ‘army’ is, in my humble estimation, the greatest team ever – Barçelona FC!

Leading Real Madrid and Barçelona are with respect to Zlatan Ibrahimović and others the two greatest footballers of their generation – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. At stake are the crowns of ‘best team in La Liga’ and the ‘best player in the world’. In the past 6 years these players have held the title of the world’s best player in a vice – Messi four times, and Ronaldo twice. 2014 promises to be no different; perhaps it will be the most interesting contest yet as it is far more open than previous contests where one or other seemed the clear winner.

The Battle Lines

This season there appears to be a new edge to the rivalry between the two players. Although they both deny that their rivalry fuels their performances, the truth is that both players have drawn inspiration from each other and have shared the global limelight in almost equal measure because of each other.

Ronaldo, who always seemed to play second fiddle to Messi before the last season, needs to prove a point. Many people believe that although he was brilliant last season for Real Madrid, but in my opinion he won the title of world’s best player more because the world wanted a change from Messi. The mercurial Argentine had monopolized it four consecutive times. Did Ronaldo win because he was clearly better than the little Argentinian, or for changes sake?.

I have watched Ronaldo play this season. He has not been this sharp and focused in a long time. He is playing with a deliberate single-mindedness that convinces me that he has more than just helping Real Madrid FC to win La Liga trophy on his mind. He has ‘Messi must be beaten’ written all over his game.

Messi, on the other hand, has less to prove, but he has shrugged off the rustiness and casual attitude of the World Cup and is playing now with a lot of physicality and uncommon determination. Surely the avalanche of falling records at club, Spanish, European and World levels is propelling him to even greater heights. The list of his established and near-accomplishment records is very long. What must be noted, however, is that between them they have made goal scoring an art form.

Several great players spend a lifetime chasing after recording one hat trick. Ronaldo is about to break an all time La Liga record in that regard. He needs one more hat trick to beat the late great Alfredo di Stéfano and Athletic Bilbao maestro Tello Zarra (Tello Zarraonandia Montoya) – Marcaʼs award for Spanish scorers in La Liga was named after the Athletic Club great. Ronaldo is already in legendary company, three ahead of Messi.

The Supporting Cast?

But tempting as it is to focus on these two great players, El Classico boasts plenty more great players. Gareth Bale is the most expensive footballer on the planet, Karim Benzema is rated by no less an authority than Ronaldo as the best striker in La Liga. Luka Modrić is the cog that makes Real Madrid tick and while finding his feet in a new league Colombian heir apparent James Rodríguez has immense talent and of course thereʼs Sergio Ramos marshalling the defence too. And thatʼs just Real Madrid. Barçelona had a poor season by the their standards last term. It cost current Argentina coach Tata Martino his job. But the Catalans are no one man team. Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta arenʼt just club legends, they are football ones. Neymar is a precocious talent and El Classico is set to witness the La Liga début of former Ajax and Liverpool icon Luis Suárez. Meanwhile another duel with El Classico dimensions to it takes place this weekend too.

Van Gaal versus Mourinho

No roads lead to Rome this weekend and not all roads that will lead to Madrid either. In England Old Trafford is the place Iʼd like to be at as an almost equally important rivalry between two of the BPL’s great teams will be ignited. Manchester United and Chelsea will face off in what promises to be a match up between the coaches – two of the most experienced and renowned football managers in the world – as well as the teams they select.

Louis van Gaal will test his fledging Man U squad against a high riding Chelsea. In this encounter current form would matter little. It is the team that gets its tactics right that will carry the day. Van Gaal is going through a difficult period with his team struggling to find the old rhythm that made Manchester United the most successful team in the history of the Premiership and him one of the most successful coaches around.

Mourinho has donned his armour of confidence and loquacity, and is daring any other team in the premiership to break down his defensive tactics and, at the same time, stop his rampaging forwards. He has been trophyless for two seasons – he doesnʼt like it and seems set to take it out on opponents this season, although he insists that it is far too early to talk about titles. So, this weekend the battle line is drawn between them.

Chaos Theory

It simply would not be Nigerian football if there were no crisis, or at least one around the corner. I truly believed that with the start of the era of Stephen Keshi as manager of the national team Nigeria has seen the last of a foreign coach handling its national team. While Clemens Westerhof was a great success, letʼs not forget the disastrous appointments of Berti Vogts and Lars Lagerbäck, which cast Nigerian football into the doldrums.

We turned to local coaches, eventually settling on Keshi. I thought that Keshi’s generation, with their experiences in Europe and a little training in the coaching techniques, would kick-start the period when only qualified Nigerians would handle Nigeria’s national teams. It should have happened and it still can.

Keshi may have failed in his human relations, and may also have been slightly deficient in some of his tactics, but he surely did better than most of the foreign coaches that Nigeria hired since Westerhof. Success as a coach is measured only with the results of a team. Keshi delivered the African Cup of Nations – the first Nigerian to do so. For that he has our respect and a lasting place of honour in Nigeriaʼs football history.

It would be interesting to see which foreign coach would be hired of all the names being dangled by the media. We are waiting to see, hoping that if it happens it is not Berti Vogts Mark II. Keshi, with all his failings won laurels and went beyond what any coach, local and foreign, had ever done for Nigeria. Of his generation there are a few that could have been challenged to come ‘try their luck’.

Sunday Oliseh is an interesting proposition. His limited experience in handling a big team notwithstanding, his intellect and analytical prowess, which are acknowledged worldwide, should more than be a compensation. Check out several of the best coaches in the world at the moment led by Pep Guardiola, and you would see a trend that swings away from old, retired and tired coaches, local or foreign.

So, a foreign coach? Without great players any coach would ‘fail’. Unfortunately, Nigeria does not have exceptional players in this era. Mark my words: Nigeria would soon be back to square one, looking for an indigenous coach from amongst our own.

The Mark of Zoro (Part Four) – Archive

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar January 1st 2007

The regulations [to deal with racist conduct] were there, but it is the primary role of the national associations to tackle the problems that arise in their national football competitions”, says a FIFA spokesperson.

Discipline and Ethics

“The regulations [to deal with racist conduct] were there, but it is the primary role of the national associations to tackle the problems that arise in their national football competitions”, says a FIFA spokesperson. Racist conduct is contrary to both FIFA’s Disciplinary Code and Ethics Code.

The English Football Association could have used these procedures to deal with racist abuse in the heyday of the plague of racism and hooliganism that blighted our game in the 1970s and 80s. So why did it require Samuel Eto’o to force the issue onto the agenda in Spain and Marc Zoro in Italy more than 20 years after the Heysel stadium tragedy shamed the English FA into action?

And why did both the Italian and Spanish Football Federations tolerate racist abuse for so long? While Eto’o is clearly the higher profile player, the abuse that Zoro has suffered persistently over a longer period raises the question of why the racism that he has suffered and his stand against it was not enough to get FIFA to announce that it would get tough with racists in football earlier.

Racism in football was a scandal that had disgraced the sport for too long – far too long – and now the governing bodies of both European and world football would demand action. National Federations could no longer ignore the issue. If they tried to do so, both they and the clubs could be punished. Previously the racists had been answered by black players with their talent.

Now, thanks to Zoro and Eto’o it was clear that they were prepared to vote with their feet if necessary. Rule 55 was changed to include stiff penalties for racist conduct and sanctions against those federations who refused to implant the rules. It appeared that there would be no hiding place for the racists. But Sicily was different. According to Sicilians there is no racism in Sicily. We had to investigate.

Sicily does not have a problem with racism, says Gaetano Mustica. “We are not a racist country.”

The Effect of Rome

Sicily thrived under the Romans. They provided a stability – lacking during the rivalries between the Greek cities and Carthage – that would last more than seven-hundred years. Paganism would be swept aside by Christianity in the early fourth century AD by the Emperor Constantine.

Supporters of the old ways fought tenaciously to suppress the emerging cult as it was seen. Sicily saw the martyrdom of Saints Agatha and Lucia. Before long their martyrdom was vindicated by Constantine. However, tensions persisted. It would not be long before religious conflict would find an outlet in Sicily. But before this the ailing Roman Empire would come to an end.

In the fifth century AD Rome was sacked. It set in motion the events that would destroy the most successful empire the world has ever seen. With Rome no longer in any position to retain its empire, Sicily faced an uncertain future. The Barbarians that ended the Roman Empire took control of Sicily. The Vandals gave way to the Ostragoths.

And in 535 the Byzantine Emperor Justinian sent a mercenary army under the command of Belisarius to drive the Barbarians out. The Byzantines faced little resistance. Churches were built including in both Palermo and nearby Monreale by the Byzantines. Their control of Sicily would last into the ninth century.

Religious Conflicts

The Byzantines repelled many threats including early ones from the Saracens. The first attacks on Sicily began as early as 655. In 827 the final Islamic invasion began. This campaign would get bogged down. Saracen reinforcements arrived in 831. They were met by determined resistance. It took decades to subdue the island. Siracusa fell in 877 and lost its status as capital of Sicily. That honour would pass to Palermo.

Churches were destroyed by the Saracens. Mosques were erected in their place including in Monreale and Palermo. They brought much to Sicily that would have a lasting impact. Theron’s pool in Agrigento had been filled in by the Romans and given over to agriculture.

As the Tyrant of Agrigento had previously forced Carthaginian prisoners to dig the drainage system for the city-state the Muslims brought the latest techniques in irrigation. They also brought vegetation to the island – citrus fruits for example. The great pool of Theron became the Kolymbetra garden and was the pride of Agrigento. It still is.

That would not have happened without the agricultural and irrigation expertise that the Arabs brought to Sicily. They also brought exceptional architectural skill to the island – a legacy that outlasted Islamic control of Sicily by centuries. The tensions between Christians and Muslims had led to racist incidents in other countries. Would Sicily be any different?

Historic Influences

Racism had reared its head in Spain. Historic tensions between Christians and Muslims resulted in several violent conflicts spread over centuries. In sport these tensions manifested themselves in racist conduct. Monkey-chanting was thought acceptable, but not in Sicily.

Italy had a clear Moorish influence as did Sicily. “Sicily is not a racist country,” says author and B&B owner Gaetano Mustica. “We have had too many foreign influences in our history to be racist. We have incorporated bits of many cultures into our own for over 3000 years”.

As Marc Zoro says, he has been racially abused all over Italy. He describes the north and centre as the worst, but it happens everywhere. And it happens all over Spain too. For too many years it was considered the price that had to be paid by black players if they wanted to make it in Spain.

Italy also ignored the problem for years. But Mustica is adamant that there cannot be a problem with racism in Sicilian football as there is no problem with racism in Sicily as a whole. “Sicily is unique”, he says. “Other countries have been conquered, but none have had as many as us. We have adopted the best of each culture and made them our own. It has made us the people we are.”

Is Mustica right, or is there a problem with racism in Sicily in general or in its football? Are Sicilians ignoring the problem too, or does this enchanting island really not have a problem with racism? The evidence of football at least supports Mustica. Racism came to Messina through supporters of Inter, not from Sicilians.

 

The Continuation of War by Other Means – Archive

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar January 1st 2007

What is it Good For?

Catania and Palermo have been at loggerheads for so long nobody remembers how and when it started. The city-states of centuries ago have long since ceased to exist. Now nation sates incorporate them, but the rivalries continue, demanding an outlet. Football and its tribal following provide it. The city-state battles gave way to ultras organising battles and fighting them. They spilled out of stadiums and onto the streets.

In War by Other Means, we highlighted the origin of the long rivalry. A Hundred Year War had settled little, but weakened the city-states of Carthage and Siracusa. But the wars were far from over. Carthage never achieved its aim of subordinating all of Sicily to its will. Neither did Siracusa. Rome would achieve that feat and would subdue both Carthage and Siracusa in the process.

Messina had been overrun by mercenaries from Italy in 282 BC. The Marmerites, as they came to be known, were besieged by Siracusa and appealed to both Carthage and Rome for help. The Carthaginians arrived first and ejected the Siracusans. Undeterred the Romans arrived and took the city from the Carthaginians. This united the former enemies Carthage and Siracusa against Rome.

The Punic Wars Reach Sicily

In 264 BC the First Punic War began. The Carthaginian and Siracusan attack on Messina was repelled and Siracusa changed sides, choosing to become a vassal of Rome. Rome swiftly gained control of Katane, which was renamed Catina (Catania). Then it set its sights on Agrigento which fell in 262 BC.

The following year Hamilcar Barca – father of the legendary Hannibal – destroyed Erice to prevent it falling into Roman hands. He deported the population to Drepanon (Trapani). In 256 BC Rome launched an unsuccessful attack on Carthage itself. In 250 BC the Carthaginians destroyed Selinunte once and for all. The Romans had little interest in Selinunte and Drepanon. Segesta and Erice were a different matter. Due to their allegedly shared ancestry with Rome, these cities were treated with respect and reverence. They were lovingly restored. But first there was a war to fight.

Adherbal inflicted a naval defeat on the Romans in the waters close to Drepanon in 249 BC, but the Carthaginians were far from having everything their own way. Consul Lutatius Catulus would end the First Punic War eight years later with victory over the Carthaginian fleet at the Battle of Egadi Islands which was close to the west coast of Sicily. Carthage ceded Sicily to Rome along with other island states and had to pay a humiliating tribute to Rome.

It had little choice, but at least some Carthaginians refused to accept the hegemony of Rome. Siracusa had avoided conquest, but at a huge cost. The once proud Greek city-state was no more than a vassal of Rome. The Italian city-state was far from in full control of the island, but it had announced its arrival as a major power with the defeat of Carthage and humiliation of Siracusa. The emergence of Agrigento as a major player had been nipped in the bud.

The End of Carthage

Carthage had lost the First Punic War. The Tunisian city-state would never be the same again. Hamilcar Barca hated Rome with rare intensity – a passion he passed on to his young son Hannibal. The boy promised his father to hate Rome until his dying day – a promise that Hannibal kept. The powerful Barca clan set off in pursuit of new conquests. Hamilcar planned to rebuild the Carthaginian Empire by seizing other colonies and then recover lost territories from Rome.

He began this task in Spain. According to some he is the true founder of Barçelona and the city is named after him. The Spanish campaign would cost Hamilcar Barca his life. He was killed in battle in southern Spain by the Ibericos. Hamilcar was succeeded by his son-in-law Hasdrubal the Fair – founder of the strategic defensive strong-hold of Cartagena.

Hasdrubal consolidated the Carthaginian presence in Spain, but did little to further Hamilcar Barca’s long term plan to avenge the humiliation of the First Punic War. He favoured diplomacy and reached settlement with Rome regarding their boundaries in Spain. In 221 BC Hasdrubal the Fair was assassinated by a slave. He was succeeded by Hamilcar Barca’s son Hannibal, now deemed old enough to command his father’s forces – he had been 19 when Hamilcar was killed.

Hannibal

Hannibal had other ideas. In 218 BC he began the Second Punic War by setting out from Cartagena, conquering both Xàtiva and Sagunt on his travels, destroying the latter. Hannibal had a plan to cross the Alps into Italy, gathering supporters along the way to attack and destroy Rome. His best chance arrived after the masterful execution of his strategy at the Battle of Cannei in 216 BC, but rather than press on to Rome Hannibal sought assistance from Carthage that was not forthcoming.1

Among the Roman survivors at Cannei was Publius Cornelius Scipio. He would prove to be Hannibal’s nemesis. While Hannibal was occupied in Italy, Scipio was busy in Spain – a strategy that would not only end Punic control of Spain, but establish it as part of the Roman Empire. Scipio rebuilt Sagunt and Romanised it in the process. It was a strategy that would soon be used in Sicily as well.

Hannibal arrived in Siracusa in 213 BC. The following year Siracusa fell under Roman control. During the attack on Siracusa the great mathematician and physicist Archimedes was killed. Siracusa’s influence in Sicilian affairs was at an end. The Romans began to rebuild Sicily after its fall. Agriculture thrived under Rome’s policy. Carthaginian involvement in Sicily was at an end.

However, Rome’s regeneration policy was highly selective. The Greek city of Selinunte was never revived and nor was Drepanon. Segesta and Erice fared well due to their alleged foundation by refugees from the Trojan War. Both Selinunte and Drepanon had been cities allied to Carthage, although neither had a choice. However, Segesta’s alliance with Carthage that had resulted in the Greek city falling under Carthaginian control was forgiven and forgotten.

Siracusa too did not benefit as nearby Catina did. And in 202 BC the Second Punic War came to an end with Hannibal’s defeat at the Battle of Zama. Scipio had successfully used Hannibal’s own tactics against him. His grandson would lead Roman forces to victory in the Third Punic War. Carthage would be razed to the ground in 146 BC. Meanwhile, the city-state rivalries continued with new overlords, but rivalries simmered beneath the surface. Sooner or later they would erupt again.

Continuation

So what has all this history got to do with football? In ancient times disputes or even rivalries between the city-states were settled on the battlefield. Now such rivalries between cities tend not to be resolved by resorting to war, however tempting that might be, but inter-city rivalries and even regional ones persist. They find an outlet in sport – especially the most popular sport in the world.

The tribal nature of sport allows geographic rivalries to thrive. The violence and jingoism of the city-states of the past is expressed in the sometimes violent loyalty to local teams today. And this trend can be seen on a regional basis as well. Marc Zoro says that he gets it everywhere he plays, especially in the north and centre of Italy. This suggests that regionalism plays a part in the abuse that Zoro has had to endure for three years. Zoro, after all plays for a Sicilian team.

 

 

1 Rome would not face such peril again until Arminius (Hermann) inflicted a disastrous defeat on Quintilius Varus at Kalkriese in 9 AD in Germany. That defeat cost the Emperor Augustus three legions and led to fears that Arminius would march on Rome itself – a threat that did not materialise as Arminius’ aim was to unite German tribes under his leadership rather than conquer Rome. In 21 AD Arminius was murdered by his own relatives after waging a successful guerrilla war for twelve years.