Fallen Heroes in the Annals of Nigeria Football History

Professional football as a competitive sport has had its unfair share of tragedies over the years. It is both entertaining and dangerous especially on the field of play. The Nigerian sporting family witnessed one of the most horrific football tragedies on the 23rd of December 2008, when nine female amateur footballers and two coaches were burnt beyond recognition in an auto crash on their way from Jos, Plateau state.

The tears of sorrow had hardly dried up, when 15 members of an amateur side, F.C Jimeta from Adamawa state, Nigeria, died in another auto crash on the 26th of January 2009. Twelve of the dead were players, while the remaining three were trainers.

The tragedy that took place on the 26th of January 2009 had hardly subsided when another devastating incident occurred on the 21st of February 2009. In a single swoop, 13 Football supporters of Nigeria Premier League side Ocean Boys F.C of Yenegoa were killed by persons suspected to be cultist, on their way to attending a premier league match involving their team and Bayelsa United at the Ughelli Township Stadium in Delta State, Nigeria.

Nigerian footballers have also had their fair share of tragedies on and off the field of play. Below is a list of some of the players who have braved all odds to bring joy to football loving Nigerians but later succumbed to the cold hand of death.

  • Samuel Okwaraji

Nigeria enterprising midfielder Samuel Tochukwuma Okwaraji slumped and died on August 12, 1989 during a World Cup qualifying match between Nigeria and Angola. He died of a heart related ailment.

  • Amir Angwe

Amir Angwe died on the field of play while starring for Julius Berger F.C on October 29th 1995. It was later discovered that he died of a heart attack.

  • George Igenewari

The younger brother to Nigerian former international- George Finidi was slain by the bullet of rival supporters during an F.A Cup match involving his club- Rangers F.C and Stationary Stores of Lagos in 1995.

  • Tunde Charity

He was a member of the Flying Eagles team that participated in the 1989 U-20 World Championship held in Saudi Arabia. He died of a head injury sustained in the playing field while featuring for Bendel Insurance F.C in a league match in 1997.

  • Boniface Danjuma

This Plateau united player died on August 12, 2006 after he slumped and was confirmed dead 13 minutes into the second half of his team tie with city rival JUTH of Jos at Nassarawa stadium, Keffi.

  • Orobosa Adun

He was the first choice goalkeeper of Warri Wolves F.C of Warri Delta State. Slumped and died on May 26th 2009 during training as a result of injury sustained when he was attacked by thugs of Rangers international of Enugu.

FC Barcelona Players – Alexander Hleb

Alexander Hleb is, of course, well-known amongst UK football followers because of his time at Arsenal, during which time Sky pundit Andy Gray described him as one of the Premier league's 'most skillful players'. Born in Minsk in Belarus in 1981, Hleb, whose brother is also an international footballer, initially made his name in the Bundesliga with FC Stuttgart, whom he joined from his first club, FC Bate Borisov, at the age of nineteen, with whom he had just won the Belarus national league. Arsenal were signing a player who had already made 172 first team appearances for Stuttgart, scoring 19 goals in total.

By the time Hleb joined Arsenal in 2005 he had already been voted Belarusian player of the year three times – he has added two more awards since then – and he became respected at Arsenal because of his versatility, energy and ability to fit into the team's smooth passing style of play. In his first season in North London, Hleb started 40 league games and scored 3 goals – figures that he repeated the following season.

It was during season 2007/08 that rumors started to link Hleb with a move to Barcelona; stories that gathered momentum after a particularly impressive performance against AC Milan in the Champions' League. The 'will he, won't he' saga kept the press occupied until July when the player signed for Barca in a deal reported to be worth about £ 11.8 million. During his time at Arsenal, Hleb made a total of 130 appearances, scoring 11 goals.

Alexander Hleb hardly made the most promising start to his career with his new club – picking up a series of injuries during pre-season which disrupted his progress considerably. Towards the end of the year, however, he was beginning to become a regular in the squad and to show signs of being able to integrate with the nimble, quick passing midfielders already at the club.

Internationally, Hleb made his debut appearance as a substitute in a defeat against Wales in 2001. His full debut followed, along with his first international goal, against Hungary the following April and he has been a regular in the team since then – captaining the side since August, 2007.

It is easy to see why Barcelona signed Alexander Hleb; he fits into their mold of being skillful, adaptable and pacy – with the ability to chip in with the occasional goal and, overall, an acute positional sense and an awareness of the runs of forward players. He should make a valuable addition to the squad – and his wife certainly should make an impact on the local media; in August, 2008 Alexander married Anastasia, a Topless singer. To be precise, Anastasia Kosenkova was a member of the Belarusian girl band, Topless.

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Is Money Everything?

In today’s world, money is, sadly, everything. Especially in recent years, when the recession struck, and the whole world found itself one day with the lack of resources and money that they had just the day before. Sports are no exception, I mean, that is probably the main reason why it is played. Of course, many would say that it is for entertainment, and I say to those people: «That is a great positive thought, but come on, get real». Seeing all the players, the people involved in sports, and all the money the handle, makes me wonder where does it stop? When is the limit, because, in this recession time there have been much more immoral transactions then before. Just look at Cristiano Ronaldos move from Manchester United to Real Madrid. Of course, I don not deny or diminish that he is a great player, but 94 million euro is I think too much for any man, or woman, to pay. In today world especially, where there are many better ways to spend money, are there are many people who need it more. But that is the corporate world, the rich get richer, and the poorer get poorer.

So lets look at the biggest spender in the last 2 years out there, Manchester City. Why and how are they the biggest spenders? They are owned by a private company from the United Arabian Emirates, which has obviously a lot of many and desire to invest it. So they bought, forgive me all fans of City, but then just an average club, and are now trying to turn it into the greatest one. For season 2009/2010 they spend over 100 million pounds buying all sorts of star players from different clubs. Names like Gareth Barry, Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez came to the club to boost it onto a whole new level. But there is some thought that by just putting the greatest players on Earth in the same team would not make an unbeatable team, but a chaotic one in which all of them could not get along. Of course, nobody has ever tried this, but City are doing everything they can, I believe, to achieve this. It may take a few years, everyone knows that they were often turned down by some star players because they believed it was just an average club. Some accepted, to try to lift the level of this club or to prove the skeptics wrong. I believe, and maybe this is just my opinion, that last year the problem was not in the players, although there were some that many people would not characterize as high class. No, I believe the problem was in the coach. Mark Hughes, all respect to him as a player, he was brilliant, but as a coach I think he lacked the experience of running high classed teams that compete for the title. I mean, it is a whole different conception if you are fighting for the title or if you just say: «Oh, lets just try to do our best and finish as high as we can.» City had some high class players, some of them mentioned already, but Hughes could not consolidate them. This is an example of how money, buying high class players, does not mean you will instantly go top of the world. Of course the folks at Manchester City knew this, so they just set a goal of reaching the Champions League spot, which was also not achieved.

I waste? Perhaps, but the surely learned something from that. This year, at the start of season 2010/2011, they already spent over 100 million pounds on new players (they have a new coach from last season, Roberto Mancini, which signed and coached them the last few games last season), with the likes of Balotelli, David Silva, Boateng and so on joining them on their quest to glory. Will it finally be achieved, after all these years being in the shadow of their biggest rival (United), will they finally fulfill their goal. We will see. At the start of the season it does not look good, they lost a friendly match against Borussia Dortmund, beat Valencia which is in big financial problems and lots of its key players, and drew with Tottenham Hotspur at the start of the Premier League. More importantly in that last game, they did not play well at all, Tottenham was a much better team, and if they want to go for the title, these are the games that they should start winning. Will money be everything, is yet to be seen. The rest of the world seems to think so.

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