By Kenneth Duru and Ayodele Olakotan |
The days when European Soccer caused wild celebrations and even street fights in Nigeria appear to be over.
Until recently when most of the top rated English Premiership teams started recording dwindling fortunes, the frenzy and fever of European football pervaded Nigeria’s sporting terrain. The atmospherics around several sports bars, viewing centres and even entertainment arena showed tension and unbridled passion each time an English Premiership or European Champions League game was on.
Clearly the peak of the pack, teams like Chelsea Football Club, Manchester United, Arsenal Football Club, Barcelona Football Club, Real Madrid and Liverpool were the darling of most Nigerian soccer enthusiasts. Excitement, emotions and in most cases altercations occurred whenever these teams took on one another. In the English Premiership you talked about the rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool or the London derby involving Chelsea FC and Arsenal. In the Spanish La Liga, the El – Classico (Fc Barcelona versus Real Madrid) reigned supreme.
Adjudged as the team with the highest fan base in Nigeria, Chelsea FC caused a pleasant storm in the country when it clinched the European Champions League diadem at the Allianz Arena in far away Munich, Germany in 2012. The build up to that final match had effects of feisty dimensions. Maverick Chelsea supporters across several cities went on a carnival. There was a particular case on a Lagos street where a live cow was decked in full colours and regalia of the Stamford Bridge giants. Today however, most of these antics and unbridled passion are no longer there.
Many soccer buffs and analyst in Nigeria have divergent opinion on this issue. Some talk about the slide in the performance of the traditional super teams. In the English Premiership in particular, defending champions, Chelsea FC is currently battling for survival. Their hope for a Champions League spot for next season is not even guaranteed. Manchester United has kissed good bye to the top four placing on the league table for a long time now. Arsenal FC were disgracefully booted out of the European Champions League by the Lionel Messi–inspired Barcelona FC. There is also the talk about the dawn of sports betting which tends to moving the passion more to the money spinning angle.
However, many still believe that the European football fever is very much on in Nigeria. To them, the unsalutory run of the flagship teams have only but a marginal impact in the entire mix. Mr. Oladehinde Oladele, notable supporter of Chelsea FC says: “Chelsea still has the highest fan base in Nigeria, regardless of their early ouster from the European Champions League. The salient point to note is that sport fans support clubs for diverse reasons including the personality of the coach, the caliber of players as well as general club performance. The arguments, debates and jokes still go on at the various sports viewing centres. The operators of beer parlours, entertainment joints are still very much in business although not as much as before.”
Kazeem Usman is particularly concerned about what is making the big teams perform below expectation. “Chelsea FC recorded poor results at the beginning of the current season under Coach Jose Mourinho, but when the highly rated Guus Hiddink came on board, the whole story changed. The club now has an outside chance of qualifying for the next European Champions League season. Manchester City players developed cold feet at the announcement of Pep Guardiola as the substantive manager to replace the incumbent Manuel Pellegrini. Players who were sure of regular shirts under the Chilean tactician Pellegrini are now unsure of what their future would be in the Guardiola era. This automatically resulted in a series of poor results for the Ethihad side. The problem with Arsenal FC lies with their coach. If the club intends to make an appreciable impact, Arsene Wenger has to come out of his conservative cocoon and shop for more experienced players,” he said.