The Intro – The Greatest Left-Back In Nigeria’s Football History

April 4, 2020
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Culled from Olusegun Patrick Odegbami Facebook page

Since I have started the trend, since I received responses to my postings of the past two days from everywhere and can’t even cope with managing them, since people seem to be finding them useful and entertaining and restful and mentally soothing, I have decided to take on one of the greater challenges in Nigerian football – selecting the best left-back in our football history.

Do you know that through the years, that position has been the most problematic for most coaches? Do you know that only one player in that position that has ever been official captain of the Green/Super Eagles in 60 years? Do you know that there have been more right footed players playing at left-back than left footed players? Do you know that the turnover of players in that position has been more than any of the other positions?

When you go down the list of players that have occupied that position in Nigeria’s history, you will understand that making a choice of one may be the most difficult challenge for respondents this time around.

I shall promote my usual list of 9 (or 10 this time) of them drawn from 60 years of Nigerian football, to serve only as a guide. Respondents that I call up, or that call me, to express their view, are free to name their own choice either from my list or outside it.

I shall publish reactions and responses in Opera news tomorrow night.

Looking through some of the earliest names, one will make a startling discovery – Nigeria has had to convert several right-footed players to play at left-back because of the deficit of left footed players that naturally want to play in that position. Nigeria may not have a large pool of left footed players and it is reflecting in the country’s football.

Also Read: Who Is The Eagles’ Greatest Goalkeeper In 60 years?

The earliest amongst the great left-backs was also Nigeria’s Green Eagles Captain through most of the 1960s, Augustine Ofokwu, captain also of Stationery Stores, a right-footed player controlling the team from left- back. He started the tradition.

He was followed by two close contestants for the position during the 2nd All African Games – Sylvester Egborge (right footed) and Morton Owolo (left footed). Sylvester will occupy that space for now.

Such was the high turnover of players for that extremely difficult position that those that came after them did not last for too long.

left-back-segun-odegbami-green-eagles-yisa-shofoluwe-bright-omokaro-super-eagles-ben-iroha-celestine-babayaro-samuel-ojebode

Yisa Shofoluwe

Let me attempt to go through some of the other several great names that held that position: Samuel Ojebode, captain of Shootings Stars; Harrison Mencha of Rangers International FC; Okey Isima of Standard of Jos and Rangers International; Defense Minister, Yisa Shofoluwe of Stationary Stores, Johnny Orlando of Shooting Stars (the situation was so bad the Ghanaian midfield player was drafted to the national team without ever having played in that position before), Kadiri Ikhana of Bendel Insurance, Bright Omokaro of Bendel Insurance, and Ben Iroha of Iwuanyanwu Nationale. All of them were right-footed players converted from other positions to play there.

The only full-blooded left back of that era was Morton Owolo.

It was with Ben Iroha that the era of right footed left-backs temporarily ended until recently when it has been revived again.

For several years in the 1990s Nigeria produced some truly delightful left-backs that doubled as midfield/wing-backs, players that could combine all three roles in one. They were all left footed: Celestine Babayaro, Taiye Taiwo, Ifeanyi Udeze and Elderton Echiejile.

Also Read – Odegbami: Using The Spirit Of Sports To Fight Our Greatest Battle!

Without any disrespect to them, none of the present crop of left-backs can ‘show face’ amongst the greatest in 60 years. Their own time will still come.

In a particular noteworthy case also, the country had to convert its attacking pearl, an incredible winger on the left flank to play at left-back. Fortunately, at the time, the country was blessed with two of the country’s best attacking left-wing players at the same time and in the same national team. That was how Adokie Amiesimaka, the Chief Justice, was left to play on the flank, and Felix Owolabi, Owoblow, was deployed to the left-full back position in an occasional strategy to confuse opposing teams and unleash the fullest strength in attack. Felix Owolabi on his own was a one-man army, a bulldozer of a player, a utility player capable, with his strength, speed and power, of playing in any position on the field, particularly on the left side.

I won’t add him to the list of full backs here since he will be featuring somewhere else soon (I believe), as one of the greatest wingers in Nigeria’s history.

Occasionally, true left footed defenders showed up on the Nigerian football landscape and left their footprints.

All of this will reflect, I believe, in the conversations to follow, and in the choices that the people I shall call upon in the next few hours will make.
Meanwhile, this is my shortlist. Feel free to choose from outside this list.

Mazelli, Austine Ofokwu
Sylvester Egborge
Skippo, Samuel Ojebode
Harrison Mecha
Defense Minister, Yisa Shofoluwe
Ten Ten, Bright Omokaro
Ben Iroha
Celestine Babayaro
Taiye Taiwo
Elderton Echiejile

Don’t miss the reactions and responses. Watch out, the next phone call could be from me to you.
Pls. share. It helps.

Segun Odegbami

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