My FIFA Under 17 World Cup Day 20 – What does a Team Liaison Officer do?

Wednesday 6th November 2013

It has got to the point, in fact it has gone beyond the point when I don’t know what day it is anymore. Whenever it comes to writing this diary entry, I have been asking myself the same question recently; “What day is it today?” Thankfully my ‘Crackberry’ is always at hand to help out. Three weeks of hotel living and bus travelling has meant that I’ve lost a lot of perspective on ‘real life’ and what is going on around the world. Of course there are newspapers in the hotels but I have found my time being limited to just the sports supplement before I have another duty or the paper is ‘borrowed’ from me, usually by our sneaky media officer! There are also TVs but any viewing time has been restricted to more football watching or catching up on ‘Breaking Bad’. I admit I was a late starter with this show so I’ve been trying very hard to catch up. I am hoping to complete season 5 before I have to go back to reality this weekend. Of course the best time to watch this has been the evenings when everyone is asleep, which means a lot of late nights. With my wife’s threats of getting me back on my ‘morning shift’ in terms of looking after our son, I have a very tough decision to make these next few days; catch up on sleep or catch up on the series.

With today being a travel day, nothing much has happened apart from everyone resting their weary legs and bodies in preparation for one more battle on Friday. Someone asked me today what a Team Liaison Officer (TLO) actually does so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to explain my role as best as I could.

The best answer to this question is ‘everything’ and ‘anything’. In terms of the team structure and organisation, I am a non entity if truth be told, but that’s obvious and expected. What I do do is provide a direct link between FIFA and the team. But first, I’ll provide a brief account of how things are operated.

There is a multitude of people and organisations taking charge of many aspects needed to run a successful and huge tournament such as this. First of all, you have the General Coordinator of every venue who is basically the top person, then you have his assistant, then there are the media, accommodation, marketing managers. All these people take care of the logistical side of things from FIFA’s side. You then have the Local Organising Committe (LOC) manager who is in the Abu Dhabi Office and is in charge of the logistics from UAE’s side. The Team Services Manager from the LOC oversees the Transport Coordinators, whose job is to make sure buses and the police are ready and on time to transport the team to training and matches. On the matches side, FIFA have the referee assessors, doctors and security to ensure a smooth and safe match, and from the LOC, there is the Venue Manager and his assistants to take care of travel to matches, tickets and other match orientated aspects.

In between all these people and the teams themselves is the TLO; people like myself. Each of the 24 teams were assigned a TLO. Some came from abroad, some came with the teams themselves and some, like myself, were local hires. There is no set duty really. On a given day, my main job would be to organise and accompany a team management member to the mall to get some items for the team ranging from energy drinks to medical equipment. On some days, I would be meeting with the General Coordinator to arrange tickets for VIP guests. Some of my responsibilities include relaying training times to the LOC head in the office and Team Services Manager, who will then inform the necessary bodies to organise transport. I am also responsible for relaying pre match meeting times and various training venues to the team management. Prior to arriving at a new hotel, I have to liaise with the accommodation manager to ensure we arrive at our next destination when the rooms are ready to avoid waiting around in the lobby. One of the first things I do after a match, instead of celebrating with the team is to answer calls from the Team Services Manager of the next training and/or travel time. My work phone is rarely from my side. I even sleep with it next to my pillow because I can receive a call at any time. Thankfully we were given enough credit to cater for all the calls we have to make.

In all fairness, it is a pretty organised and fun job if you are organised and lucky enough to get an ‘easy’ team, like I have been blessed with. I know of other TLOs who have had some pretty tough times with their demanding teams, and some who have really had to utilise their knowledge of the country with requests to visit the local tailors to amend some trousers bought earlier. Basically, there is nothing that a TLO can’t do or won’t be asked to do. Take yesterday’s match for example. At half time, I was asked to source some more water for the team dressing room, and at full time I was interviewing the manager on the pitch for millions of viewers around the world! Once again, I feel blessed to have had such a relaxed, friendly and welcoming team to work with because it has been nothing but fun. I have met some awesome people, stayed in fantastic hotels, been fed great meals three times daily, had my laundry washed and pressed on demand, had a driver at my beck and call for 12 hours a day, visited the inner sanctuary of team dressing rooms and stadium VIP tribunes, learnt more about event organising and media productions and above all, greatly increased my football knowledge and coaching skills by watching the most inspirational coaches I have ever seen on a daily basis. Up until this tournament, the coach I admired the most was my old mate and FA Regional Coach Development Manager, Ben Bartlett. I’m sorry Ben, I still love you but you have been overtaken by these geniuses from Nigeria.

Of course there have been some stressful moments, but that’s not to be expected in a role that is so wide ranging, and because of this bunch of players and staff, who I absolutely love, nothing has ever been too much of an ask. It really is an amazing position and has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If I didn’t have such a great family to go home to, I think I would spiral into a depressing state when this tournament ends in three days! The next step, and the pinnacle I guess, is to be involved in the senior World Cup. If anyone at FIFA or the Brazil 2014, Russia 2018 or Qatar 2022 LOCs is reading this, you know where to find me…


My FIFA Under 17 World Cup Diary – Day 18

Monday 4th November 2013

There is definitely some excitement in the air, and not surprising as we are now at the stage where the Nigeria under 17 World Cup squad just need two more wins, against Sweden and either Mexico or Argentina, to be crowned world champions. I’m not sure about anyone else but I definitely feel nervous and more apprehensive with each hour that approaches kick off. Looking at the boys and their coaches, you wouldn’t have thought it though. I know I keep mentioning it but the focus, determination and confidence in the team is amazing to witness. They all seem to be aware of their objective and how they will go about it. They are just waiting for the referee to blow his whistle at 8pm tomorrow night.

This is even more remarkable when it’s obvious (and natural I guess) that there is a lot more interest in the teams left. We had an almost full press conference today, with the bigger newspapers suddenly showing their presence and the normally quick event lasting a whole lot longer. As usual, Mr Garba, the head coach was full of his Gordon Strachan-esque replies that produced more than a laugh or two. There are also more fans around our hotel, more people that recognise anyone in the green of Nigeria – every walking journey takes an eternity with the amount of well wishers wanting to pass on their handshakes and good thoughts, and certainly more demand for tickets. I think half of Nigeria is in Dubai this week! There are so many people who are already here or will be coming to this game, it’s astounding. The result is a massive clamour for tickets and the need for a full phone battery. I counted at one point that I had either made or received 21 calls within a 30 minute period. It’s great to see so many people behind a team, at a great expense too, especially to those who had flown in especially. Not only that, but I never realised how many Nigerians actually resided in the UAE. I have been here for five years and I don’t think I hadn’t met many Africans in general, but introduce a football and suddenly they all come out of the woodwork. I even found out there was an African restaurant in Dubai! That’s the power of football I guess!

Full press conference

Full press conference

Of course having so much demand and interest in this game is fantastic for everyone involved, especially FIFA and the Local Organising Committee as they get to maintain interest in the tournament even after the host nation went out. The unfortunate thing is the semi final stadium, the Sheikh Rashid Stadium where Al Ahli play, is a very small stadium with capacity that Nigeria’s fans alone would fill. I dread to think what would happen if there are more fans than seats. Stadiums and stewards in the UAE are not used to being full capacity so I just hope and pray that they have the resources and plans to deal with such a situation. Thankfully the experienced FIFA security teams are in charge, although it still doesn’t eradicate the fear that the people on the ground may make some monumental error due to inexperience. Having witnessed the power and control, or lack of, that stewards have over a mass of fans in previous matches that have taken place in UAE stadiums, I am not filled with a lot of confidence.

I guess tomorrow will tell how successful the stadium, it’s representatives, and most importantly, the Nigerian under 17 squad were in achieving their objectives.

Just. Two. More. Games


My FIFA Under 17 World Cup Diary – Days 16 and 17 – Quarter finals v Uruguay

Saturday 2nd November 2013

Well it’s official. The Nigeria under 17 national team and their ever appreciative Team Liaison Officer will see the FIFA Under 17 World Cup to the end. In a tough encounter tonight, the boys put in a battling performance intertwined with moments of skill and genius to beat Uruguay 2-0 and join Sweden, Mexico and Argentina in the semi finals. This means that the top three teams from our group all made it to the semi finals, which says a lot about the strength of the group. My friend Ade Akinbiyi’s player, Taiwo Awonyi decided the game with two clinical strikes in either half, both goals being set up by ‘Nacho’, the Mexican destroyer.  Of all the games they’ve played so far, this was by far the most gruelling and physical and the boys came through it with flying colours, especially in the face of some  provocation by the Uruguayan staff and players and some questionable refereeing at best.



staying cool under pressure

It was really impressive to see these bunch of young boys stay so calm and composed all match even when they were being pushed and manhandled. Needless to say,I would have found it hard to control myself in such a situation, but maybe that’s why I’m sitting in front of a laptop writing about football instead of having thoughts of possibly getting my hands on a World Cup trophy in a few days.

There was a surprise guest in the team changing room after the game. Former national team captain and legend Sunday Oliseh, who now works for FIFA as part of their technical team, came in to offer some prayers and words of encouragement for the boys. I actually remember his goal v Spain in France ’98 and I could still picture that stretched arm celebration after the goal so it was amazing to see him in the flesh. He told the boys how impressed everyone was with the boys and how they played as well as conducted themselves and I know he wasn’t just saying that because everywhere either myself of the team has been, people have had nothing but good things to say about the boys. Everyone seems to be a Nigerian fan, and this shows in the amount of fans they get for each game. I feel like a proper celebrity groupie following the team around and enjoying scraps of their glory and success, but I genuinely feel like a part of this team and the players and staff have made it feel like so. I really hope and pray that their hard work and dedication gets them all the way to the part when they are the second team up the stage at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium at around 10pm next Friday night, 8th November.


By the way, referring to my earlier posts about training, warm up and diet, the Swedes and Argentinians making it through to the semis proves that it is really whatever method suits you best and there isn’t really a pre-destined method of success. I have witnessed teams with a manager so strict that the players are told where to sit in the restaurant, teams with a manager so loose that players are free to roam the hotel floors late at night, teams with a manager who keeps the players on a short leash and teams with a manager who allows the players to enjoy some sight seeing and days out. All these teams have made it to the semi finals of the World Cup and they couldn’t be more different from each other. Sweden have made it in their first ever finals, and Mexico have made it after suffering an  embarrassing 6-1 defeat in their first game for example, so all this makes for a very intriguing next round of games. I believe the key is in consistency. The methods aren’t important as long as they suit the character of your team and you are consistent with it. However, I can’t help wondering if these methods are adopted through other ages in the national set up all the way to the senior team. I guess the next step is to see if anyone will have me in the senior tournament.

Sunday 3rd November 2013

Travel day today. The boys left Sharjah to go back to our Dubai hotel one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in, made even more enjoyable after experiencing the ‘best’ Shajah had to offer. It’s fair to say that’s not one of my favourite places and I couldn’t wait to get out of there.Thankfully, I had to do some prep work in the Dubai hotel and my family also came down for the day for some very much needed quality time, so it was a great day in all. I feel a little bad for the players and staff at tournaments such as these, especially successful teams as they can go a month or so without seeing members of their families, especially if you add in preparation time with training camps. I am lucky that I’ve only been a 90minute drive from my family and they’ve been able to visit me a few times, but people like the Nigerian players and coaches who have already spent six weeks and thousands of miles away from their families don’t have that luxury. It is part of the job of course, but I doubt this makes it any easier.

I doubt England’s players have this issue though…

Next up, one last training session tomorrow morning before the semi finals with Sweden on Tuesday night. We had an entertaining 3-3 draw in the group game so this will be an interesting one. The Swedes are the most  organised team in the tournament and play very solid banks of 4 and 5 and rely on the counter attacks, so it will be an extremely tough game.

Those fingernails of mine will be shortened even more in a few days time.


My FIFA Under 17 World Cup Diary – Days 15 and 16

Thursday 31st October and Friday 1st November 2013 

It’s been a pretty quiet few days overall in preparation for the quarter final game tomorrow v Uruguay, which is probably a good thing because I left my laptop charger in our Al Ain hotel and have very limited battery life! Since arriving in Sharjah, appropriately described as ‘a glorified landmine’ by my good friend BC, on Wednesday, not much has happened here. We’ve had our usual competitive early morning training sessions followed by some much needed down time which has allowed me to catch up with some episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’.

Earlier today, I watched the McDonalds munching, sun loving Swedes, in their first ever tournament, reach the semi final! I have to say I really love the Swedish team. I don’t agree with their brand of football but it obviously works for them and the manager has utilised what he has really well. What I do love about them is the personalities of the players and staff. With them being in the same group as us and therefore in the same hotel, I got to see and converse with them quite a bit and they are really lovely people. Very friendly and approachable. They even gave the Nigerian team a token gift before their 3-3 draw earlier in the tournament. I also managed to have a long chat with a couple of their players including IFK Gothenburg’s Gustav Engvall whilst waiting for them to drink the required gallons of water to enable them to muster the required 90ml of pee for the dope test and they were just really good guys. I’m really happy for them to have made it to the semis and hopefully we’ll see them again as they’re our next opponents if we make it to the semis tomorrow. If we do make it to the semis, it means I’d be in this tournament from start to finish as the top four end up in Abu Dhabi one way or other, either as finalists or in the dead rubber 3rd place playoff. It would be brilliant to extend this experience further so let’s hope the boys bring their ‘A-game’ tomorrow.

I learnt two new things today about FIFA, and probably all football’s organisational protocols. Firstly, do you know that in the usual pre-kick off handshake between captains, it’s recommended that captains shake hands a certain way? They have to shake hands like they are about to start an arm wrestle. That is called the ‘peace handshake.’ Then, and this is minor but all players must leave the pitch at the end of the first half. Even if subs wanted to warm up on the pitch, they’d have to physically leave the pitch and be out of sight before returning to the pitch immediately if they wanted to. It’s something that I’ve seen numerous of times without ever thinking of it but it seems that’s actually a FIFA requirement.

Peace handshake

Peace handshake

There was another example of ‘what works for you’ tonight. During the Brazil v Mexico game, which Mexico won on penalties by the way, making it two teams from our earlier group to go through to the semis, the Argentinian and Uruguay players came in to watch. This was an 8pm kick off, a time which no Nigerian player has seen outside his hotel room unless on matchdays. This in itself was no real deal, as was the fact that the players were all there with their phones and iPads checking and communicating on their social networking sites. It was different from what I’ve seen with the Nigerian boys but as I said, it was no massive surprise, especially considering the fact that the South Americans were probably still on South America time.

What was a surprise, and something I’d love an opinion from sports scientists and doctors on, was that the Argentinian players were busy tucking into pizzas and chips and sipping on one of the 300 Coca Cola branded drinks each team gets per day. Considering they had an important match at 5pm tomorrow, I found it a real surprise to see them gleefully munching into such foods so late and before such an important game. To be fair to them, the South American culture is all about eating late, but I assumed some rice and meat, not pizzas and chips.

I guess things are just different with each team. Not only did the Argentinian players dress and look like ready made footballers who wouldn’t look out of place on ‘Four Four Two’ magazine with their earrings and tattoos to make Beckham proud, they also seemed to have a very relaxed demeanour about them. I even saw one of the players with his girlfriend. Apparently she has been following him with her family since they arrived here. She’s obviously investing well in her future.

However, like I said, this isn’t a judgment point, I’m merely pointing out the differences I’ve seen in how teams approach games. Only time will tell which method works, but it’s just interesting to note these differences in culture.

It’s game time tomorrow. Nigeria v Uruguay, 8pm at Sharjah stadium. Winner gets into the semi finals of the FIFA under 17 World Cup! My excitement and nervousness is building up nicely. I so want these boys to win this cup. I have seen how much effort and dedication they and their coaches have put in so far and it would just be such an amazing feat to see them lift the cup. Plus, I have grown genuinely fond of each and every one of these boys and their totally knowledgeable and fantastic coaches. It would be such a brilliant sight to see their smiling and happy faces when they get their gold medals around their necks on November 8th.

My FIFA Under 17 World Cup Diary – Day 8. Matchday 2

Tuesday 22nd October 2013

The countdown to match day started around 5.30 and it was a busy one. First of all, a trip to the stadium was needed to drop the kit man, then it was off to the printers to pick up a new banner. The one I had designed came back in the morning and it was perfect apart from one thing. The Nigerian Football Federation had changed its name from ‘Nigerian Football Association’ and in the search for a logo with a high enough resolution for the 3metre x 1metre banner, the printer used ‘Google’ to find it. Unfortunately, the logo he found had the old name, which was an easy mistake to make because it was exactly the same logo and the only change was ‘Association’ to ‘Federation’. This was of course spotted by the eagle-eyed ‘Godlen Eaglets’ media officer so a change was needed. After a phonecall and an email, the task was clear and the printer knew what was needed.


The boys with the banner designed by yours truly, with the correct logo

Anyway, after dropping off the kit man, we headed to the printer’s to pick up the new banner. At this time, Mexico were on their way to a win against Iraq so security was tight around the stadium and every checkpoint was enforced meticulously. Thankfully, it wasn’t a big enough game to halt traffic too much but it still left things tight because I had to complete these tasks and be back at the hotel by 6.15 to get on the team bus. I managed to make the team bus and get to the stadium on time, then I received another phonecall telling me some Nigerian fans were outside asking for VIP tickets. I went out there and guess who was one of these fans? None other than former Leicester City legend and fans favourite Ade Akinbiyi! I had seen him in my five minutes by the pool earlier in the day and thought I recognised him so when I saw him outside the stadium, I introduced myself and asked him his name. Then I knew it was definitely him. Apparently he is doing some agent work and in fact one of his boys was the Nigerian number 18, Taiwo, who scored the final equaliser. He seemed very friendly and chatty and was happy enough to take my business card, which he will hopefully not use as a coaster, contrary to what my wife believes. I saw him back in our hotel bar after the game watching his rubbish team Arsenal lose, and our conversation ended with ‘I have your card so will text you to give you my number.’ I will be waiting Ade, my new best friend. I will be waiting.


My mate Ade then


Ade, first from left, as he is now

Of course, to steal a Dennis Norden phrase, things are always alright on the night and so it proved to be here, apart from the score. A very eventful 3-3 draw between the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria and Sweden means it’s all to play for in the last group games with Nigeria, Sweden and Mexico all in with a good chance of qualifying. In this tournament, the top two plus the top four 3rd place finishes of all the groups go through to the next stage. Nigeria did well to come back from 2-0 and then 3-2 down to grab a draw in the final minutes, especially with my boy Success Isaac coming off midway through the first half with an injury. Nigeria were down 2-1 at half time and I believe the coaches did a great job in picking them up and helping them get this draw. The team talk given by each one of the coaches was extremely positive and constructive, and as a coach myself, it was a boost to hear that the tactical information they gave was the same I would have after seeing the first half. The only difference was they expressed themselves so well and so powerfully. By the end of the speech, I was ready to go out there and bust a gut for the team. And then I remembered that I’m old enough to be some of these kids’ fathers, I have a crocked knee amongst others, and I am extremely unfit. Plus I am not Nigerian.

The referee for this game, a Mr Nestor Pitana from Argentina was a  formidable man. He was massively tall and muscular and looked more of a bodybuilder than a wrestler. In fact, that’s exactly what I asked him when he walked past me before the game. Thankfully he took it in good spirits and was even kind enough to give me his official cards after the game. All the referees here are auditioning to go to Brazil next year so I hope he makes it. He will probably be the one that gives a penalty against England and/or send off Jack Wilshire/Wayne Rooney in the quarter finals.


The Beast, Mr Pitana


I couldn’t believe how nervous I found myself in that game. I was kicking every ball and heading every cross away or into the goal, depending on who crossed it. In fact, I was more nervous than I am when watching Man Utd games. Except when we play Liverpool because I hate them so much. Having spent a week with these boys and their friendly and knowledgeable coaches, I am getting really involved in the team. I feel invested in each of them. The fact that they are all so polite and friendly makes the bond even stronger. They are big and athletic boys who look like men, but spend a few minutes talking to them and you realise that they really are just young boys. I almost feel like a father to them, although they probably see me as the guy that takes the pictures and orders KFC for the kit man.

We are off to Dubai in the morning for our next game on Friday against Iraq. A win and Nigeria top the group, meaning we are back to Al Ain on Saturday.

My FIFA Under 17 World Cup Diary – Day 7

Monday 21st October 2013

“Supergetti” and “roasted bread” are two new phrases I’ve learnt from the boys to describe what we know as ‘spaghetti’ and ‘toast’. That reminds me; does anyone know a situation where you get fed spaghetti and mince for breakfast? That’s part of the buffet meals we receive. It’s not even a Nigerian team request; this is part of FIFA’s sample menus for all hotels, which I find strange. The thought of some ‘supergetti’ along with my muesli and ‘roasted bread’ is just plain odd but there you go.

It was a pretty uneventful day today. We had our usual intense training this morning, then our pre-match meeting where we once again decided on the kits the team would wear, listened to the respective national anthems and checked the positions of the flags. Then we went off for the pre-match press conference at the stadium, which took as much time as it took us to get there. The stadium is very close to the hotel.

The team management decided to make a banner to show the Al Ain fans for their support after tomorrow’s game versus Sweden. We are off to Dubai to play the last group game against Iraq on Wednesday morning so they wanted to do something nice for the fans, which I think is a nice touch and will go down well. The thinking behind this movement to Dubai is that FIFA require all teams in the group to play their last games at the same time, and since there is only one approved stadium in Al Ain, two teams have to play in another stadium to satisfy this criteria. Two teams from those in Dubai will also come to Al Ain so they can have the same agreement.

It was a pretty uneventful drive into the ‘Little India’ of Al Ain until we brought to an abrupt halt on the road when someone that clearly received their driving licence from Oxfam reversed into the side of us. I was in a pretty big van; think the ‘A-Team’ style van so how this driver didn’t see us is beyond me.  We were close enough to the printers so I got out and left the drivers to deal with it. UAE traffic rules state that the police has to be called to every accident so they can provide a form. This form is important because no garage is allowed to touch a damaged car without it. Of course some do, but they’re not supposed to. So law abiding citizens need to stop at wherever the accident happened and call the police, who tend to be ‘relaxed’ at best of times. This means that most accidents end up causing a lot of traffic, especially in congested places because they block the road. So in effect, the probable cause of accidents is a previous accident.

I did see the most amazing thing on my travels though. I saw a car that when its doors were opened, projected the Al Ain team badge on the floor! It’s the car of the future! According to the owner, you can get any image you want projected. I’m thinking of getting one on my car and be the envy of all Man Utd fans worldwide.


I found out something interesting today: Al Ain have three stadiums. That’s not the interesting part. The interesting part is the stadium that we play at (yes, I am a fully immersed Nigerian now. For this tournament only mind you), the ‘Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium’, has never been used by Al Ain. Legend has it that it was supposed to be officially opened by the late Sheikh Zayed (‘the father of the UAE’) but he unfortunately passed away before fulfilling this duty. For that reason, Al Ain have regarded this stadium as bad luck and the first team has never played there. Apparently they have been using their old stadium but have now built a new stadium due to be opened soon. Just a brief description of Al Ain. It is a very tiny town with only 350,000 or so people living there and only one professional football team. With three stadiums. I guess when money is no object…

Anyway, pretty chilled day, even with the car accident. The players are getting their 22hours rest before tomorrow’s match versus Sweden. There are even more bus loads of Nigeria fans coming from Dubai so it should be a cracking atmosphere. And look out for the celebration of the tournament. Whenever Nigeria score, the players go to one corner of the pitch, and pump both index fingers up, shouting ‘yes, yes!’ Apparently it’s the winning celebration of a WWE wrestler and seems to be picking up some momentum here already. I took the liberty of making a reference to that on the banner I got printed, so I hope it does become a movement or I’ll just look plain silly.

My FIFA Under 17 World Cup Diary – Day 6

Sunday 20th October 2013

“It feels like my birthday.”

That’s how one of the Nigerian players described his day to me tonight. This was a day when they were able to leave the sanctuary of their hotel rooms and venture outside to the recreational area where they made full use of the facilities including the pool and table tennis room. I decided to join them and show off my table tennis skills, to which I was sent packing with a 5-0 defeat against the team doctor. I even brought my own bat.

DSC03672 DSC03673

The day got better for the boys as we had our planned dinner with the rest of the teams, except for one which was  not allowed to attend as punishment after a heavy defeat the night before. We were meant to travel to a the grounds of a Sheikh’s palace but instead, and sensibly, they decided to hold it in the hotel gardens to minimise the effect of travelling and/or a late night. It was a great night filled with everyone being encouraged to partake in the traditional Arabic dance, the ‘Nejdi’. The night then turned very African when the DJ blared out the latest and greatest hit, ‘Azonto’. Literally every player got out of their seats and joined in an impromptu session, which then turned to one man showmanship where one player after another had their turn showing off their swinging hips and upright ‘twerking’. Miley would have been well jealous.

It was brilliant to witness everyone crowd around the boys with their cameras taking videos and pictures. These boys have an unbreakable focus and determination about them but when it’s time to celebrate, they don’t mess around either. I’m starting to think It’s all or nothing with them.


I got the chance to have a good chat with the boys on my table and the one thing I really wanted to know was how they felt about the methods used by the coaches to develop their focus and mentality. They were telling me how since arriving in the UAE three weeks ago, today was the first time they had been able to step out of their accommodation. They also told me that when they are back home in Nigeria, it’s even more controlled with no access to phones or tv whilst in their academies. The most remarkable thing about this is that they were not moaning about any of this. In fact I would say they were proud of this fact. I could see and hear the conviction and determination in each of them when discussing this matter. They unanimously agreed that to be champions and professional players, it’s a sacrifice they need to make and they were more than happy to do so. I asked the player at Chelsea how he felt since he has more freedom when in his hotel in London and like a trained soldier, explained that he accepted and was happy with the rules of the national team for the same said reasons. Apparently this is the same case with the senior national team too.

Can you imagine Rooney or Ashley Cole happily dropping their phones in the kit man’s tupperware box and locking up their Playstation upon arrival on International duty?

I’m sure many (or the very few) of you that read this will have your own opinions. Talking to the boys took me back to my own childhood. I remember growing up in Ghana and first of all not even having access to TV, a TV that had a metal coat hanger for an antenna and a remote so hefty you could put it behind a car tyre to stop it rolling back, until 6pm because that’s when the GBC (Ghana Boradcasting Coporation) started their broadcast. This meant we only had the option of studying or playing with our friends, and usually we were ‘encouraged’ to pick the former option. It makes me smile fondly thinking of my prized possession at the time; a ‘Casio’ calculator watch! I loved that watch and remember almost crying (I lie, I probably did cry) when I lost it. I also remember my dad constantly reminding me of the importance of hard work when you were young to allow you the enjoyment of an adult life.

In some ways, it’s what the Nigerian coaches are trying to  instill in these boys and it was refreshing to see the boys speak so positively about this, fully understanding the need for sacrifice to achieve your dreams. The top coaches and players have always talked about the need for total sacrifice and dedication if you are going to fulfill any talents you were lucky enough to be blessed with. Gary Neville is a typical example of someone who managed to squeeze the most out of any talent he was given and through hard work and dedication, grew to become the captain of the champions of England. I am wary of saying it’s an African v European way of doing things because there are obvious examples of European players who have sacrificed, in their own way, to achieve success. In fact, add Phil Neville to that list. Maybe we should speak to Neville Neville about his parenting skills, since he also has a daughter that represented her country at netball.

So it’s obviously not necessarily a demographic issue and more of a personal one, although I might ask if there are many young players at English clubs that would gladly accept the notion of a whole season without their Blackberries or iPads. Then again, I would argue if the Nigerian players would be as unanimous in agreeing to this direction were they to be uprooted and moved to a country with technology and distractions at every corner. From personal experience, I’ve tried many times to resist the lure of social media/technology and try to replicate the simple life I used to live. The best I’ve managed so far is take Facebook off my phone!

Perhaps it’s nurture that determines a person’s attitude rather than nature? Or is it the other way round? I’m never sure with this.