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Nadal, Messi, Ronaldo and Iheanacho

By Tony Afejuku
06 December 2019   |   2:15 am
How many sports lovers will not agree that this year 2019 will be one significant year to remember in the annals of world sports? Clearly, several sporting events attracted our interest...

Spain’s Rafael Nadal holds up the 2019 ATP Tour Year-End Number One trophy at a presentation ceremony on day six of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament at the O2 Arena in London on November 15, 2019. – Spain’s Rafael Nadal beat Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7; 6-47-5. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

How many sports lovers will not agree that this year 2019 will be one significant year to remember in the annals of world sports? Clearly, several sporting events attracted our interest, but the sports of tennis and football seemed to have overshadowed the others – boxing, athletics, golf, swimming, etc. – ostensibly because of the large population of their followers and the engaging personalities of the sports, engaging personalities who we sincerely adore. In tennis, for instance, Rafael Nadal of Spain, Roger Federer of Switzerland, Novak Djokovic of Serbia and even the recently big boy of the sport from Russia called Daniel Medvedev are easily recognizable super-performers and super stars of the passing year we will never ever forget. Easily, we can compare them with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and of Juventus of Italy, and Lionel Messi of Argentina and of Barcelona of Spain – two football greats who are marking their greatness on the marble of world football.

Now the passing year is a glorious one indeed for the wondrous Rafael Nadal the mental giant of tennis who is also universally acknowledged as the greatest competitor of the sport. He is unarguably a tennis super personality and super hero who more than deserves to be described or to be talked about in superlatives, I mean in superlative terms. What he achieved this year is unbelievable given all the severe challenges he saw and battled through.

These rigorous challenges manifested themselves in the forms of physical injuries and somber states of mind generated in him by the former. Yet Nadal, I once called here “Nadistical Nadal” after he bested Medvedev at the final of the US Open in a combat of nerves and gritty grit, did not deny himself the permission to end the year as tennis number one player, the fifth time in his super brilliant career. (How he came back from the dead to beat Medvedev at the Nitto ATP Finals in London a few days ago is a tennistic tale to be told and told again in the years to come.) Earlier, before he achieved the feat in London at the Nitto finals, he had pulled out of the Paris 1000 tournament after he was billed to play Denis Shapovalov, the young upstart from Canada in the semi-finals. Nadal’s well-known abdominal problem compelled him to pull out of the semis. But some people there were who claimed that the super champion was a run-away from the upstart ambition of Shapovalov.

Now they must have eaten and swallowed their irritating words after the one and only Nadal stroke him in a straight set to win the Davis Cup for Spain for the fifth time. Denis Shapovalov and his Team Canada Davis Cup upstarts who took Canada to its first Davis Cup final played well throughout the tournament, and they were highly motivated to surprise Nadal and Spain in the final. But Nadal, from the start to the end of the tournament, was up-standing in the tennis court. He single-handedly won the Davis Cup for Spain. In one week he played eight straight matches for Spain against the current of his body. In other words, he went against his desire and body’s upstream to hand his country its Davis Cup number five afore-said. What a patriot who risked his health for his country!

I am not sure that Nadal would have ended the year as number one tennis player despite his exploits if the choice/selection was put to vote. Without doubt, Federer would have clinched it because he tends to have more fans and followers who would have voted for him on account of what they might perceive as his pleasant personality. For such fans, followers and tennis journalists, his tennis feats in tennis courts would not have mattered. What this means is that we must applaud the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for its scientific approach to a player’s selection for its player of the year and method of evaluating and of ranking tennis players.

This point must be appealing to all of us who abhor the FIFA convention of selecting the world footballer of the year and Ballon d’Or winner of a given year. To vote for a winner of either award or of both awards in any given year is at best and at worst an exercise in futile football politics – the kind that has compelled Ronaldo rightly to boycott the award ceremonies for two years running. The poor super star has been robbed of his diadems by several organizers of football awards from UEFA TO FIFA to Ballon d’Or.

Last season Luca Modric of Croatia and of Real Madrid undeservedly won football’s prestigious awards. Ronaldo’s goals and assists helped mightily to give UEFA champions league victory to Real Madrid. And he did exceedingly well in the Russia-staged world cup for his country. In fact, his semi-finals super skillful bicycle-kick goal against Juventus, his current club, will stay pretty well in our pretty memories for a pretty long time. Curiously, that goal clearly the greatest goal of that season was judged to be one goal that was not a great goal to win the trophy of the season’s greatest goal. The honour was won by someone else. What scientific criteria did the selectors use? In any case, who are the haters of Ronald who have been denying him his due and due? And why the bad belle against him?

This year is a particularly detestable one for Ronaldo. Lionel Messi has beaten him by votes to carry the prestigious awards. I must ask: by what scientific and objective perimeters or yardsticks? How many trophies did Messi win in the past season? He lost the Copa del Rey, he disgracefully stuttered in the UEFA champions league and he lost the Copa America diadem with Argentina. The only trophy he won was la liga.

So his season was a one over four (1/4) trophy season. Ronaldo, on the other hand, won the Super Cup in Italy, the Serie A title also in Italy and the UEFA Nations League with Portugal, and netting a total of ninety goals so far for Portugal (against Messi’s total of sixty-something for Argentina.) Objectively speaking he amassed four prestigious trophies against Messi’s one. Messi scored great goals, but they fetched him nothing but one trophy aforesaid. Ronaldo scored great goals which gave him three trophies as already argued. Now if FIFA adopted a transparent, scientific, objective method of evaluating players as ATP does, I doubt if Messi would rightly be in front of Ronaldo. I have no doubt in my mind that several players who came out openly to campaign and vote openly with their mouths (for example, the likes of Mbappe, the black boy of France) for Messi are Ronaldo’s dis-likers and haters. Ronaldo is not in their football political camp.

They are disgusted with his confident and proud conduct which they wrongly call an arrogant behaviour. To those who may want to argue that Messi scored more goals than Ronaldo in the past season, where were they when Ronaldo scored the greater number of goals to win the trophy for Real Madrid two seasons ago when he was robbed of his titles? My advice to UEFA and FIFA is to put a technical team to do for the bodies what ATP has done for tennis players. A selection of players that is based purely on votes of fans and journalists is never going to be devoid of politics and pure bias. By the way, the FIFA technical team I am suggesting must be changed and alternated yearly or every two years.

And Kelechi Iheanacho? What is he doing here now? For his being so jubilant after scoring a goal for his club after one year, calls for concern. And for dedicating the goal to his family, teammates and fans as reported in Sporting Life of Tuesday, December 3, 2019, page 4 calls for more concern. I hope our national coach who has outlived and over-stayed his welcome here will be wise enough to excise him from our Super Eagles for good. Candidly, I hope Rohr will be wise enough to do as I hereby urge him to do. Iheanacho’s terrible mishaps in Russia are still as clear as bright sunlight in a bright day in my bright football consciousness. The horrible consequences of our failure in Russia still plague my consciousness. And may so-called Nigerian football pundits who may be tempted to make any case for him hold their mouths and peace. The young man is finished. Let him remain in Leicester.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.