During one of my holidays at my cousin’s in Ibadan many years ago, life taught me a lesson I didn’t realize I’d learnt until this afternoon when I was reading a book where the author talked about the two ways humans generally react to gratification. No matter how good you are, if you’re always paying too much attention to the adulations, the praise chants, the roaring of the crowd, you can’t last.
I’m reminded of one particular evening at the field where my cousin and I had gone to play football. It was the normal 5-a-side and our team had already selected four players. We needed one more person and there were two people left to choose from. I remember the tall guy was nicknamed “Aghahowa” probably because of his football skills or his facial resemblance to the Nigerian national team footballer at the time, I wouldn’t know. Oh and the other guy was nicknamed “Short Man Devil”. Apparently because he was “down to earth”. Lol.
We quickly called Aghahowa, left our opponents with Short Man Devil and we were ready to ball. We had barely kicked off before Aghahowa dribbled two people and laid a pass to me. I blasted the ball beyond the keeper and into the… crowd. The crowd were cheering Aghahowa at every deft touch and soon enough, he dribbled again, and laid the ball to me. I didn’t go for goal this time; instead, took a turn, laid the ball to another teammate who slotted it home.
“Aghahowa!” “Aghahowa!!” The crowd chanted. “But it wasn’t him who scored” I thought to myself. Oh well.
Immediately, I saw Short Man Devil… Or SMD, as I’ll refer to him from here on, whisper something to his teammates who seemed to nod in agreement. After that first (and only) goal, Aghahowa was nowhere to be found. When we managed to get the ball to him, it was either he’d be dispossessed easily or he’d hurriedly pass the ball to an invisible teammate. What’s happening Aghahowa? We need you to be our point man and ensure we…
SMD had one way or the other dribbled past two defenders and slammed the ball home. Game on! This was where it got interesting. SMD was a left footed player. We all were right footed. Every time the ball was at his feet, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with it. It was so difficult to get the ball off him or bring him down. I’ve over recent years got to know that short people have a low center of gravity; hence, they don’t fall easily. We were all taking turns to tackle him and…
SMD again?! He’d dribbled past almost all of us, interchanged passes with a teammate, and left our goalkeeper in no man’s land. The crowd were cheering and chanting his name (I can’t remember now but at least I knew his parents didn’t name him Short Man Devil). Each time the ball was at SMD’s feet, it was like he was in a world of his own and we were unwelcomed guests. Every time he shifted the ball to his left foot, it was a potential goal. He showed us pepper. He scored three goals and assisted one.
He didn’t get carried away with the cheering and chanting. He kept his head down and ensured we regretted not picking him when we had the chance to. Many of us are like Aghahowa. We have starting but no finishing. We allow ourselves drown in the sea of adulations, rather than focus on the game until the final whistle. He who must win the man of the match must ignore the chants during the game.
Keep your ears closed and your eyes on the ball.