Sports

Eagles’ impact in season ending bliss

Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the final of the English FA Cup on August 1st was one of the closing events of the European football season. The Gunners needed the win to secure a place in European football against the Blues who already had a guaranteed spot in the UEFA Champions League. Juventus were also crowned in Italy as champions for the ninth consecutive time.

Football legend Cristiano Ronaldo scored 31 goals while Ciro Immobile recorded 36 goals to emerge the highest scorer. In England, Liverpool emerged champions after a 30-year wait with Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy was highest scorer with 23 goals. Real Madrid were glorious in Spain especially after football’s restart and they stopped the winning run of Barcelona to clinch the title as Lionel Messi with 25 goals won the highest scorer award. In Germany, Robert Lewandoski was the highest scorer with 34 goals as Bayern Munich as usual won the title.

All these were achieved after football’s return following the two months lockdown as a result of COVID-19 which crippled virtually all aspects in different spheres of life. Fans of the game all over the world were pained that there was no live football for over eight weeks but after the restart, it became a full dose of football on television since fans were not at the stadia. It is important to recall that the leagues in France and Belgium did not restart. And so the German Bundesliga deserves full credit for all that was achieved in football in the past few days. Not everyone gave the Germans a chance. The authorities insisted that if the league failed to start, it could affect Germany’s economy.

Bundesliga resumed behind closed doors on May 16, becoming the first European league to restart after the coronavirus shutdown. The German Football Association stressed that the season would resume under strict health protocols that barred fans from the stadium and required players to have COVID-19 tests. About 300 people, including players, staff and officials, were tested in or around the stadiums on match days. Nigerian players abroad recorded mixed blessings across various leagues. Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho lost the UEFA Champions League ticket on the last day in the EPL with a 2-0 defeat suffered against Manchester United. They will play in the Europa League. Overall stats saw Ndidi as the player with most the interceptions and one of the best tacklers in the league.

In France, Victor Osimhen emerged the best player of the season for Lille just as Moses Simon was best player for Nantes. Osimhen’s great performance earned him a record-breaking deal in Italy as Napoli snapped the Eagles striker with €81m, which is an African transfer record. Kenneth Omeruo and Chigozie Awaziem were however relegated with Leganes and they are expected to decide either to go down with the Spanish team or seek another elite club. Odion Ighalo’s extension of deal with Manchester United is another highlight of the season ending period.

He is generally doing well with United. Alex Iwobi is almost lost in Everton and will have to up his game under Carlo Ancelotti. However, the protocols that were adhered to in Europe to complete the various leagues are yet to be embraced here in Nigeria by the teams even as there is a tentative plan to restart football in September or October.

It is almost certain that COVID-19 will still be prevalent in the next two months and efforts to manage the situation are not being taken yet by all the authorities concerned. Spain, Italy, England and other top European leagues learned from the bold initiative of the Bundesliga organisers. It was the restart in Germany that others copied and tried to create a domestic template to conclude their respective leagues. UEFA and FIFA were not in support of restart but after the move in Germany, UEFA came up with a plan to conclude its football calendar.

CAF has rolled out a plan also but basically the federation and government of each FIFA affiliated country will decide the way forward. The NFF and indeed the ministry of sports will have to double efforts in making sure all the protocols observed in Europe are adopted, since it worked well till the season ended.

As the Champions League takes centre stage, there is still room for the authorities in Nigeria to learn more and fast track the restart plans. The Sunday Dare-led ministry should also look into how other sports can gradually return with a good plan towards the postponed Olympic Games which is now slated for next year in Tokyo.

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