OPINION: Nigeria and the science of soccer

by Martin Udogie

NOT far, I’m afraid. And no Nigerian coach can either, under the present football environment. Soccer has gone scientific. In 2003, Real Madrid sold Claude Makelele to Chelsea for $27 million. It seemed an outrageous overpayment for a 30 year-old inconspicuous midfielder. “We will not miss Makelele,” said Madrid’s President Florentino Perez. “His technique is average; he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents, and 90 per cent of his distribution either goes backward or sideways…”

As told colourfully in the book, Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, Perez’s critique of Makelele wasn’t entirely wrong. Yet, Madrid made a terrible error. Makelele would go on to have five glorious years at Chelsea. There is now even a position in soccer named after him: “Makelele Role”. You see, in looking at his numbers and work rate, Madrid drew the wrong conclusions. By contrast, Chelsea saw that, the vast majority of the time (84 per cent) when Makelele did high-intensity work on the pitch, it was when the opposition had the ball. So he worked harder than any player defending against the opponents rather than attacking, which all players tend to do. So he was an excellent defensive midfielder.

It will help any Nigerian coach to read Soccernomics for lesson on how not to rely on just television images or even recent form to invite players to the national squad. Before the Madrid’s Makelele goof, AC Milan had suffered an embarrassing signing. In 1983, the Italian club spotted a talented black forward playing for Watford just outside London and promptly signed him for $1.4 million. Word later emerged that the player AC Milan really wanted to sign was John Barnes. Anyhow, they ended up shipping Luther Blisset to Milan. He had a tortuous one season, not just with the club, but even in the city. He claimed he even found it difficult getting his favourite Rice Krispies to buy. I can imagine the locals telling him: Yes, we have it, but won’t sell to you. Go score for AC Milan first.

But AC Milan has since learnt its lessons.

*Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija. This piece was originally printed in Guardian.

cool good eh love2 cute confused notgood numb disgusting fail