Sunday, January 10, 2010


"Letter from South Africa" is Omoseye Bolaji's regular weekly column published in the Nigerian newspaper, True National News. The column comes out every Monday. True National News is circulated all over Nigeria on a weekly basis.

January 11 2010 edition

Letter from South Africa (Column)

With Omoseye Bolaji


It is a situation that usually bemuses and perturbs my South African friends who are ensconced in the sporting media. That is, my invariable reply when they ask me who I believe the best ever football (soccer) player was world-wide?

I always answer: Segun Odegbami! Of course Odegbami is not a national hero in a country like South Africa, the way he is in Nigeria. and the young/er Nigerian soccer lovers are generally unlucky not to have seen the great Odegbami live in action, weaving his intricate magic on the right flank for club (IICC Shooting Stars) and country decades ago.

Naturally, the football "experts' expect one to mention the likes of Pele, Maradona, Johan Cruyf, Puskas, or even current rave Lionel Messi whilst talking about the best player the world has ever seen. Often, I am at pains to tell these sceptics that yes, I know all about Pele, (I grew up watching videos of the man at his best); and I was among those who watched Maradona live at his pomp in 1986...

But yet I always still insist that Segun Odegbami is the best player I have ever seen on the field of play. I am sure many Nigerians lucky enough to see Ntate (“sir”) Odegbami at his best from around 1977 to 1981 will agree with me. But yet this is still inadequate because in 1984, Odegbami, coming back from an early retirement was still so good that he ripped defences like Mas Fes to shreds far away in Morocco where he scored another magnificent goal.

Basically, Odegbami was a soccer genius. He was a very intelligent, brilliant player, a real crowd pleaser and magisterial to boot!. He was perhaps at his best the fastest footballer the world has ever seen; going down the right flank like a dervish, brilliantly dribbling, tying defenders in knots; flamboyance per excellence!

And he scored lots of goals too, great goals, whether cutting in from the right and then unleashing a "banana shot"; or just a plain intelligent tap in; or hitting the net with his “computerized” headers after soaring in the air so majestically. What a player!

Although few soccer fans of that era might remember, Odegbami easily dominated at a time when Nigeria was blessed with brilliant right wingers; the likes of Baba Otu Mohammed; Sam Okpodu or even a burgeoning Tarila Okorowanta. But Odegbami was by far the best of the lot, feared and respected all over Africa (at his peak many players were consigned to mark him out of games) It was a great, great tragedy that Nigeria never made it to the World Cup finals at that time.

Whilst playing for his country, Odegbami was often lethal, with unbelievable body swerves and breath-taking speed. Among his best ever performances were against two North African countries: against Egypt in a World Cup qualifier in 1977 (which the then Eagles won 4-0); and of course against Algeria in the 1980 Nations Cup final (Lagos)

In that latter match (against Algeria) Odegbami was imperious for his country. Algerian full back Krouchi, was reduced to rubble as Odegbami turned on his phenomenal skills, especially in the first half. Apart from scoring two goals in that half, Odegbami adroitly created at least three other clear scoring chances for the late Muda Lawal. All squandered. But at least Nigeria won 3-0 in the end.

Does South Africa have such outstanding fantastic footballers? A country's best players can often be seen to the fore during that nation's finest hour - for example when Holland won the European Championship in 1988 the world witnessed confirmation that Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten were indeed world class.

South Africa's best moment came in 1996 when the country won the Africa Cup of Nations finals with excellent players like Doctor Khumalo, Shoes Moshoeu Shaun Bartlett and Mark Fish showing their prowess. Moshoeu was probably the most outstanding during this tournament.

Right now South Africa has prominent players like Benni McCarthy (though aging and hardly a regular choice at Blackburn in England as I write) Steven Pienaar has also been doing well, and Teko Modise is often dubbed the outstanding player locally in the South African league. None of these players however with the greatest respect, can hold a candle to the likes of Odegbami, or Adokiye Amiesiemaka or even Etim "Maradona" Esin or Austin Okocha

Those who witnessed Segun Odegbami at his prime would easily remember the incredible respect footballers all over the continent had for him during his playing career; watching him with awe as he juggled the ball, dribbled, feinted this way and that and embarked on his superb runs down the right flank. What a player!!!


  1. Yes, Odegbami was indeed an extraordinary footballer. Don't forget he was originally a center forward who was converted to right winger by Father Tiko. The mistake Tiko made was not putting Odegbami back in the center forward after Thompson Usiyan migrated to USA. Babaotu could have played 7, while Uncle Sege wrecks his havoc more centrally

  2. Indeed those of us old enough to have seen Chief Segun Odegbami at his peak - fantastic skills anchored on great speed of thought and movement - realise how lucky we were