15 April 2007

Nigeria: Late Mudashiru Babatunde Lawal

Nigeria's most capped player, the late Mudashiru Babatunde Lawal was the first African player to appear in five consecutive Nations Cup finals from 1976 to 1984. Skillful, tireless, dedicated and committed, Muda was popularly called the Midfield Maestro. The number 4 shirt of the Eagles was Muda's for 11 years. And were it not for a brief period in 1983 when he was out of favour, he could have probably attained the ultimated century of caps for his country.

Born June 8, 1954 Muda Lawal was an accomplished footballer. He guided Nigeria to its first African Nations title, at the 1980 African Nations Cup. I remember a magazine interview in 1988 where he recounted his experience in the national team. Muda described the 1980 Nations Cup triumph as the pinnacle of his football career. He was the pivot of the team that included Christian Chukwu, Alloy Ategbu, Segun Odegbami, Godwin Odiye, Sam Ojebode and Felix Owolabi among others. The team also competed at the Summer Olympics the same year.

Muda said that on the eve of the final against Algeria, Eagles Brazilian coach, Otto Gloria took him on a ride in his Volkswagen Beetle car, and on the course of their discussion, Gloria told him, somewhat prophetically, that he was pinning down his hopes on him (Muda) to unlock the Desert Warriors. The Eagles tactician had

envisaged a big tussle in the midfield between Muda Lawal and Algeria's Lekhdar Belloumi. Muda promised the Brazilian that he would not let him down.

And on the occasion, it was Muda who set up Odegbami to open scoring and later delivered a sucker punch to set the Eagles on the victory course.

Interestingly, Muda's football talents were discovered after he was spotted playing "set" while on an errand to buy petrol for his boss in Lagos, where he worked as a mechanic.

He eventually made his national team debut in a friendly against Cameroon, in January 1975 when newly appointed Eagles coach Father Tiko was rebuilding the squad ahead of the 1976 African Cup of Nations in Ethiopia. The same year he joined IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan, where he would play for, many years. He helped Shooting Stars to become the first Nigerian team to clinch an African title, by winning the African Cup Winners Cup. IICC had lost the Nigerian Cup final against Rangers the previous season, but as Rangers also had won the league, Shooting were allowed to play in the Cup Winners Cup.

During the 1976 Nations Cup in Ethiopia, Muda scored twice in six games at the African Nations Cup. One of his most memorable goals ever was a magnificent solo effort against Egypt in the battle for third place honours, which all who were privileged to see claim is one of the greatest goals ever scored in the finals of an Nations Cup competition.

In 1978, he started all four games in the African Nations Cup in Ghana. The Green Eagles went out after losing against Uganda in the semi-final.

Still in the same competition, Muda as captain of the Eagles couldn't repeat the success of two years earlier, as Nigeria crashed out in the group stage at the 1982 edition.

Muda Lawal also played every minute of the African Nations Cup in Ivory Coast in 1984, as the Eagles finished second after losing to Cameroon in the final. Although not a prolific scorer, he scored with a fabulous low shot in the final.

He played his last international match was an African Nations Cup qualifier against Zambia on August 18, 1985 after the Eagles were knocked out of contention, no thanks to NFA's maladministration.

Back in the 1970's and 1980's, when players were loyal to their clubs, Muda was one of the first to leave IICC and move to play for Stationery Stores, but through no design of his own. After all, on the darkest day in the club's history up to that time, the club had been ordered disbanded by the military governor of the then Oyo State, for having lost the then African Champions Cup 1984 final to Zamalek of Egypt 3-1 on aggregate. Fans of "Up S'ootin'", not known to suffer defectors gladly, however showed remarkable love for Muda. Whenever the Stationery Stores visited the Liberty Stadium, Oluyole fans always had a warm welcome for Muda.

He however returned to IICC in 1989 as a player/assistant coach after spending three seasons with the defunct Abiola Babes of Abeokuta, where he won the FA Cup twice.

He played out his career in Shooting Stars, until he slumped and died in his home after he returned from training in 1991.

Muda was buried in Ibadan amidst widespread mourning. The former Ashero Stadium in Abeokuta was named after him. As a member of Nigeria's famous 1980 Nations Cup winning squad, he was honoured by the then President Shehu Shagari with the award of Member of the Order of the Niger, M.O.N.

late Mudashiru Babatunde Lawal

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