By Odolaye Aremu
“I be Muda, I be Welder. I no dey play 4 before, na Father Tiko put me for 4.
When he see say I dey good for 4, he come permanent me for 4”
If you never saw him play live, either for his soccer club IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan or the national team- The then Green Eagles, it’s an unpardonable infraction- the type that could haunt a curious mind till eternity. Close to missing the growing years of a child- it’s a grievous oversight for any decent parents to live with.
The above statement purportedly credited to the late soccer dynamo, was widely abused in Ibadan. It was nevertheless attributed to the one and only late Muda Lawal. Whether he delivered the crude statement or not; in itself, an acquired impairment in erudition to outlandishly denote his illiterate status. He was a classic genius on the soccer field.
He wore his Number 4 jersey with a fineness secondary only to his soccer skill. He was ruggedly handsome and bore a certain resemblance to the equally legendary Blackman Akeeb Kareem- the era’s folklore musician. His mustache was ever lush- and at different times contaminated, either with the thick coat of perspiration or the foam from the rich lather of Gulder- his premium lager beer of choice. Ever brimming with confidence for his relatively small frame. A lady killer by all means and a cheerful giver. He gave me an old jersey of his once, and I thought he gifted me with the universe! You see my friends….I grew up on a block where stars from various galaxies wantonly festered. They were flung far and wide- and entirely scattered around and about in a mile-radius within reasonable distance, Beverly Hills ought to be envious. Segun Odegbami, Tunde Bamidele, Muda, Dejo Fayemi, Dimeji Lawal, Funmilayo Ranco, Sunny Rosy, Dele Ojo, Yekini Tomori, Micho Ade and many more to count.
Muda’s special skill was his dominance in the midfield. I am talking of a time when the central midfielder was the true equivalent of a Point-guard in Basketball. The soccer field was his alone. He fed everyone the ball. He could slow down the pace and notch-up the tempo as he deemed fit. His ball control was something to behold. His sight, covering the field was beyond superb. Seemed this marvel was a “Ball Whisperer”, for no loose ball ever missed him.
To watch him completely numb an aerial ball midair was like watching a magician do the “Rabbit-trick”. Seemed he could counter the law of gravity as the soccer ball was concerned. I could still see him even now in a reel of vivid recall of the mind. He ran with his tongue slightly hanging out of his mouth, a dedicated hand covered at the wrist with a usually elastic fluffy white wristband. That hand bent at the wrist was a good indication of what foot he was going to either kick or trap the ball with. He surveyed the whole field in a quick sweep, like a veteran pickpocket getting ready to make a perfect move on a dumb mark. His eye contact with Segun Odegbami, Owolabi, Adegoke, Oyenuga or just about any available striker on the outside flanks snappily made. His body mechanics were cleverly designed to fake his outgoing messages. It’s the illusion of a tricky wind blowing one way, and the bunch of river reed tilting towards the opposite direction.
The physics of his body or his soccer acumen were all in a unique soccer brain and a pair of slightly bow-legs. Those legs gave him a gait that reeked of a reckless abandon- kids these days would nonsensically call a “Swagga.” Truly, his crablike locomotion was a huge soccer blessing in a crazy disguise.
He moved on the field in a way too daunting to capture in a layman’s prose- it’s all buried within the magical intonation of ABRACADRA- you blinked; you missed the move: you snoozed, you simply lose! His free-kicks or what they now term “set-pieces” were headaches for goalies back then. The closest player to play on Muda’s level in those heady days, and much later was Henry Nwosu. Henry, probably had a slight edge as an entertainer- he was a master dribbler! Muda was however super-efficient as he was all about business. Oddly as a workhorse, “Haji Shiru” was a very “neat” player. I couldn’t possibly have the slightest recall of him ever gaining any infraction on the field of play. He was the dude to also come off the field with a clean uniform, like you just didn’t watch him complete a gruesome 90 and some additional measly injury minutes. He cleanly disengaged himself in pitch tussles with a special show of hands raised to the sides, palms slightly facing the upward or downward positions- as if to assure the opponent that he meant no harm, hence his jersey mustn’t be roughened!
His smile was simply amazing. His face just as crazily appealing. He had an older boy on my block that followed him about like a loyal poodle. His room was just about a dedicated shrine to Muda Lawal. I envied Tunde Soneye to no end. But like everything else, even a full life must come to an end someday. A precocious kid must someday, somehow outgrow his adulation for a marvelous subject. It’s probably graceful that Muda died quite young- at just 37! His face unwrinkled, his small frame unbent to the rigors of old age and a very active life. Forever young, forever cool, forever unforgettable!
*Odolaye Aremu is a public affairs analyst.