Breakfast with Segun Odegbami

(c) BBC    (c) BBC    (c) BBC

I should start by making it clear that I did not have breakfast with Mathematical (as he is often called) in terms of sitting with him, but I had breakfast in the same hotel and at about the same time — and had the opportunity of spending a few seconds picking his brain.

Segun Odegbami needs no introduction. Let me allow Wikipedia and to speak about him:

Patrick Olusegun Odegbami, often shortened to Segun Odegbami (born August 27, 1952 in Lagos) was a Nigerian football forward, who was brought up in the northern city of Jos. He won 46 caps and scored 23 goals for his country, and guided Nigeria to its first African Nations title at the 1980 African Nations Cup.

Nicknamed Mathematical, he was famous for his skill on the ball, speed and precision of his crosses from the right wing. He played for IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan his entire career, from 1970 to 1984. His last game was the 1984 African Champions Cup final defeat to Zamalek of Egypt. His younger brother, Wole Odegbami, is also a former national team player.

Probably the greatest winger Nigeria has ever produced and tall for a winger, he was always deadly with his head when he went up for crosses, but he is best remembered for his sublime dribbling ability. Segun combined a career as a football player with his Engineering studies at the Ibadan Polytechnic. He retired in 1984, and became a member of the IICC coaching crew whilst also maintaining a weekly column with The Guardian, which earned him the nickmane Grammatical. He was a TV sports commentator…

I skipped breakfast over the last few days but stepped into the Tahir Guest Palace restaurant in Kano this morning to tell my colleagues that it was about time for our first appointment. After a few words of persuasion, I agreed to grab a bite and was also particularly attracted to the dodo that was starring at me from the plate pushed towards me. I sat down and could not help noticing him. Looking harmless and having a friendly conversation with two gentlemen, you could not have guessed that it was Segun Odegbami. Though I hardly give special attention to popular faces, I couldn’t help explaining to my two Kenyan colleagues that the person on the adjacent table was a star — actually a shinning star!

I stopped at the door and returned to his table. He is obviously used to such gestures because when the words escaped from my mouth, he smiled and said something that my brain interpreted as thanks. I caught myself saying, “I’m such a big fan and I must thank you for providing inspiration for young Nigerians, at least.” He smiled as if to say he had more inspiration to give… I asked him a simple question: “What one thing helped you as a young person to prepare for the amazing career and life that you now enjoy.” He didn’t wait for me to finish speaking when he said, belief. I sighed. He hit the nail on the head! Belief helps sum up the various values and indices that can make a young man whose football career was too promising to combine the same with such an evident intellectual balance — you need to read his articles to appreciate his depth and ability to connect ideas with reality.

I asked him that question because I knew it was a one-time opportunity with a man whose name certainly opens doors for him — and commands respect too! Belief: belief in one’s self, in your cause of choice, belief in the system where you are planted, belief in others, even belief in the power of belief! In it’s African Legends report of August 12, 2003, the BBC said: Nicknamed ‘Mathematical’ for his exquisite skills, pace and accuracy in front of goal, Nigeria’s Segun Odegbami is one of Africa’s all-time greats. When such a man tells you that something is important, then you should at least take note. Thanks, mathematical for the time and wise word!

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