By Ori Martins
Obviously, Nigerians of younger generation who started watching football following Super Eagles double header achievements in 1994 (first ever World Cup qualification and second victory at Nations Cup), may not be very conversant with the name Mathematical Segun Odegbami. Oh My God!!!
Odegbami, stands as the best right winger Nigeria has ever produced. He had 46 caps for Nigeria and scored sensational 21 goals. This has remained unequaled as Finidi George who came close in comparison played 60 games for the country and struggled to find the net five times. You can see the huge gap even when the latter had the rare privilege of having European experience as a UEFA Champions League winner with Ajax.
Colourful, inspiring, workaholic and very entertaining, Odegbami started in October and also ended up in October. He made his debut for the national team on October 30, 1976 and saw his last action on October 30, 1981 – both were World Cup qualifiers. The first was a resounding 6 – 2 win against Sierra Leone en route the 1978 Argentina World Cup Finals while the second was a disappointing 0 – 2 loss to Algeria in a Spain 1982 World Cup Finals. Incidentally both games took place at the National Stadium Lagos.
In spite of his mesmerizing skills, amazing football control and superb goal scoring abilities, Odegbami represented Nigeria only in two Nations Cup Finals in Ghana 1978 and Nigeria 1980. In both instances he distinguished himself as a great player with with qualifies and fantastic touches.
Therefore, it was not shocking that he was among the highest goal scorers in 1978 Nations Cup and second overall best of the tournament.
Without any doubt, it was in 1980 in Lagos that Odegbami proved himself a football jewell. His flashes, dribble moves and runs, excellent crosses and beautiful goals from the right wing absolutely marked him out as the hero of the 1980 Nations Cup. His two memorable goals out of the three on the final against Desert Warriors of Algeria, earned Nigeria her first ever Nations Cup gold medal. In fact, it was Odegbami’s finest moment. Though he was not the captain, he was the crown of the team at that moment.
While Odegbami’s national team feats sparkled, his days in his IICC Shooting Stars equally blossomed. He guided his club to Federation Cup and Premier League glories. But most importantly, he inspired the club to apex glory of African soccer when they lifted the 1976 edition of the African Winners Cup against almighty Tonnere Kalala of Cameroon.
However, Odegbami had his fair share of failures, regrets and football absurdities. First, in 1977, in the dramatized semi final encounter versus Rangers of Enugu, in the Winners Cup, the return leg decided in Kaduna, ended in penalty shoot out and Odegbami missed to give Rangers the day. Second, Odegbami never played in the World Cup Finals, never lifted the CAF Champions League, and was never named African Footballer of the Year. He started on a very wonderful note but almost ended in diaster. His last game for Nigeria on October 30, 1981 was loss – that ended his dream of going to the World Cup., and his last outing for IICC also was a defeat to Zamalek of Egypt – that denied him lifting the CAF Champions League.
Yet CAF and Nigeria recognize Odegbami as a great player in the continent. And so, the late axe commentator, Ernest Okonkwo nicknamed Odegbami “Mathematical”. Foremost sports diarist, Kunle Solaja called him “The best right winger Nigeria has ever produced”, while sports and general knowledge encyclopedia Emeka Obasi says Odegbami was always always beautifully balanced with the ball.
Happy birthday Mathematical Segun Odegbami!!!