Good morning everyone.
I couldn’t resist sharing this. It’s @TheOddSolace’s post match thoughts from the Enyimba vs Zamalek game.
The transience of form has been peddled as fact to the point of cliche. It may be whimsical and temporary, but class is permanent; Samson lost his locks, and strength, in a moment of negligence, but dealt a more resounding death blow at his demise. Without a win in four league games, the Aba giants hoped to reverse the trend in the Champions League, to assert their enduring class. However, to pursue the Biblical analogy, Enyimba are perhaps guilty of failing to realise at what point the Philistines set upon them.
When Zamalek came calling, the People’s Elephant could not quite rouse itself as of old. The two-time African champions are respected on the continent for the consecutive triumphs of 2003 and 2004, but are now guilty of dining out on it somewhat. The latest defeat at the hands of the White Knights, and nominally on home turf, may serve as the final act of demystification, Delilah beckoning the Philistines into the room with shocks of hair in her lap.
Enyimba are guilty now of having a perception larger than their reality. The dynasty never came, the wins of the mid-noughties were never built upon. Whisper it quietly, but the club grew complacent, lapsing into the sedentary comfort of being the first (and, to date, only) Nigerian club to get to the top of the continental mountain. Where there was no stone unturned, there is now a willingness to make do.
Nothing encapsulates this quite as snugly as a sodden Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, sparsely populated and hollow, as a home ground for the reigning league champions. Not the most fluent, even surface in the best weather, it was at times a complete mudbath on Sunday. It certainly proved inimical to proper football, and was slightly ironic: it is precisely for the reason of poor drainage in inclement weather that the Enyimba International Stadium is being re-laid. It begs the question: why undertake a renovation without a timeline for completion?
In any case, Zamalek were quickly into the lead inside 10 minutes, predictably via a header, given the conditions. Egypt international Bassem Morsy struck on eight minutes, but it was admirable that the visitors first worked the ball through their midfield zone, where they had a 3v2 advantage, before shifting out wide. Also, rather than immediately hoof into the box, there was a check back to impact the position of the Enyimba defence and exploit the spacing error in the centre between Chinedu Udoji and Emmanuel Anyanwu.
It was proof that, even in a practical bog, quality could still rise to the top. It also illustrated one of the key differences between both teams: whereas the visitors were calm and secure – they restricted the People’s Elephant to low-quality shots, but only gave up one actual chance in the game – Enyimba were frenzied and imprecise, attempting a whopping 32 crosses, a huge majority of which were inaccurate. The home side were over-eager to go direct at some points, when perhaps seeking a better angle or a less loopy trajectory might have served.
For all their dominance of possession and territory, Paul Aigbogun side never really looked like they were on the verge of a breakthrough. The scoreline may have been an inaccurate portrayal of the balance of play, but not deserving to lose is one thing. Deserving to win is a whole other matter, and aside trialing every forward player in the matchday squad, there was little from the bench to suggest the issue was being forced.
Indeed, the choice of personnel was less worrisome than the spatial distribution issues in attack. In those conditions, and with directness a necessity, the importance of winning second-balls is impossible to overstate. To facilitate this, the forwards needed to spaced out evenly across the attacking third, facilitating better access to the ball when it breaks loose. However, the Enyimba attack seemed set up to ad-lib their way through the game.
Competition top-scorer Mfon Udoh was ineffective on the day, unable to escape the attentions of the solid Hamada Tolba, and was withdrawn. Christian Pyagbara once again failed to live up to the reputation that precedes him, while Ifeanyi Onuigbo, debuting on the continent for Enyimba, was typically full of bustle and little else. He also missed the one real chance of the game for the Peoples’ Elephant, volleying wide after cushioning the ball on his chest.
The substitutions were broadly like for like, and it is remarkable that six months into his tenure as coach, Aigbogun still appears unsure what his first-choice strike pairing is. There is a sense though that the club is long on numbers but short on outright quality, having amassed a group of players all on the same level of ability; this goes back to the stasis that has enveloped Nigeria’s most successful club, a lack of planning and strategy so completely at variance with the way the teams of 2003 and 2004 were built.
As it stands, having waited so long to return to the high table, Enyimba are potentially one more loss away from being excused. They travel to South Africa in nine days, needing to get some kind of result against runaway group leaders Mamelodi Sundowns. A loss there may see the pressure ratchet up on Aigbogun, a coach over whom doubts continue to linger. While his errors are apparent and disappointing to observe, the issues run deeper.
Fish, as the saying goes, rots from the head.