The Pepsi Lad They Call 'Igwe'

In Nigerian football circles, the mere mention of the name "Igwe" brings to memory the mesmerizing presence and sublime skills of Thierry Henry, the Arsenal captain in the English premiership. The man Henry has so mesmerized the average Nigerian football follower by his scintillating displays on the field of play every passing week that soccer followers, in adulation, invented the title and crowned Henry the ubiquitous "Igwe". Therefore, it is now common place, whenever there is a premiership game involving Arsenal, for fans to chorus "Igweee!!!" to every deft touch on the ball by this most loved French international, Thierry Henry. To be sure, Igwe is a title given to red cap chiefs in Igboland.
It was therefore with a touch of apprehension that one was jolted out of personal reverie at the Onikan Stadium Lagos last Saturday afternoon when the grand finale of the Pepsi Football Academy 4th U-16 International Football Competition took place.

A few matches had been played earlier in the day and by the time the final between Pepsi Academy (West) and The Football College, Orile Imo got underway; one had become a little drowsy having followed proceedings from early morning, all the time sitting high up in the stands. I decided to allow myself the luxury of a snap shut-eye. But that was never to be. Hardly had the eye lids come together in a romantic embrace did the entire stadium reverberate in shouts of "Igwee"! Igwe!! Igwe!!!" I was momentarily transported in time to England where I am yet to physically set foot. In my dozing splendor, I actually imagined I was seated in the magical brand new Emirates Stadium of Arsenal FC watching the supremely talented Thierry Henry on display.

Eyes finally forced open by the repeatedly un-English chanting all around me in the stands, I was quick to comprehend that far from the Emirates stadium, I was still ensconced in the harsh comfort of the Onikan Stadium, still very much part of the closing day of the Pepsi Academy 4th U-16 International Football Competition.
But, a pleasant surprise awaited all spectators. The chants and shouts of "Igwe!!!" that rudely brought me back from the land of dreams was not a fluke. In the midst of the players of the Pepsi Football Academy West, in the centre forward position, was a lad built much in the same gait as Henry, who was giving the opposing defenders daylight nightmares.

Sporting the jersey number 12, the youngster whom I later found out to be Nnamdi Oduamadi was a true delight to watch. His moves, his deft touches on the ball and general mannerism as a footballer detracts nothing from the accomplished denouement of the master himself. No wonder that his every move and every touch on the ball elicited the reverberating chorus of "Igwe!!!" from among the crowd, made up of both fellow students of the Pepsi Football Academy and other football supporters and spectators.

It was not any bit of a surprise that the only goal of the match that eventually gave the trophy to his side was scored by Nnamdi Oduamadi. The crowning glory was when he also emerged the highest goal scorer of the competition with six goals and presented with a trophy besides the giant competition trophy his team received.

Answering questions later, Oduamadi explained that the name Igwe his mates call him on the pitch did not come about by mistake. He said Thierry Henry is one player he respects a lot and tries to pattern his play after as he plays in the same position as he, "In fact, he is my role model." Suffice to say that Nnamdi really patterns well after the great Henry.

Nnamdi went on to explain that he is a member of the national Golden Eaglets U-17 team that is currently in camp in preparation for the African qualifiers for the FIFA championship and said he got the exposure and experience that qualified him for consideration for a place in the Golden Eaglets through his training with Pepsi Football Academy. He calls on the government to come in and assist Pepsi in its avowed mission to develop youth football in the country so that more youngsters like him will have a chance to develop their talent.
An ex-student of Jubilee Model Grammar School, Surulere, Nnamdi says football runs in their family, from father to sons, and hopes to play professional football in Europe one day, of course in the club of his icon, Arsenal, or Real Madrid.
Nnamdi who took time off from the national U-17 side to play in the Pepsi U-16 International competition declares he is headed back to camp directly. One hopes the Wengers, Capellos, and Mourinhos of this world sent in scouts to the Pepsi U-16 International Competition that ran for one week in Lagos, to harvest the likes of Nnamdi, the budding stars of tomorrow.

August 2006