Christmas has always been a time when people take the much desired break from work, the drudgery of everyday hustle and bustle especially if you lived in a city like Lagos and just generally take it easy, legs off the pedal for once and hung in a leisurely manner.
Interestingly, Lagos also empties in that period, with those left wishing that the city could be like this always, free of all the snarling and snagging traffic, both vehicular and human.
In spite of the constant battles of trying to keep the wolves from the door, Xmas is still looked forward to with anticipation and one of the most enchanting signs of the season is the carols. When Boney M’s variant, which was quite popular back in the day wafts through, you knew the Yuletide was finally around.
Across the football world right now leagues are on break or on the verge of doing so, the exception being English Premier League which has refused to accept the winter break.
The Xmas season affords footballers the opportunity to spend time with their families, away from the task of playing matches weekly or sometimes twice weekly.
But in Nigeria, many players will not have the luxury of enjoying Xmas with their families, away from the pitches. With CHAN less than three weeks away, Eagles players cannot afford to rest. They are currently in camp in Abuja being taking through their paces by Coach Stephen Keshi. This is the first time Nigeria will be taking part in CHAN, having failed to qualify for the two previous editions. CHAN is a CAF competition for players based on the continent and kicks off on January 11 in South Africa.
For these players, spending time with their families is out of the question, and coming from a prolonged season which did not end on schedule as usual, the expectation is for them to take a break. But the much needed break will not be a possibility given the task ahead. Interestingly, the players don’t seem to take it too much to heart that they will be working all through the Christmas period.
“Not taking a break at Christmas is not a new thing for me; moreover as you know we are preparing for a tournament so I am not expecting the coach to give us any days off,” says home-based Eagles captain Chigozie Agbim.
“The important thing for us right is to concentrate fully on the CHAN and put celebration on hold for now. Beside we will have our Xmas in camp; the players will have a form of get together and that is celebrating the Xmas also. Whether we do it with our families is no big deal.”
Ike Shorunmu echoes the same sentiment, saying he has not had a Christmas break for five or six years.
“I’m used to it from when I was playing; anytime we find ourselves being called upon we just respond whether it is Xmas period or not is not important,” notes Super Eagles goalkeeper trainer Shorunmu.
“This is my job; a lot of people would relish the opportunity to do what I do, so I should even be grateful to God for the chance to serve my country. Christmas is just another period for us, and I can tell you I have not spent it with my family in the last five or six years.”
Interestingly, while the players themselves keep their hands on the plough, there are those around them who are not part of the action on the field but just provide important services. Even these people are not exempt.
Ben Alaiya is the Super Eagles spokesman and he says it is a the usual thing with them not to expect any break, adding however that it is not all work during the yuletide as the players still find time to celebrate.
“It is normal for us to spend Xmas in camp, it was the same thing last year, have you forgotten? In fact we travelled on New Year day last time. So it is not different this time, we are used to it,” explains Alaiya.
“But again like last year we are hopefully going to have a get together where everybody will have some wine and retire to their rooms later. The hotel organised a party for us last year and they may just do the same thing again.”
A former Eagles midfielder Waidi Akanni puts the icing on the cake.
“Yes it is Xmas period and the players in camp will not have the opportunity of spending it with their families but that is the nature of the job; they’re professionals who know what is at stake such that anytime duty calls they just answer regardless of whether it is holidays,” says Akanni.
“It is a call to serve the fatherland; it is a sacrifice they know they have to make. Besides if they do well in South Africa they know they’ll be rewarded. So that is an incentive to go all out for the trophy.”
By: Vincent Eboigbe