Muda Lawal: Remembering Nigeria’s First Football Ambassador

BY KUNLE SOLAJA

This Thursday July 6, it is 26 years since Muda Lawal, one of the best midfielders that ever graced the football turfs of Africa passed on.

His national team career spanned from January 22, 1975 in a 1-0 defeat of Cameroon in Lagos to August 18, 1985 when Zambia beat Nigeria 1-0 in Lusaka.

Until November 14, 2011 when Joseph Yobo featured in a 2-0 defeat of Zambia in Kaduna, Muda for decades remained the most capped national team player in Nigeria. As at his last game, he had 86 appearances and also the longest on the field as he was only substituted five times in the 86 matches he played for Nigeria.

Since his debut, the first time he was not on the starting line-up was the October 30, 1976 World Cup qualifiers with Sierra Leone when Enugu Rangers’ Christian Madu was chosen ahead of him, making Muda, a second half substitute of the 6-2 defeat of Sierra Leone.

For the records, Sports Village Square recalls that this was the match in which the prolific Segun Odegbami scored the first of his 21 goals for Nigeria.

The other four times Muda was either substituted or came in for other players were in the March 10,1978 Africa Cup of Nations goalless encounter with Zambia in Accra; the 1-0 defeat of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) in a friendly match on July 18, 1981 – a game that was almost disrupted by protesting athletes over the police killing of Dele Udoh; the September 26, 1981 friendly game with Uganda which Nigeria lost by a lone goal and the February 11, 1984 Olympic Games qualifying match with Morocco in Benin City.

For years since 1976, Muda Lawal was a recurring name in the final competitions of the Africa Cup of Nations till that of Egypt 1986 which Nigeria missed following a last minute goal with which Zambia eliminated Nigeria in Lusaka the previous year. It was Muda Lawal’s final international match.

For that accomplishment of playing five consecutive Africa Cup of Nations finals and featuring without ever being substituted in 24 straight games, Muda Lawal was in 2004 posthumously awarded the CAF Order of Merit in Silver.

That added to the two Nigerian national awards that he got in his life time. Along with the other members of the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations winning squad, Muda was bestowed with the national award of Member of Order of the Niger (MON).

At the instance of Africa’s First Pillar of Sports, Bashorun MKO Abiola, Muda Lawal on March 14, 1991 became the first Nigerian footballer to be officially designated as Nigeria’s Soccer Ambassador.

The honour went with the national award of Order of the Niger (OON). Sadly, he died barely three months after the award. But he is better remembered for his contributions to football in Nigeria.

With a youthful face always adorned with an appealing smile, Muda was a talented player that switched from striking position to the midfield.

When in 1979 he switched to the striking position in the then IICC, he scored 17 goals in the Nigerian National League. But there was something intriguing about his goals.

Sports Village Square observed that they were usually the last for the teams he played for!

His first Africa Cup of Nations goal was in 1976 against Guinea. But the goal that drew the best applause was the winner against Egypt in a classification duel of the 1976 tournament.

It was a magnificent solo effort and back-breaking exploit against the Egyptians in the battle for the third place position of the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations.

In the 85th minute of the game, score-line stood at 2-2 and there was intense Egyptian pressure on Nigeria for a possible winning goal.

Apparently to douse tension on his defence, Joseph Erico, the Nigerian goalkeeper, sent a long kick to Muda Lawal who was lurking half way near the left line.

Like lightening, the wing half –turned attacker tapped the ball over a challenging Egypt’s Ibrahim Youssef and raced away.

Exhibiting superb ball control, coolness and magnificent footwork, Muda set the on-rushing Egyptian goalkeeper, El-Sharet Sharaf, to the wrong way, and not losing a step, he outwitted the left half-back, Ali Hassan and finally slotted the ball beyond the desperate stretched legs of right back, Sallah Sallah who was then guarding the goal mouth.

What a beautiful goal that gave Nigeria a 3-2 win. It was Muda Lawal’s first continental honour. Later in 1976, he was a member of the African Winners’ Cup successful squad of the IICC Shooting Stars.

Another third-place medal with Nigeria in the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations before a winning medal of 1980 all added to the laurels of Muda Lawal.