MUDA LAWAL: REMEMBERING NIGERIA’S FIRST FOOTBALL AMBASSADOR, 29 YEARS AFTER

BY KUNLE SOLAJA

This Monday 6 July, it is 29 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 lifetime. 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.

He remained the only one that was so ceremonially installed by a President in Office. The honour went with the national award of Order of the Niger (OON). That also made him the first Nigerian athlete to obtain two national awards. 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. He could also play in the defence as he was made to do in the 27 September 1977 World Cup duel with Tunisia in Tunis.

At the match, Coach Tiko instructed Muda to be the ‘policeman’ for rampaging Tunisian striker, Dhiab Tarek. This he did perfectly that the hitherto rampaging Tarek was a shadow of him self in the encounter that ended goalless.

Muda Lawal was a pain on Tunisia’s Tarek Dhiab’s neck

When in 1979 he switched to the striking position in the then IICC, he scored 17 goals in the Nigerian National League to be the season’s lead scorer.

It was that feat that prompted the national coach, Otto Gloria to ask Muda to play a striker role in the final match against Algeria at the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations in Lagos. He scored the final goal in Nigeria’s 3-0 triumph.