Guinness moves for the hearts of Nigerian football fans.

Nigerians are mad about football, especially premiership football. It has been that way for many years, and only now is the potential of that kind of support beginning to get attention from international brands. Just like the STAR brand has carved a niche for itself in music promotion with its STAR Mega Jam, Guinness has also stepped into the breach as regards football. Last year, they launched the Guinness VIP online football community, then on June 1st, they bankrolled a friendly between the Super Eagles and Argentina, which the Eagles won 4-1. On Monday 19th September at Eko Hotel, they organised ‘an evening with’ two former footballers who have very distinguised careers behind them: Roy Keane and Marcel Desailly.

As a Manchester United fan, it was a great joy to see ‘Keano’ up close, but as a football fan, one couldn’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia about the careers of both players. Before they came onstage, a few highlights of their time as players were shown on the big screen. It is easy to forget just how good they both were in their prime. Keane was United’s driving force for a decade, helping them to dominate the Premiership, and Marcel Desailly won everything there was to win as a player, with AC Milan and the French national team.

Both played for Manchester United and Chelsea, and it was a nice touch by the organisers to have this event the day after a very exciting game between their former clubs at Old Trafford. It was interesting to see Marcel Desailly prefer to stand up for the duration of the interactions.

Desailly talked about his desire to be a national team coach, preferring it to the constant pressure of club management. After failing in his bid to become the coach of the Black Stars of Ghana (he was born in Ghana), he said ‘my time will come’. Keane of course is former manager of Sunderland and Ipswich, and while he noted that there is a life after football, he missed the madness of coaching.

Neither man believed that players were to blame for their high transfer fees and wages, because that is the way the market is. Desailly noted that the early exposure of young players to a lot of money makes them more difficult to handle than players of earlier times. I couldn’t help but wonder: if both men were at their peak form right now, how much would they be valued on the transfer market?

A couple of clips were played from the United v Chelsea game at Old Trafford. Keane praised Chelsea’s positivity, but said that in the end, only the result really mattered, and that was where Ferguson’s teams excelled. He was supportive of Fernando Torres, making the observation that had Chelsea won the game, there would have been less focus on his miss. Marcel’s thoughts were that he was low on confidence, like Shevchenko before him, and that he needs the right tactical set-up in which to express himself.

Some questions took us down memory lane. Keane spoke about how leaving Manchester United hurt him, with his final conversation lasting just ten minutes. He also admitted that because he always played the game on the edge, it contributed to his injuries, and also meant he wasn’t always the best role model. A guiding principle of his playing style was to ‘keep things simple’, passed on to him by Brian Clough who coached him at Nottingham Forest, leaving the fancy stuff to others. He said his closeness to the manager was exaggerated, as he was just like any other player. When asked what if he would rather be a player or a coach, he said the difference was like chalk and cheese. He would play forever if he could, because coaching is so hard!

Marcel Desailly recounted how settling in England was more difficult than he thought, because of big strikers like Alan Shearer who were always elbowing, pushing and holding. He is a little pessimistic about the growth of the game on the continent, due to lack of infrastructure which made a lot of african players move to other countries, but pledged to continue working to improve this.

All told, it was an enjoyable evening organised by Guinness, and further confirmation of their commitment to bring football greatness to an eager Nigerian market. Long may it continue.

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