“Oh, you went platinum? Yeah, that’s nice. Now let me see you do the same thing twice. Three times, four times, then a couple of mo’ times”. In the 2007 DJ Premier produced “Classic” starring fellow icons Kanye West, Rakim and KRS One, Queens born Nas addressed what he felt true greatness was. To him, an artiste going platinum (selling a million copy of his/her records) was no easy feat and was nice to say the very least. But true greatness, he thought, was being able to appeal to millions of fans over and over again. The reference transcends the music industry and could well cut across other areas of life. What sets the Serena Williams, the LeBron James, the Googles and the HBOs apart from most of peers is the ability to achieve excellence twice, three times, four times then a couple of mo’ times.
Not without their flaws, the Saints Army has been head and shoulders above their peers over the last three years. The word excellence has defined every single move they’ve made since the club’s inception. From the sealing of sponsorship activations, to the unveiling of jerseys, right down to how smoothly the club’s operations run behind the scenes, they’ve set the pace for others to follow. However, despite all these, the most impressive part of the Army’s story thus far has been the translation of the excellence off the pitch to championships on the pitch, court, tracks and ropes (yes, ropes, they are the reigning Tug of War champions).
Being a marketing force and having a large fan-base doesn’t always translate to success. The Dallas Cowboys, owned by marketing genius Jerry Jones has been the world’s most valuable sports team in the world but are without a Super Bowl appearance in two decades. Manchester United, who are weeks away from sealing a partnership deal with Uranus to be the club’s official planet, has done exceptionally well in marketing the club but their woes on the pitch since 2013 has been obvious (although there has been a recent change in fortunes). Saints, while obviously eons away from the levels of both the Cowboys and Manchester United, have, in their own world, struck a balance between being a huge success off the pitch and being juggernauts on it.
Saints achieved history on the 18th of December, 2016 when they beat Royals FC 4-3 on penalties to become the inaugural winners of the SociaLiga Male Football League. In a game where they had come in as rare underdogs after losing 2-0 to Royals earlier in the season, they showed resilience after going 1-0 in the first half to level things up in the second half. If any game were to epitomize the philosophy of their tactics, it really was the final. They were without their top goal scorer and arguably best player, Abdulhakim Osumah and star midfielder, Kunle Ibaru was having a very rare somewhat average day before being substituted. With a goal down, Opeyemi Tokoya, retired manager of the Saints, went for more skillful players who would attack down the flanks rather than through the middle in a bid to stretch the Royals defense. The Saints attackers were fast, skillful and relatively short. They were prepared to risk losing most of the physical battles against the Royals and it paid off. Emeka Ikondu ran the show for the Army as they rallied back to draw the game level through Daniel Aguma to send the game to extra time and then winning on penalties.
The tale of their triumph in the finals is everywhere (trust them to post it on all their Social Media pages) but one tale that captures the excellence the club stands for is perhaps, one only few know. Saints came into the final Double Matchday of the 2016 season with the Island Conference title already in the bag. Their first opponent of the day were the Reds FC who got dispatched 5-0 in what is the joint biggest victory by any club in SociaLiga history (recently matched by Raineri Ghosts against All Black). Up next on the day, rivals Knights FC. With Saints on 19pts and Knights on 14pt, the fixture, the last for both teams in the regular season, was effectively a dead rubber. Saints, with the finals in mind, opted to rest some of their key players. They went 2-0 up in the first half in a game they had total control of. Knights pulled one back and Saints struck again to make it 3-1. At this point, The Army became a little complacent and began to showboat. They gradually lost control of the game and Knights took advantage of this, scoring twice as the game ended 3-3. Then manager, Opeyemi Tokoya reportedly lost his cool about the team’s performance and threatened to fine the players for their lack of discipline. It may have been a dead rubber game, but the idea of giving less than a 100% is one the club always set out to eliminate.
This season, they’ve faced stiffer challenges than they did last year. Opeyemi Tokoya, who coached them to two TPL titles and their 2016 SociaLiga League title stepped down in January with star striker Abdulhakim Osumah, who has ended his playing career at the club, taking over. In similar fashion, Abdulhakim Osumah stepped down from his position as manager in June with defender, Bishi Abdulwaheed taking over: their 4th managerial appointment in 13 months. However, despite these, they’ve continued to excel. Their 2-0 loss to Royals on Match Day 2 of last season (12th of June, 2016) was the last time they lost a league game. They went 8 league games unbeaten to lift last year’s title and have begun this season with a 5-league game unbeaten run (13 League games in total and 14 in all competitions). On Saturday, they face Cubs FC who are currently on an unbeaten run of their own in what will be a top of the Island Conference table clash. They also face Citizens whom they’ve never beaten in the league. There will be an enormous pressure on them on Saturday and indeed, the rest of the season. It remains to be seen if they can survive being in the crosshairs of nine different teams. It’s no news that everyone wants to come for your crown when you’ve been the best twice, three times, four times and a couple of ‘mo times.
Originally posted on The 12th Player
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