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Friday, April 21, 2017

AFRICAN LEGEND: ADEPOJU

An unfussy, no-frills midfielder with a spring in his step and goals on the brain, Goal profile one of Nigeria's true footballing greats


COMMENT By Solace Chukwu

While not the flashiest, or even necessarily the most prolific, one cannot begrudge former Real Madrid man Mutiu Adepoju a place as one of the legends of Nigerian and African football.
He would come to be called 'The Headmaster', for his prowess in the air, and was a pioneer for Nigerian players in Spain in the early 90s, a league which was not considered one of the  traditionally attractive ports of call.
This week, ahead of Sunday's Clasico,
Goal celebrates the career of Adepoju, who is presently a worldwide La Liga Ambassador.


THE PLAYER
It was at the 1989 under-20 World Cup in Saudi Arabia that Adepoju glimpsed the limelight for the last time. That side, and that campaign, became famous for the “Dammam Miracle”: Nigeria’s remarkable comeback from four goals down with 30 minutes to play in the quarter final.
Adepoju scored three times in Saudi Arabia, including a brace in the semi-final defeat of the United States, en route to a 2-0 loss in the final to Portugal.
Notable for his calmness in possession and his eye for goal, it is thoroughly surprising that, for his renowned heading ability, he stands at just under six feet tall. He certainly possessed a remarkable spring, and is part of an elite group of players who have scored at both the Africa Cup of Nations as well as the World Cup.

CLUB HONOURS
A move to Real Madrid is considered a dream for very young player, but ultimately Adepoju never made a senior appearance for Los Merengues . In 1992, he traded Madrid for Cantabria, joining Racing Santander, then in the second division.
He was an instant hit, scoring 10 times for the Highlanders as they gained promotion to La Liga via a promotion play-off against Espanyol.
Adepoju’s time with the club, spanning four seasons, coincided with the club’s second longest ever run in Spain’s top flight. On the whole, he averaged a goal every five games (a remarkable return for a central midfielder), amassing over a 100 appearances for Racing. By the time the club plunged back into the lower division, Adepoju was long gone.
He also appeared in La Liga for Real Sociedad, and made 88 appearances over four seasons for the Basque outfit.
COUNTRY HONOURS
Adepoju’s international career came to be associated with an impressive longevity, as he made his senior debut barely a year after that run to the final of the 1989 World Youth Championship. He played for the Super Eagles right up to the 2002 World Cup.
He was a member of the Nigeria sides which won third place at the Africa Cup of Nations in 1992 (he headed in the opener in the 2-1 semi-final loss to archrivals Ghana) before claiming the big prize two years later in Tunisia. That Nigeria side is considered the greatest in its history, and Adepoju more than pulled his own weight, scoring in the 3-0 opening victory over Gabon.
Adepoju was a part of three World Cup squads for Nigeria, a distinction he shares with the like of Jay-Jay Okocha, Vincent Enyeama and Joseph Yobo.

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