He's back Ã¢ÂÂ Ethiopia manager Iffy Onuora on a one-armed driver, a dog-legged fixture list and a short-sighted lack of friendlies...
Hi there footy fans, greetings once again from warmer climes! From anyone who might have missed the last couple of weeks' reports from the frontline, IÃ¢ÂÂve had to turn my limited and definitely not multi-tasking mind to the subject of exams. Yes, in between plotting a path with the boys from Ethiopia, IÃ¢ÂÂve to complete my law exams and last week was the opening shot that should finish around June.
Anyone fearing for my welfare under such weight of work and expectancy, fear not: the powers that be here have been very kind. Preparation for our fast-looming March battle with Nigeria hasn't been disrupted with anything as taxing as a warm-up game or two. So while the great and the good of African football Ã¢ÂÂ Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria themselves Ã¢ÂÂ limbered up nicely with games across the globe, we merely watched them.
Now, adopting the laissez-faire approach to football has its merits at times. Say, for example, youÃ¢ÂÂre Pep Guardiola taking your erstwhile World's Greatest Team (Arsenal fans feel free at this point to rise and challenge this view) to play a charity match against an excitable group of under-9Ã¢ÂÂs. In this instance one could perhaps understand if Senor Guardiola wasnÃ¢ÂÂt on the occasion quite the hyperactive, tactic-tweaking coach of folklore. However for the rest of us football mortals, the time-honoured tradition of testing your team out against high quality opposition is, well, tried and tested.
For the record, Nigeria played against Sierra Leone in Lagos, and by my reckoning as I sat there shaking in the corner of my hotel room, appeared to have the quickest forward line ever committed to celluloid. I swear amongst the list of subs I saw the name Usain Bolt too. On the day they looked slick and enterprising even without the stellar names of Mikel, Enyeama and Martins to return.
Nigeria set about beating Sierra Leone 2-1
Peter Odemwingie did play but IÃ¢ÂÂm convinced he was trying to lull this observer at least into a false sense of security, by playing a little within himself. Trying to stop this bunch of turbo-sprung technicians is already taxing the Onuora brain: it wasnÃ¢ÂÂt the Law of the European Union keeping me awake for most of the successive nights. Never mind, at least I have the luxury of a couple of warm up games to try some players and tactics out beforehand. Oh wait, hang on...
Just to further shed light, the league here is on a kind of semi-break, or if you like, the break before the break! Confused? Good, allow me to shed no light on the situation whatsoever. While two of the top teams here have been involved in the African Champions League, the rest of the league has kind of carried on with fixturesÃ¢ÂÂ¦ sort of!
Some teams have played as few as four games since the New Year (one team tragically havenÃ¢ÂÂt played any as a result of car crash that claimed the lives of a player and official), whilst others have played a few more. So due to circumstance, the league has a haphazard feel to it, with games cancelled and rearranged at relatively short notice.
To compound it all, the next week or so brings a mid-season break, for an as yet unprescribed period of time. So on the one hand it might benefit me to have the players for a little longer as we build up to the game in late March, but on the other hand some of those players will have played only a handful of competitive games before we board the plane. Catch 22? Indeed.
Still, it's not all doom and gloom, and in hindsight I perhaps shouldn't have doubled up with laughter last Sunday morning when I saw my driver Wondowson arrive to pick me up with his arm in a sling. Seems he was the recipient of an ill-judged tackle from behind in his weekly training with his team, leaving him with a broken left wrist. All he was lacking was a parrot on his shoulder for full comedy effect.
Undeterred by his temporary disability he now drives one-handed, which has slightly curbed his enthusiasm for mowing down everything unfortunate enough to be in his way Ã¢ÂÂon his roadÃ¢ÂÂ. I confess to having felt a little guilty at first Ã¢ÂÂ I mean, I can drive myself, and the drivers here donÃ¢ÂÂt possess the wild-eyed lunacy of other capital natives around the world. Step forward you Parisians, and yes you guys in Cairo too, though I understand youÃ¢ÂÂve had other things on your mind recently.
However I quickly reconsidered when we entered in to the no-holds-barred arena of Meskel Square here in Addis Ababa. Think of London's Trafalgar Square, but bigger; now imagine the total absence of traffic lights, and a right of way that is to be claimed rather than granted, and you get the picture. No, I reasoned, a one-armed Wondowson is still better than Yours Truly, who friends and family might also testify, was hardly a stranger to the local car body shop himself back in England!
Meskel Square: "Leg it!"
So onwards and upwards, and it's great to see English teams do so well in Europe Ã¢ÂÂ and frankly hilarious to see Gennaro Gattuso headbutting Joe Jordan. I mean there are former players of a certain harder vintage who look their age and you canÃ¢ÂÂt imagine them still 'aving it, if you get my meaning; then thereÃ¢ÂÂs Joe Jordan, enough said!
IÃ¢ÂÂm penning these notes on the morning of the FA Cup ties, and praying that my team Everton keep the season alive with a win over Chelsea. I still remember doing a You Tube-esque jig of delight in the FA Cup final two years ago when Louis Saha put us 1-0 up in the first minute, only for the dream to be shattered as Chelsea ran out deserved winners. With neither of the teams in great form, it could be a case of who dares wins: 2-1 to the Blues (thatÃ¢ÂÂs Everton, the original) then!