By Simbo Olorunfemi

Politics is like Football. Some will even say football is politics. Football is a game. Politics is a game. Some will say like Football, there are some ground rules to it. But then, are there? Like FIFA, like INEC? But we must admit that there is indeed a bit of more leeway with politics than Football in fiddling with the rules.

There is really no friendly match in Football. It is almost always about winning, no matter how disguised that objective is. No friendly match in politics, it is almost always about winning. It is always about getting hold of power, determining who gets what, where, when and how.

But in politics, just as in Football, even as you want to win, you do not always play the game with a zero-sum mind-set. Except it is a Cup game. And even at that, sometime you have to play to lose, as this momentary win might not help your long-term objective. Winning that cup game might just tie you down in one backwater competition you can do without, if your focus is on the league title or something loftier. You must understand the game and the competition you are in. A draw here and even a loss there might not be that bad, at the end of the day, as long as the overall objective is kept in sight. You must know when not to deploy maximum resources for the sake of a more important game in the near future. You might need to rest some members of the troop to keep them fresh for a future game.

Like Football, politics is only re-played on the arena. It is first played in the mind of the Tactician, the master-Strategist, long before the game itself. The game is half-won at the stage of planning and strategising. The tactical only comes later, with the Manager, thinking on his feet, effecting changes as he might so desire to affect the game, out-think and outwit the plans and changes as become manifest on the part of the opponent.

It all starts in the mind. What are we here for? What are the objectives? What do we need to get to where we are headed? Who do we need to help us get there? In Football, just as in politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies. You draw your template. You go for players that can help you realise your objective. You build your team carefully. In buying players, you must leave out sentiment. A Buhari is available, why not buy him? What does he offer your team? The heart? The Head? 12 million goals? Pedigree? Why not buy an Okorocha or an Amaechi? Will it not make your team to be more balanced? You go for the players that will help achieve your objective.

Just as you must buy with wisdom, you must also select players to offload carefully? Do you need a Sheriff in this team with his rich history of scoring own goals? What role can a Fani-kayode play in the team? You must ask yourself, way ahead of time. You must not be afraid to make the hard choices. You can send out players on loan and recall them when the need arises? If you are Chelsea, you can loan out your Ake to Bournemouth to help you destroy other teams from there. You can even sell a player and put in a buyback clause, just in case he gets better at the game and you now have need for his services.

You must know when there might be a need to allow an Obanikoro back into the team. It is all part of the game. You need not get unduly sentimental. You must have the ability to let go, forgive, even if you do not forget. That is a virtue that will serve you well. For as you make progress, become more successful, some of those who left, for all sorts of reasons, will want to come back. You will have to accept some back into the fold. Remember, you now have one on them to hold them down. You own them in a way. That you sold a player today does not mean you cannot buy him back tomorrow, if the need arises. Pogba was old for peanuts by Manchester. Last season, they broke the back to buy him back. It is all a game. It is all about how the need arises.

Every player has his use. You are not going to select a team of eleven strikers. If every player wants to be a Governor, who will go to the Senate? Who will man the ministries as Ministers or Commissioners? Who will do the dirty work? Who will be your Mikel Obi? Who will sacrifice himself for the team? Where is your destroyer who will break things up in the middle? Where is the player who will willingly wear the jersey of anonymity while the Ronaldos take the credit? That a player is in the team does not mean he has to play, all the time. He might not even get to play at all. Yet, that does not make him a lesser member of the team. It is always about the team and the objective. Some will only be squad players.

You must buy and sell players on purpose. You must be deliberate in all that you do. Even more importantly, you must select the team to play, at any point, in time with a clear objective in mind. Everything must be deliberate.

You must take into account form, pedigree, fatigue and injury before putting down every name. You must think about the formation to play. You must consider the balance of the team. You must consider how you want the team to play. How much of flair do you want? You must strike a balance between form and function. You will have to consider the opposition – strengths and weaknesses. You must consider the competition you are in, the objective for the season, the place of the match at hand. Like Football, like politics, you must think, think and think.

You start thinking about 2019 in 2014. In selecting your team for 2015, you are not only thinking of then and now, but also thinking of 2019, 2023. Will a Gary Cahill be a worthy successor to a John Terry, down the line? Or should we be bold, drop Terry now and pair Cahill with Ake? Or do we go to France to bring back a David Louis we sold years back?

In selecting the strikers, how will an Osibanjo complement a Buhari up-front? How deadly will such a strike force be in confronting the Jonathan team? How do we manage a Diego Costa with his temper? How will he fare as President? But we are talking about winning here and this is Arsenal on the other side, can we afford to leave out a Drogba from the side given his record in dealing with Arsenal? Do we go with form or pedigree? How do we justify picking an Iheanacho ahead of an Aguero?

Only you will understand why you might not want a Saraki as a support-Striker for your team. Only you can tell why a Lukaku is not good enough. Some strikers are good at goal-scoring but too greedy to see how their personal ambition to become the top goal-scorer might be hurting the interest of the team

Like football, like politics. Like Mourinho, like Jagaban. Like football, like politics. Only you will know the reasons you sold Mata in Chelsea. Only you know why you are playing him now in Manchester United. Only you know why you have opted for an Ibrahimovic to carry the team on his back for this season, when many thought he had gone past his prime. Only you know why you would have gone for a Fashola or Ambode when there were more popular players on the bench. Only you can see ahead of time what you are trying to do. Time only gets to prove you right or wrong in the eyes of the public.

They say there is no sentiment in selecting the team. Well, there is a place for sentiment, as well. You must be aware of that. You must know when to take out that player at the 85th minute so he can have that standing ovation from the fans. You know you need to play that man one more time so he can have enough caps to qualify for a medal.

Sometimes, you have to pander to the wishes of the fans to ensure you have them on your side. It is really about the little things – the handshakes, the autographs, the emotion you display or choose not to. It is all quietly choreographed to be served at will. They will all lap it up. But be mindful, what might be accepted for a Conte will definitely not fly for a Wenger. Do not be carried away by the adulation of the crowd. It can only last for so long. There is always a tomorrow. Someone else will come that might just win the heart of the fans, as well. Even die-hard Chelsea- Mourinho fans have found a place for Conte.

Know to do away with sentiment when it matters the most. You know when to buy an Ibrahimovic and when to let him go. You make mistakes. You misjudge. But then, that is what it is. You win some, you lose some. But that is what it is – a game. But it takes understanding to play. It takes planning, strategising, dedication and willingness to sacrifice a lot to be successful at it. You win some. You lose some. But it is still a game.

If only the Spectators understand that it is only a game. Perhaps, they do not need to. They have their place in the game – pawns, they are. They need not understand it. That player who kisses the badge with every goal will move on to another team, if the money is right. The best he will do is to choose not to celebrate, when he scores against your team, even if he is gloating inside. That player you cherish so much will be sold, in spite of your misgivings. Your voice does not count that much. Arsene Wenger is still managing your team, in spite of your misgivings. Like politics, like football.

If only the spectators know, perhaps they will not be so taken by the clamour- genuine and fake for restructuring or a so-called true Federalism that the proponents cannot exactly tell what it means. If only the Spectators know this is all a game. But should they know? They need not know. It is all part of the game. Think. Some say it is not just a game, but life. Well. Think.

Are you a Manager, Player, Spectator or Analyst? Are you a part of the game? Think.

© Simbo Olorunfemi, a journalist, writes from Lagos.

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