“Zanza is the captain, onye isi game” was a song we sang in the village as kids in primary school. My position was 9 ( I was bad on it!). But it was immaterial; every kid knew we could play like “Zanza”. Zanza was Philip Osondu, one of Nigeria’s most talented footballers. He was the captain and he was “onye isi game” [the leader of a football game]. Philip Osondu is dead. He was a force in Canada’87 and Saudi ‘89 when the world thought a new Pele was born.
“Philip Osondu, ogba bolu (footballer)” this is the adjectives that my mother used to qualify me with when I came home from a football game then. The memories came back with these words when I heard the news that Philip Osondu is dead. He was the hero of my childhood and alas, a victim of eventuality.
It was reported that Osondu was feeling unwell at work and went to the hospital for a checkup, he was pronounced dead shortly after. At 48, Philip Osondu was such a life cut short.
In 1987, Osondu became a sensation through his performance in the Under 16 FIFA World Cup in Canada. Though Nigeria lost to the Soviet Union on penalties, he wowed the world with his skills and won the Golden Ball as best player of the tournament. What followed was a professional career that his well won fans considered below expectations.
Though born in Aba,Abia state, a parent was from a neighboring village to Ovim, Ahaba Imenyi. Zanza was rising in the shadows of Kelechi Emeteole (the caterpillar for his defensive style). Emeteole who hailed from another neighboring village, Amiyi Obilohia, later became a successful coach. But Osondu was ruined – he signed bad contracts and “lost” Nigeria and his career. It was after his contract that the then-Nigeria Football Association set up a process to review foreign contracts offered to Nigerian players!
Zanza, buru ba – [score the goal by dribbling past players and goalkeeper] remains a song whenever a kid could accomplish that on a pitch. Zanza died in Belgium after a sudden illness; he was 48!
Philip Osondu, unbounded tomorrow but vanished yesterday: a talent unlocked. Nonetheless, you inspired many across Aba and Isuikwuato, and I guess Nigeria.