Neither Trent Alexander-Arnold nor Andrew Robertson have Lionel Messi’s star power, but the buccaneering Liverpool defenders could play just as vital a role as the Barcelona captain in their mouth-watering Champions League semi-final.
Virgil van Dijk has hogged the spotlight among Liverpool’s defenders with a superb campaign that earned the Dutch centre-back the Professional Footballers’ Association player of the year award.
Ahead of Wednesday’s first leg against Messi’s Barca, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold have emerged as essential contributors to Liverpool’s bid for Champions League glory.
With 24 assists between them in all competitions, England right-back Alexander-Arnold and Scotland left-back Robertson are pivotal figures in Jurgen Klopp’s game-plan.
Robertson’s 11 assists have equalled the Premier League record for a defender and Alexander-Arnold is not far behind, with nine, making Liverpool’s full-backs are as many wingers as defenders.
It has become the most demanding, tactically significant position in the Liverpool team.
Without Robertson, 25, doing the job of two players with his lung-bursting runs up and down the flanks, Senegal winger Sadio Mane would not have the freedom to move infield, from where he has scored 24 goals this term.
Mohamed Salah’s licence to roam from the wing is only possible because there is less need to track back defensively while Alexander-Arnold, 20, tirelessly covers every blade of grass on the right.
Klopp’s bold system has reaped rich rewards as rivals struggle to find a way to turn off the supply line fuelled by Robertson and Alexander-Arnold.
In producing perfectly weighted crosses for Mane’s double and a Van Dijk goal, Alexander-Arnold became the youngest Premier League player to create three goals in a single fixture when Liverpool thrashed Watford in February.
Then, when Robertson supplied Roberto Firmino with Liverpool’s opening goal against Tottenham recently, Alexander-Arnold matched him by crossing for Salah’s header that led to Toby Alderweireld’s decisive late own goal.
– Unlikely heroes –
They are the kind of key contributions that have become commonplace this season and Robertson admits the pair’s friendly rivalry is spurring them to ever greater heights.
“I always try and go forward. Sometimes my passes don’t find people. But I do try and create. If I get two assists, I expect Trent to get three,” Robertson said with a smile.
“We all need to chip in with goals and assists. It’s not just the front three. It’s not just the defence that keeps clean sheets, either. It’s a team game.”
Liverpool’s unlikely heroes have taken contrasting routes to the top.
Liverpool-born Alexander-Arnold is the soft-spoken prodigy who still lived with his mum at the start of this season, such has been the rapid nature of his rise from the club’s academy
Robertson started his career in obscurity at Queen’s Park and Dundee United before joining Liverpool from Hull for £8 million ($10.3 million) in 2017 — a deal that Klopp says came at a time when “there weren’t 500 clubs asking about him”.
Now comes the acid test of the duo against Barcelona in the Camp Nou.
Inspired by the sublime Messi, Barca have scored more than 130 goals in all competitions already this term and wrapped up the Spanish title at the weekend.
But, while he acknowledges the threat posed by Messi, Luis Suarez and company, Robertson believes Liverpool should stick to their guns.
“We know we’ll have our hands full defensively but we all defend as a team and we attack as a team. If me and Trent have time to go forward, we will do it. It’s not going to stop us,” Robertson said.
“We know that we can create goals and chances, so why change that? But look, we will learn from the game and move from that and see how it pans out.
“It’s a challenge we all look forward to.”
Just In: Bayelsa Guber Election: Court Annuls APC’s Participation
The Federal High Court, Yenagoa, on Thursday declared that the All Progressives Congress (APC) does not have a governorship candidate in the forthcoming election in Bayelsa State.
This development is coming two days to the election.
The court was presided over by Justice Jane Inyang.
The court declaration, on Thursday, was part of its judgement in a case filed by Heineken Lokpobiri, one of the APC governorship aspirants.
Mr Lokpobiri, a former minister of state for agriculture, had approached the court, asking it to declare him, and not David Lyon, the authentic candidate of the APC.
“The court pronounced that the governorship primary conducted by the APC in Bayelsa state was not done in compliance with the guidelines and the constitution of the party, and, therefore, the party has no candidate,” Mr Lokpobiri’s lawyer, Fitzgerald Olorogun, told reporters immediately after the court ruling.
A shocked Mr Olorogun said the court declaration was not part of their prayers. “It’s strange,” he said.
Asked what was the next option for his client, Mr Olorogun said “We’ll do the needful. But for now, the pronouncement of the court is that APC has no candidate.”
There was heavy police presence within and outside the court premises. The main highway way leading to the court was barricaded by the police. Visitors, including journalists, were frisked before they were allowed to enter the court building.
Mr Lokpobiri, before now, has been urging the people of Bayelsa to vote for the APC in the November 16 election, despite his court case against Mr Lyon and the party.
“I’m a very strong member of APC and I came today to formally tell our chairman and to speak to Nigerians, in particular, the electorate in Bayelsa that all of them should vote for APC regardless of what happens in the court case in which judgment is slated for Nov. 14, 2019,” the former minister said in Abuja after a courtesy visit on the national chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole.
“I told my supporters even before I came here that no matter what happened, I will remain in APC having served as a minister under this administration.
“There is no way the outcome of the governorship primaries will make me leave APC. We are working and campaigning at different levels.
“I always advise that anybody that is grieved, the only place to go is the court.
Senate’s Hate Speech Bill: Atiku Abubakar Speaks
A former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, has cautioned Nigerian senators against moves to pass a bill criminalising purported hate speech.
The bill being sponsored by Sabi Abdullahi of the All Progressives Congress is targeted at punishing anyone found guilty of spreading “misinformation.”
The bill also prescribed death penalty for anyone found guilty of spreading a falsehood that led to the death of another person.
But civic groups have been critical about the bill because of its narrow and unclear definition of what constitutes hate speech.
The advocates argued that the Senate’s interpretation of ‘hate speech’ would be at odds with the Nigerian Constitution if the bill becomes law as designed. The Constitution protects the rights to unhindered speech, expression and association.
Mr Abubakar aligned with those who believe the constitutional safeguards for free speech should be strengthened rather than undermined by lawmakers and other politicians in power.
The former vice-president and main opposition candidate at the 2019 presidential election said the freedom of speech and other key elements of civil liberties which Nigerians enjoyed between 1999 and 2015 should not be taken away by the current administration.
“It is prudent to build upon the tolerance inherited from those years and not shrink the democratic space to satisfy personal and group interests,” Mr Abubakar said in an emailed statement signed by his spokesperson, Paul Ibe.
Efforts to regulate the media has been keenly considered and publicly pushed by politicians since Muhammadu Buhari assumed power in 2015.
Mr Buhari has a history of brutal repression from his military era in the 1980s, a label from which he remained unflinching.
The president has repeatedly told the country that his government will continue to ignore rights in favour of national security.
Some of his appointees, especially information minister Lai Mohammed, have insisted Nigerians’ free speech will be curbed.
Mr Mohammed said social media has become a tool of irresponsibility amongst elements determined to foment chaos in the country. He has equally overseen imposition of heavy fines on broadcast stations over alleged hate speech on their platforms.
There were efforts to push a variation of the current hate speech bill through the parliament in 2015, but it failed amidst nationwide uproar.
The reintroduced version contained essentially the same fundamentals and Nigerians have vowed to resist it as they did four years ago.
Read Mr Abubakar’s full statement below:
Atiku Abubakar wishes to sound a note of caution to those now toying with the idea of an Anti Hate Speech Bill, with punishment for supposed Hate Speech to be death by hanging. The contemplation of such laws is in itself not just hate speech, but an abuse of the legislative process that will violate Nigerians’ constitutionally guaranteed right to Freedom of Speech.
Atiku urges those behind this Bill to awake to the fact that Nigeria’s democracy has survived its longest incarnation, because those who governed this great nation between 1999 and 2015 never toyed with this most fundamental of freedoms. It is prudent to build upon the tolerance inherited from those years and not shrink the democratic space to satisfy personal and group interests.
Freedom of Speech was not just bestowed to Nigerians by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), it is also a divine right given to all men by their Creator. History is littered with the very negative unintended consequences that result when this God given right is obstructed by those who seek to intimidate the people rather than accommodate them.
We should be reminded that history does not repeat itself. Rather, men repeat history. And often, to disastrous consequences.
Nigeria presently has too many pressing concerns. We are now the world headquarters for extreme poverty as well as the global epicentre of out-of-school children. Our economy is smaller than it was in 2015, while our population is one of the world’s fastest growing. We have retrogressed in the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International, from the position we held four years ago, and our Human Development Indexes are abysmally low.
It therefore begs the question: should we not rather make laws to tackle these pressing domestic challenges, instead of this Bill, which many citizens consider obnoxious?
Again, Atiku cautions that we must prioritise our challenges ahead of the whims and caprices of those who do not like to hear the inconvenient truth. Stop this folly and focus on issues that matter to Nigerians.
Sowore: Buhari’s Govt Insecure, Paranoid – Soyinka
The Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, has called on civil society organisations to strategize and coordinate their responses to attacks on human rights by state agents under President Muhammadu Buhari.
Mr Soyinka, in his statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES, reacted to the attack on protesters on Tuesday in Abuja for demanding the release of Omoyele Sowore by the State Security Service.
“The sporadic, uncoordinated responses as in the case of Omoyele Sowore, the absence of a solid strategy, ready to be activated against any threat — these continue to enable these agencies in their mission to enthrone a pattern of conduct that openly scoffs at the role of the judiciary in national life,” the don said.
He condemned “the level of arrogance” by agents of the state under President Buhari, saying it “has crossed even the most permissive thresholds.”
“As I remarked from the onset, this is an act of government insecurity and paranoia that merely defeats its real purpose,” he said.
Read Soyinka’s full statement below…
SOWORE, HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RULE OF LAW
It should become abundantly clear by now that Civil Society organisations, committed to the entrenchment of the Rule of Law and the defence of fundamental human rights must come together. This is not a new cry. They must meet, debate, and embark on a binding pact of tactical responses whenever these two pillars of civilized society are besieged by the demolition engines of state security agencies. The sporadic, uncoordinated responses as in the case of Omoyele Sowore, the absence of a solid strategy, ready to be activated against any threat — these continue to enable these agencies in their mission to enthrone a pattern of conduct that openly scoffs at the role of the judiciary in national life. Result? A steady entrenchment of the cult of impunity in the dealings of state with the citizenry – both individuals and organizations. The level of arrogance has crossed even the most permissive thresholds.
It is heart-warming to witness the determined efforts of “Concerned Nigerians” in defence of these rights. Predictably, the ham-fisted response of the Directorate of State Security (DSS) continues to defy the rulings of the court. The weaponry of lies having been exploded in their faces, they resort to what else? Violence! Violence, including, as now reported, the firing of live bullets. Why the desperation? The answer is straightforward: the government never imagined that the bail conditions for Sowore would ever be met. Even Sowore’s supporters despaired. The bail test was clearly set to fail! It took a while for the projection to be reversed, and it left the DSS floundering. That agency then resorted to childish, cynical lies. It claimed that the ordered release was no longer in their hands, but in Sowore’s end of the transfer. The lie being exploded, what next? Bullets of course!
Such a development is not only callous and inhuman, it is criminal. It escalates an already untenable defiance by the state. As I remarked from the onset, this is an act of government insecurity and paranoia that merely defeats its real purpose. And now – bullets? This is no longer comical. Perhaps it is necessary to remind this government of precedents in other lands where, even years after the event, those who trampled on established human rights that generate homicidal impunity are called to account for abuse of power and crimes against humanity. The protests for Sowore’s release go beyond only acts of solidarity, they are manifestations of the judgment and authority of courts of law, under which this nation is supposedly governed. Either it is, or it isn’t. The answer stares us all in the face. The principles that now fall under threat implicate more than one individual under travail. They involve the very entitlement of a nation to lay claim to membership of any democratic, humanized union.
Enough of this charade, nothing more than a display of crude, naked power. Release Omoyele Sowore and save us further embarrassment in the regard of the world. An apology to the nation by the DSS and the judiciary would also not be out of place. It would go some distance in redeeming the image of an increasingly fascistic agency and reduce the swelling tide of public disillusionment.
Let the rule of law reign. Failing that, have the honesty to proclaim the death of ordered society. Then we’ll all know just where we stand.
WS Foundation for the Humanities
Abeokuta, Ogun State
November 12, 2019