Mudashiru Babatunde “Muda” Lawal was a Nigerian footballer, a legend of the game who played as a midfielder for both club and country. With 12 goals and 86 caps for Nigeria’s senior national team, Green Eagles, and an African record of five consecutive Nations Cup appearances (1976–1984), Lawal distinguished himself as a legend of the beautiful game in Africa’s most populated nation.
Mudashiru Babatunde Lawal was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria on June 8th 1954. He married Yetunde Muda Lawal who was a footballer herself but never get to play at the international level, she was part of those that started female football in Oyo state, Nigeria.
When he was junketing around the nooks and crannies of Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, in search of vehicles to repair (as a mechanic), nobody gave him any chance of hitting the headlines, let alone becoming one of the most talented footballers to come out of the shores of Nigeria. In 1975 he made his national team debut the same year, he joined Shooting Stars F.C. of Ibadan, where he would play for many years. In 1976, he helped the club to their first continental title, winning the African Cup Winners Cup – the first Nigerian team to do so. In 1985 the club side was disbanded by a military governor.
The disbandment of the famous Ibadan club side in 1985 did not deter the midfield strongman, as he shifted base to Abiola Babes of Abeokuta, where he continued to hold football fans spellbound with his soccer artistry. Without doubt, the soccer star was a born winner, who admitted to feeling a few nerves before a big game. For a man who was seen smiling and cracking jokes with opponents before the crunch 1977 African Cup Winners Cup semifinal between IICC Shooting Stars and arch rivals, Rangers International of Enugu, ‘Haji Muda’ was FIFA’s fair play personified. He approached every game with effortless ease, but ended up putting up a man-of-the match performances.
In the field of play, Lawal was an extremely fast, energetic, strong and powerful defensive midfielder, who was known for his stamina and work-rate, and his accurate finishing ability in the air and with his feet was amazing! A prolific goal scorer with good technique, Lawal was, sometimes, deployed as a play-maker. Briefly during his time at Abiola Babes, he distinguished himself as an attacking midfielder and demonstrated notable tactical intelligence and versatility. Lawal’s success story with the Green Eagles started when he played his heart out at the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations in Ethiopia, complimented with superb strikes against Egypt and Zaire, which sent tongues wagging and sparks flying.
After that audacious performance, he never looked back! In those days, creative and mesmerizing midfielders were not in short supply. Prominent among them was Christian Madu, fondly called ‘The Master Dribbler’. Madu was so talented that he was known among football fans across Nigeria as the ‘Magician’. Yet, in the qualifier against Sierra Leone, the Rangers International’s dribbling ace watched proceedings from the bench, having been sidelined by Lawal. Such was the Ibadan stalwart’s dominance that extended to his club, where his goals not only won Shooting Stars the 1979 Nigeria League, but he scooped the highest goal-scorer award, while operating from the midfield.
A feat only matched by another midfield player, Friday Ekpo, in 1984. The 1978 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Tunisia at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, remained probably Lawal’s best performance in the colours of Nigeria’s national team. On a day the Eagles attackers and wingers went to sleep, Lawal exploded into life and covered every part of the field from his deep midfield role. In fact, in two subsequent Nations Cup finals, 1978 in Ghana and Nigeria 1980, Lawal’s contributions were magnificent, culminating in the 1980 triumph under Brazilian coach, Prof. Otto Gloria. The team also competed at the Summer Olympics the same year.
Remarkably, during the tournament, which Nigeria hosted, Lawal was used in different positions between the midfield and attack. Gloria so believed in the midfield dynamo that he dropped the regular striker, Ifeanyi Onyedika, for the final match against Algeria, pushing Lawal into the striking role. The Shooting Stars ace repaid his coach’s confidence by grabbing the third goal in the 3-0 bashing of the North Africans.
Smarting from winning the 1980 Nations Cup, Lawal and teammates, led by ‘Chairman’ Christian Chukwu, were honoured with the national award of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON). He was also awarded the national title of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) and was Nigeria’s first-ever Soccer Ambassador. Muda further became a very important part of the Eagles who took part in two Nations Cup finals – 1982 and 1984. He also captained the national team, a reward for his diligence, hard work and humility. He was the most cap player for Nigeria as at the time of his retirement from the national team with 86 caps between 1975 to 1985, scoring 12 goals in all.
When Lawal was trying to take his illustrious career to another level by joining the coaching bandwagon, death struck. The incident, which took place on July 6, 1991, a few weeks after his 37th birthday, not only cut short his dreams of replicating his exploits as a wonderful footballer into being a very successful coach. The Ashero Stadium in his hometown Abeokuta was named after him upon his death.
Mudashiru Lawal was a selfless Nigerian. He was among a few Nigerian players who laid down their lives on the line in defence of the green and white jersey. His contributions were immense. His comportment was sublime. He stands out as one player who puts his country first before money or material benefits.