Eligible to play for both Nigeria and the United States, towering center-back Babajide Ogunbiyi would love to hear from U.S. coach Bob Bradley.
"I am open-minded but it is a great honor to represent your country," said Ogunbiyi. "Yes, I would definitely be open to [speaking to Bob Bradley]."
It has been an interesting year for the former 2009 second round choice of the New York Red Bulls. The 6'4 defender, who hails from Rochester, NY, is having career season with Danish side Viborg, scoring three goals in his first 10 appearances. The team is also one of the better defensive teams in the division. Still, due to issues on offense, Viborg have been mired in a relegation battle, currently sitting above the final three relegation spots at 13th.
Despite Viborg’s slow start, Ogunbiyi is hoping his recent form will not only have teams from bigger leagues interested in his services but either the U.S. or the Nigerian national teams. While he hasn’t had any contact from the United States yet, he has already been involved with the Nigerian national team on the youth level. He was one of the team’s final three cuts to its 23-man Olympic roster that eventually lost in the final against Lionel Messi’s Argentina side in 2008.
The 23-year-old doesn’t regret his decision to leave the New York Red Bulls at the time he did, prior to the Erick Soler and Hans Backe appointments to the franchise. He believes that the coaching staff at Viborg has trained him well and he has a better tactical understanding of the game for it. He also acknowledges that it was always his ambition to play in Europe and that suiting up in Denmark allows scouts to see him play much easier than if he were playing in MLS.
"For me, it has been a dream of mine to play in Europe," said Ogunbiyi. "I thought that I could accomplish the goals that I have by going abroad."
Because of his height and 212 pound frame, some scouts have compared the 23-year-old Ogubiyi to a raw version of Oguchi Onyewu.
"It is truly a compliment to be compared with a player of his caliber who has accomplished so much in his career," said Obubiyi. "He has been the anchor of the U.S. defense over the years. I hope to be just as successful in the future."
Sascha Gunter, Ogunbiyi’s agent, agrees with the comparison. He points to the fact that both players started their overseas careers in the second division of smaller leagues with Onyewu playing on loan on a lower division Belgian side. Finding a new team for a still unproven player in a higher league won’t be easy, according to Gunter.
Ogunbiyi has a 500,000 Euro minimum release clause and Gunter says that while the price is relatively low, teams aren’t as willing to spend as they used to. Yet there is some optimism for his client as he claims several Bundesliga clubs have expressed their interest in bringing Ogubiyi in for a trial. The hope is that if he does well, a team will match Viborg’s asking price and bring the 23-year-old in on a reserve team roster. In Germany, Bundesliga reserve sides play in the country’s third division and Gunter says that the transition will be easier for him
"It can be difficult going from the second division in Denmark to the first team in Bundesliga right away," says Gunter. "The Bundesliga is arguably the second best league in Europe after the Premier League because of the other leagues struggling with financial issues. There is a very high level of competition."
Another option for Ogunbiyi might be a return to MLS and the Red Bulls, who still own his rights. Ogunbiyi admits that it is his first choice to stay in Europe but he hasn’t closed the door on coming back to the team that drafted him.
"I never say never and I don’t like to close the door on things," said Ogunbiyi. "My preference though would be to stay in Europe."
One thing that might change Ogunbiyi’s mind is the recent international call ups of both Red Bulls youngsters in Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo. A solid season Stateside could see the 23-year-old achieve both of his goals. Gunter admires the work that Soler and Backe have done in their first season in New York and believes that the experience gained in Europe will give the team a player that is ready to compete for starting minutes.
"If a team like Red Bull New York were to offer him a chance to return to MLS, it would be a good move," says Gunter. "I know MLS is complicated with the salary structure but if the salary was similar to what he has in Europe, it would definitely be a move that I encourage."
Alex Labidou, a Goal.com contributor, is based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @SportsLab. He can be reached at AlexLabidou@gmail.com.
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