By Ed Dove
In the Western European nations of Germany, Holland and Belgium, a number of Nigerians feature up and down the respective football pyramids. The Super Eagles were represented—albeit indirectly—in the Champions League final, while many of our stars feature at less-glamorous outposts in lower leagues.
There has long been a tumultuous relationship between Leverkusen winger Sidney Sam and Nigeria, the land of his ancestors. Now 25, and not having featured for Germany’s national sides since U21 level, it had seemed like the time was finally right for Sam to throw his hat into the ring with Nigeria.
As the excitement around his potential selection, and his possible inclusion in Nigeria’s Confederations Cup squad increased, the land of his birth decided that actually—after so long in the wilderness—the time was right for Sam to ascend to the German senior side.
The winger jumped at the opportunity, putting a swift end to any speculation linking him to the Super Eagles, and suggesting that he had never intended to represent the West African nation.
The whole episode has damaged Sam’s reputation in the eyes of Nigerians, and while theoretically, he could still feature for Keshi’s side in the future, it is highly unlikely that the winger will ever pull on that famous green shirt.
His decision to choose Germany was met by a collective shrug of bravado among Nigerians, although it remains to be seen who truly wins in this situation. The Super Eagles have lost the opportunity to recruit an accomplished attacking talent, while Sam will surely need to improve to hold down a place among such a talented German generation.
Might he go down the same road as Patrick Owomeyola?
The long-term Dortmund right back opted to represent Germany back in 2004, and was named in the side’s Confederations Cup squad in 2005. Naturally, the appeal of a home World Cup in 2006 must have been enormous, but Owomeyola missed out on the squad, and has been out of contention for the squad ever since.
Currently a free agent, having been released by Dortmund at the end of this season, he has drifted away from the first team this season, and was completely absent from die Borussen’s run to the Champions League final.
Dennis Aogo’s international career with the Nationalmannschaft has followed a similar, if less severe, trajectory.
A Nigerian player who was present at the Champions League final is David Alaba. At the opposite end of his career from Owomoyela, the Austrian-born youngster has blossomed this season. Beginning his career as a midfielder—a position he still excels in for the Austrian national side—he has demonstrated his class at full-back this term, making the left-back berth his own at Bayern.
Still only 20, the future looks exceptionally bright for Alaba, whose father is Nigerian.
Elsewhere in Germany, Bremen forward Joseph Akpala has ended the season in fine fettle. While by no means prolific, and almost-exclusively used as a substitute, the frontman isn’t a devastating feature in the German top flight, he continues to have all the tools needed to excel in his position.
Stephen Keshi recently became the latest in a long line of national managers to give Akpala a chance to shine with the national side.
This summer may prove to be his best (and possibly finest) chance to convince the Super Eagles of his worth.
Anthony Ujah is another afforded a brilliant opportunity this summer. Having impressed Keshi with his form for German side Koln, the forward has been named in the squad for the Super Eagles’ busy summer. Made his debut in the recent friendly with Mexico, and will surely have another opportunity to stake his claim over the coming fixtures.
While Akpala has battled at the bottom of the table, Chinedu Obasi has been largely absent as Schalke have once more secured a spot in the top four. Despite a succession of historic, impressive performances for the national side, the striker has been out of Keshi’s thinking, one of a number of high-profile outcasts. Surgery in the spring brought a premature end to his campaign.
Mainz midfielder Chinedu Ede struggled to convince following his summer move from Union Berlin, while versatile defender Leon Balogun has announced his intentions of representing Nigeria one day, Keshi is yet to be in touch with the Dusseldorf man.
In the Low Countries, various young Nigerians are developing nicely in the Dutch and Belgian leagues. It’s been an incredible season for young defender Kenneth Omeruo. On loan at ADO Den Haag from parent club Chelsea, Omeruo was a late entrant into the Afcon squad, but after entering the fray as a substitute in the opening game against Burkina Faso, went on to become a crucial member of the trophy-winning side.
The versatile player proved, over the course of the tournament, that he is one of the continent’s finest young defensive talents. Still only 19, he may choose to continue his tutelage in the Netherlands, or Chelsea may finally opt to integrate him into their own squad.
International player Femi Ajilore can also be found in the Dutch top flight with FC Groningen, although the player is set to leave the club this summer after being deemed surplus to requirements.
In the Belgian top flight, three strikers had endured mixed fortunes; Belgian international Marvin Ogunjimi endured relegation with Beerschot, while Derick Ogbu impressed again at OH Leuven—a hat trick back in October was particularly memorable.
Young forward Imoh Ezekiel, over at Standard, was the pick of the bunch however, and finished the season on 16 goals, 8th place in the national charts. While he was pipped to the Ebony Shoe by Senegalese forward Mbaye Leye, the striker is sure to have a very bright future in the game. Keshi take note.Follow Ed Dove on