FEATURE By Samuel Ahmadu Follow on Twitter
The story of Sophia Omotola Omidiji, 19, reads like one out of a fairytale.
Adopted as a little child by Lateef Omidiji, a Nigerian living in Las Vegas with his American wife Crystal, Sophia was brought up to love and respect her father’s home country. Her loving grandfather Bili made such a lasting impression on her which helped in making life choices.
In the course of growing up, the young lady took to football, what Americans call soccer, and found joy on the greens with the ball at her feet.
After breaking scoring records at her Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas, Omidiji caught the eye of local scouts and word got around about her abilities but she did the most surprising thing, she opted to represent the country of her adopted father, Nigeria.
In an October 2015 interview with Goal, Omidiji spoke of her motivation to wear the green and white internationally: “There are many Nigerians abroad that choose to play with the country they were born in. But for me, I've had only one desire and that's to play for the greatest nation on earth and that's Nigeria.”
Omidiji has since been trying to back up her dream, moving to the Netherlands with her family where she now features for the FC Eindhoven Women’s team and she continues to score goals.
This week, Fifa created excitement about the prospects of Omidiji representing her adopted country in a pre-tournament profile of the Nigerian team on its website.
She was named a great asset who could take after Courtney Dike, another American-born Nigerian who starred at the last tournament in Canada.
“Like Dike’s, Omidiji’s father was born in Nigeria, and it is not unlikely that the two could feature together for the Super Falcons in the not too distant future,” Fifa.com wrote.
Despite the growing international interest in her story, Omidiji was not able to convince Nigeria selectors of her ability and is set to be overlooked for the Fifa U20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea in November.
Reacting to the Fifa recognition of her talent and resolve to play for Nigeria, she expressed doubt about her chances of making a case for inclusiveness during the tournament in four months.
“I'm happy about [the Fifa recognition], of course. I think I can be part of Nigeria’s future. I feel like I can bring a positive attention to women football,” Omidiji told Goal.
“I feel like somebody at Fifa recognizes that I’m a hard worker who has a track record of winning.”
Nigerian teams are known for their imposing physical stature, at 5ft 1in, Omidiji is small but makes up for it with her blistering pace and eye for goal. That was why she scored 38 goals in her final year of high school.
“I know I won't be selected but if I'm selected of course I'm confident in my skills. I know I can help the team. I know I'm not big but I'm technical and fast,” she said.
The Las Vegas-born player declined talking about her biological parents, but stressed her resolve to represent her adopted country, citing her deep affection for Nigeria and the continent.
“[It's] not something I want to talk about but I thank God for my father and grandparents and in turn Nigeria. Mario Balotelli isn't less Italian because he was adopted. I don't feel less Nigerian because I was adopted,” she said.
“Being adopted isn't something I talk about. I will say this, I may not look Nigerian on the outside but my heartbeat is Nigerian. I don't feel less Nigerian than my younger brother. I have a Nigerian passport along with an American,” she explained.
“In Luxembourg [during Nigeria's recently friendly in May], I met Super Eagles players some told me and my brother that ‘we know of you guys, we support you guys, thanks for choosing our country’. That made me feel good,” she said.
Meanwhile, Falconets coach Peter Dedevbo, applauded her great desire to feature for Nigeria, but admitted he is unsure of her chances, seeing her inability to cope with his side's physical style of football.
“She is a good player and I really love her great desire to play for Nigeria as well as her passion," Dedevbo told Goal.
“That was why I allowed her stay in my camp for nearly four months of our camping for the qualifiers. She is the first player ever to have stayed in my camp that long and not feature in games.
“I really wanted to give her the much needed time for her to adapt to our style of football. I had intention of putting her in some of our qualifying games, but I could not feature her because we had tough and physical matches, which we needed to win and qualify for the World Cup.
“She could not cope. Even though, I really liked her, but I must admit as the coach that her performance during the qualifiers did not measure up to my expectation,” he said.
A European journalist, Adam Volk, hailed the quality of the player after watching her shine in a game for her club and believes she is a great talent to watch out for in Papua New Guinea.
“Members of our team went to see some of her games in Holland for FC Eindhoven and I have to say that your country has a gem on her hands as she is a fantastic player,” acknowledged Volk.
However, Barrister Seyi Akinwunmi, the 1st Vice President of the Nigeria Football Federation hailed Omidiji's interest despite admitting no knowledge of her and pledging to take necessary administrative steps to make her dreams come true.
Akinwunmi, who is also the head of the NFF's youth football development department, assured that the federation will always provide the platform for exceptional talents – both at home and abroad of Nigerian origin – to represent their fatherland.
“I’m not aware of her matter,” Akinwunmi told Goal. “But I will immediately take up the matter by meeting the technical department of the NFF and also the head coach of the Falconets to get more details about her.
“We are resolved to ensure that under our watch no player of Nigerian origin is denied a chance of playing for the country due to non-footballing reasons.
“I will hope to have her again and see her and assess her performance and determine if she has what it takes to make the team,” he concluded.
The world loves a fairy tale and Omidiji being listed in the Nigeria team to Papua New Guinea will bring to fore that dreams still come true.
Still, the decision to take the young lady rests on the shoulders of coach Dedevbo who seems to have made up his mind. But hope springs eternal for Omidiji.
“I wanted to make my dad and grandparents proud because I am who I am because of Nigeria. I love Africa so much and my dream is to coach an African team to the World Cup one day,” Omidiji said.