If there were any doubts as to why Nigeria are so keen on Bournemouth’s Philip Billing, look no further than his highlight reel against Norwich City at the weekend.
While the game at the Vitality Stadium, which ended goalless, wouldn’t live long in the memory given its tepid nature, the midfielder’s display was his best since swapping relegated Huddersfield Town for a Bournemouth side now established in the Premier League.
There were only three shots on target in the entirety of the game on Saturday; a fact which indicates the drabness of the encounter with chances at both ends few and far between. This is emphasised in both side’s expected goals statistic which showed the Cherries had 0.67 to the Canaries’ 0.40.
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Games like Saturday’s probably won’t be replayed by many for the foreseeable future, but it also makes people aware and appreciative of performances from players like Billing, whose impact often flies under the radar owing to their unassuming tasks in their teams.
The towering midfielder was dominant in the middle of the park, displaying his really impressive reading of the game as he made several interceptions against Daniel Farke’s troops. His three interceptions, the same as midfield partner Lewis Cook, accounted for 30 percent of Bournemouth’s total on the day (10).
Furthermore, the Denmark U-21 international won a couple of tackles and cleared the ball away from harm’s way when necessary during the encounter. His desire to put his body in the way of shots was admirable too, and the gigantic midfield man ranked highest for shots blocked in the Cherries’ side.
Helped by his languid style, he completed three of his four attempted dribbles, which was the most of any player on Eddie Howe’s side.
Perhaps Billing’s potential to deliver such performances is why Nigeria have been trying for about a year to get the 23-year-old to commit to the Super Eagles, at Denmark’s expense.
They even sent Everton’s Alex Iwobi to do their bidding recently, a fact revealed by the Bournemouth player.
“It wasn't until when we [Bournemouth] were going to play against Everton a couple of weeks ago when Alex Iwobi asked if I might be interested in coming and playing for Nigeria,” Billing told BT, via Bournemouth Echo. "He said the coach had asked me. It was the first time I heard anything concrete myself.
"It's a pat on the back that another country would like you to play for them. I just take that as a shrug and proof that you are doing well.”
While the Super Eagles’ interest is well known, the midfielder’s indifference has been evidently stated and ought to put the entire episode to bed.
“It would feel strange to have to play for Nigeria, even though my father is from there," he continued. “I am half Nigerian and I feel that way too, but I was born and raised in Denmark. My mother is Danish and my sister is Danish, so it would feel strange to have to play for Nigeria.”
The former Terrier had a consistent view in November last year when asked about representing the three-time African champions.
"I know my agents have said that Nigeria has approached them. There's not much in it ... that's the most if I want to play for the Nigerian national team, so I think it could be possible, but that's not something I'm thinking about," Billing told BT. "I see myself as a Dane, and I also play the Danish U-21 national team. So no, I have not thought if I should be honest.”
Those are clearly the words of a player with little or no interest in representing the West African nation, so it’s a bit odd that talk of him playing for Gernot Rohr’s side persists, despite the obvious appeal.
His situation does draw parallels with that of Chelsea's Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori. Both, until recent international games, either hadn’t played for England in a while like Abraham or were uncapped and eligible to represent Nigeria and Canada, as well as the Three Lions, in Tomori’s case.
Additionally, the Chelsea pair largely remained coy on their international futures without explicitly stating their positions in the months leading to October’s call-up against Czech Republic and Bulgaria.
While Tomori is still eligible to represent Rohr’s men or Canada in theory, both countries' chances seemingly evaporated as soon as Gareth Southgate invited him to the national side. Well, for now at least, the examples of Wilfried Zaha or Saido Berahino, who represented the Ivory Coast and Burundi respectively after receiving senior England call-ups, offer hope.
Perhaps this is why the Super Eagles appear keen on trying to sway someone who’s received regular invites to Age Hareide’s squads since March, albeit without making his debut.
Billing has pointed out, not once but twice, that his heart is set on representing the Red and White, and it’s highly unlikely that position changes for the foreseeable future.
Chasing the Bournemouth midfielder is seemingly a lost cause, but as long as he remains uncapped for Denmark in a competitive fixture, the door technically remains open for Nigeria.
His performance against Norwich City demonstrated why Rohr desires this midfielder in his Eagles set-up.