Celebrating six Nigerian-born players in ‘Lions’ kingdom

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After his victory over Wladimir Klitschko in their heavyweight bout at Wembley Stadium in April, Nigerian-born English boxer, Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua was asked why the British usually considered successful British-Nigerians to be British, and British-Nigerians who commit crimes to be Nigerians? He responded thus: “Let’s focus on the success. Let’s stop committing the crime.”

Joshua, a former British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion, had a long list of encounters with the British justice system before his moment of celebration. In 2009, he was sent to Reading Prison for fighting. In 2011, he was charged with possession of a class B drug when police pulled him over in Colindale, North London, and found eight ounces of herbal cannabis hidden in his sports bag. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a 12-month community order and 100 hours community service. He was also suspended from his GB boxing squad.

But the pugilist, who was a bricklayer before he took up boxing, was able to weather the storm, as he was later awarded the Knight Commander, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his significant achievement for the United Kingdom.

His victory over Klitschko in front of 90,000 British fans and millions of Nigerians watching on television around the world made Joshua the second pugilist beside Joe Frazier to win a world heavyweight title at the same time that he is the reigning Olympic champion.

While federal lawmakers, including Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, are still thinking of inviting Joshua to Aso Villa for a hero’s welcome and making him a brand ambassador for Nigeria, six Nigerians, this time in the field of soccer, played into reckoning last weekend, helping England to win the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea.

The 1-0 victory of the Young Lions of England over Venezuela with five players of Nigerian origin on the pitch was England’s first major international football silverware since the 1966 World Cup.

Sheyi Ojo, Fikayo Tomori, Dominic Solanke, Ademola Lookman, Joshua Onomah all featured in the final for England, while Ovie Ejaria, the sixth player of Nigerian origin in the squad, was also part of the team, though he did not play.

Former Green Eagles winger, Adegoke Adelabu says the fact that the boys helped England to win the World Cup does not make them British citizens.Speaking with The Guardian yesterday, Adelabu, a Sport Scientist, said: “I prefer to call them Nigerians because they were not trained in Nigeria as players, they are simply born by Nigerians. It was amazing the number of these players in the England’s squad.”

Speaking further, the former IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan winger said: “I took time to watch the game and the demeanours of these players throughout the championship and wondered when we will get to the level of training players to know what they have and how to use it intelligently as occasions demand.

“It is difficult for the England team to lie about their ages. Hence, it is possible for us to raise an under 20 team without lying about their ages, if we have intelligent coaches with integrity and administration that knows the essence of developmental strategy in football.

“The important thing now is to monitor these players by analysing their potential to see how relevant they will be with respect to the kind of national team we want to build in the future. I love them for their confidence and the ability to fit perfectly into the team during substitution. All of them moved the ball well on motion, especially Ademola Lookman, who was tried to force himself into the opponents’ sacred area. He will fit perfectly with the way we play (Nigerian made football) by taking on the defenders till they run out of breathe.

“Even though they were trained in England, I could see the characteristics of players like Henry Nwosu, Franklin Howard, Friday Elaho and a host of others in them (blood is thicker than water). It is good for us, but we need great minds to manage these players when they come home,” Adelabu stated.

Among the six players with Nigerian blood, four of them Fikori Tomori, Dominic Solanke, Ademola Lookman and Josh Onomah started the final game against Venezuela on Sunday. Liverpool pair Ovie Ejaria and Seyi Ojo started from the bench but the latter eventually came on in the course of the game. The victory was England’s first-ever world title at that level.

Apart from helping England win the World Cup title, Dominic Solanke, who is moving to Liverpool from Chelsea, won the Golden Ball award of the tournament, an award previously won by Diego Maradona, Adriano, Lionel Messi, Aguero and Paul Pogba.

Who are these players?
Ademola Lookman is a 19-year-old who plays as a forward for Everton. He was born in Wandsworth, London to parents of Nigerian descent.He represented England U-19s at the 2016 European U-19 Championships. He has turned down the opportunity to represent Nigeria, choosing to pledge his allegiance to England.

Oluwaseyi Babajide “Sheyi” Ojo was born 19 June 1997. He is an English footballer who plays for Premier League club Liverpool as a winger. Ojo joined Liverpool as a 14-year-old and came through their academy. He spent time on loan with Championship clubs Wigan Athletic and Wolverhampton Wanderers before making his competitive debut for Liverpool in January 2016. Ojo has represented England at U-16, U-17, U-18 and U-19 levels.

Ovie Ejaria is a midfielder who plays for Liverpool. Born to Nigerian parents, the 19-year-old trained with the Nigeria U-17s team in 2013.
Although he committed to Nigeria, he accepted a call-up to the England U-20 team in September 2016.

Dominic Solanke, the 19-year-old, who is moving to Liverpool from Chelsea, has represented England at the U-17 and U-19 levels. In May 2014, Solanke was part of the England squad that won the UEFA European U-17 Championship. He was the tournament’s joint top scorer with four goals in four appearances.He has even trained with the England senior team. He is also eligible to play for Nigeria.

Fikayo Tomori was born to Nigerian parents in Canada, but grew up in England, making him eligible to play for the three countries.
He started off playing for the Canada U-20 before he was called up for the England U-19.
He is 19.

Joshua Onomah: Though born to Nigerian parents, Joshua Onomah has represented England from the U-16s to U-20s.
The 20-year-old plays for Tottenham.
Apart from the six young Lions, there are other promising Nigerians with England nationality waiting to be approached by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).They include Jonathan Chiedozie Obika, a product of the Tottenham Hotspur youth setting, who played for English League One side, Sheffield United as a striker. He grew in Edmonton, London and has played for the English U-19 and U-20 teams. He is yet to play for the English senior team, but the striker is not considering playing for Nigeria his native country.

There is also Wilfred Oluwafemi Onyedinma, a Nigeria-born professional footballer who plays as a midfielder for Millwall. Onyedinma made his senior debut for Millwall on 4 January 2014 in the FA Cup against Southend United.The player is yet to feature for England at any international level, but carries the English passport and nationality.

Dominic Iorfa Jr. is the son of a former Nigerian international, Dominic Iorfa. He is an English footballer who plays as a defender for Wolverhampton Wanderers, an English Championship side. He was part of the youth system at Southend United before joining the academy of Wolverhampton Wanderers at the age of 15. He is 20-year-old and has played for the English U-18, U-19 and U-20 teams respectively. He is yet to decide whether to play for Nigeria in future.

There is also Samuel Oluwaseyi ‘Sammy’ Ameobi, who joined Nigeria’s U-20 squad training in Turkey ahead of the 2011 African Youth Championship. He appeared in two friendly games for the Nigeria U-20 team against Saudi Arabia and Egypt. However, in November 2011, he was called up to the England U-21 squad for matches against Iceland and Belgium. Even though he claims English nationality at the moment, he is said to be considering change of his nationality to play for Nigeria in future like elder brother, Shola Ameobi did. He currently plays for Cardiff City in the English Championship.

Abdul-Yussuf Adedeji Adeniyi Oshilaja was born in Bermondsey, England. He joined Cardiff City as a 16-year-old, progressing through the academy to sign his first professional contract in April 2012. The defender plays for Gillingham FC, an English League One side.

Moses Adeshina Ayoola Junior Odubajo is an English professional footballer of Nigerian heritage, who plays as a right winger or right back for Hull City. He has also represented England at U-20 level. It was reported in December 2014 that Odubajo had been invited to a training camp with the Nigeria U-23 squad, which he did not attend. He received his first call into the England U-20 squad for friendly matches against Mexico and the United States in March 2015, and he started in both matches. He was called into the U-20 squad for the 2015 Toulon Tournament and played in four of England’s five matches.

There is also Chuba Amechi Akpom, an English professional footballer who plays as a striker for Hull City, on loan from Arsenal. He has represented England at youth international levels. He has not fully make up his mind.

Reece Wabara is an English footballer that plays as a defender for Barnsley. He is eligible to represent both England and Nigeria as he has a Nigerian grandfather, but chose to represent England international as the country of his birth at youth level. In May 2008, Wabara was called up by England U-17. He has played for England U-19 and U-20 teams as well. The defender has not really made up his mind yet on Nigeria.

Karl Anthony Uchechukwu ‘Uche’ Ikpeazu, was born in Harrow, London to Nigerian parents, before joining Reading Academy in late 2010. The forward plays for Port Vale, and is yet to play for England, which is a good opportunity for Nigeria to explore.

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