Sheyi Ojo was a delight to watch last weekend and little wonder he was rated as one of Liverpool’s best players during Reds’ away win against Bournemouth. But there are fears in some quarters that Ojo might end up playing for Three Lions, especially having played for England at the junior level. Kunle Adewale reports
Dele Alli and Jordon Ibe are some of the few British-born Nigerians that have turned their backs on the Super Eagles of Nigeria and have instead chosen to play for England. It would therefore be no surprise if the new kid on the block, Sheyi Ojo, who made his second Liverpool debut last weekend, decides to go the way of his Liverpool teammate, Ibe.
Former Nigerian international, Paul Okoku, is however of the opinion that until the national team is made attractive, Nigeria-born players living abroad would continue to dump Nigeria for other countries.
“If the Nigerian team was at the level the Super Eagles were before the USA 1994 World Cup, all these players would be struggling to be part of the team, and not the other way round. It is a shame that at this level of Nigerian football, the football federation and its coaches still travel abroad to convince players to put on the colours of the national team, when players should actually be scrambling to play for the Eagles.
“Until we develop our football and make Nigerian football a brand, we will still be going out on our knees to convince average players to star for us. If our league is in proper shape, do we have to be doing these,” Okoku said.
Born in England by Nigerian parents, Ojo was so impressive that former England international, Ian Wright said he was ‘so excited’ to see how Liverpool winger Sheyi Ojo develops after his dazzling display in last Sunday’s 2-1 Premier League victory away at Bournemouth.
The 18-year-old Reds academy graduate made his first-team debut earlier this season in the FA Cup third-round against Exeter City and scored in the tie’s replay win too.
Ojo started Liverpool’s last two Premier League games and was in fine form against the Cherries, even having a hand in Roberto Firmino’s opening goal.
Former Arsenal and Crystal Palace striker Wright, speaking in his role as a pundit for the BBC’s Match of the Day coverage of the game, reflected: “I remember we did the FA Cup game when Liverpool played Exeter on this quagmire of a pitch and seeing Ojo with his beautiful left foot.”
The ex-England international added: “He’s got this calm demeanour about him. I am so excited about him and want to see what he’s like in bigger games, more intensified.”
Ojo joined the academy of MK Dons when he was 10 years old and by the age of 13 he had played for the Dons’ U18 side and was training with the first team squad. During his time at the club, Ojo became the first MK Dons trainee to receive an international cap at youth level.
In 2011, Liverpool beat off competition from a host of Europe’s top clubs including a multi-million pound offer from Chelsea to sign Ojo, then 14, for an undisclosed fee believed to be in the region of £2 million and went on to be joint top scorer in the prestigious U17 Future Cup.
Having made a number of appearances on Liverpool’s bench over the festive period, Ojo joined Wigan Athletic on loan on February 2, 2015 and five days later, he made his professional debut coming on as a 59th minute substitute for Wigan in a Championship match against Bournemouth, with Wigan naming Ojo as their man-of-the-match after he had a positive impact on the game.
He was recalled by Liverpool in January 2016, and made his first-team competitive debut for the club as a substitute in the FA Cup third round match against Exeter City that ended in a 2–2 draw the next day. Ojo went on to score his first competitive goal for Liverpool in the replay against Exeter.
Having been born in England and of Nigerian heritage, he is eligible to represent either Nigeria or England. At youth level, he represented England at the U16, U17, U18 and U19 levels.
John Salako, for example, was born in Ibadan but represented the Three Lions. Gabriel Agbonlahor is another player who ultimately opted for England over Nigeria, while Warri-born Nedum Onuoha, it seems, still hasn’t decided who he wants to play for.
Una Nwajei, Ugo Ehiogu, Carlton Cole, all chose England. Nigeria has also ‘lost’ players to Germany, Patrick Owomoyela and Dennis Aogo; David Alaba to Austria, Angelo Ogbonna to Italy and Oguchi Onyewu to the United States.
However, to date, John Fashanu rues his decision to play for England at the expense of his fatherland as he was dumped after playing a couple of friendly games for the Three Lions. Since then, he has been in the fore front of the campaign against players of Nigerian descent choosing to play for another country.
In September 2014, Ojo received his first England U18 call up for a double header against the Netherlands. He appeared in both games with England winning by an aggregate score of 7–2. And in 2015, he received his first call up for the England U19 team and played 90 minutes in a 3–2 away win over Germany.
It remains to be seen if Ojo would learn from Fashanu’s example, whereby, he was used and dumped by England.