Ogenyi Onazi: Looking Good to Soar with Birmingham

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After an initial denial that he was dumping his Turkish club,Trabzonspor, Ogenyi Onazi was on Wednesday unveiled by English Championship side, Birmingham City, as its latest acquisition. Chronicling his career from Lazio, Kunle Adewale writes about the potential of the move to rejuvenate his career

Many would argue that the state of Nigeria’s national team is a reflection of the quality of players the country has at its disposal. While most of them are playing in lowly rated clubs, the few that play in top clubs could not boast of regular shirts except for about two or three players.

Ogenyi Onazi is one of such Super Eagles players struggling in the lowly Turkey league, but things are now looking good for him. After an initial denial and with news emanating that Onazi had changed his mind about leaving Turkish club, Trabzonspor, over unpaid wages and that he had received further assurance from the club about his salary, English Championship side, Birmingham, suddenly announced him as its newest player on Wednesday.

His agent and former Nigeria international, Ayodele Makinwa, said the issue with Trabzonspor was settled amicably.

“To be clear, we never asked for any financial improvement or whatsoever. We settled the differences with additional guarantees with regards to payment. It’s an avoidable and unnecessary problem but both parties have come out with a mutual understanding now,” Makinwa told BBC Sport.

Onazi even resumed pre-season training with the Turkish club before the Birmingham deal.

“We have an agreement with the club which strictly states that the player has a right to terminate his contract if the club failed to pay him for two months or more,” he said.

Revealing why he opted to join the English Championship club, the Super Eagles midfielder, said it was because the club’s manager, Harry Redknapp had long wanted to sign him, adding that his experience would help the club return to the English top-flight league.

“Redknapp first wanted to sign me when he was in charge of Tottenham Hotspur, but for some reasons he couldn’t. He has called me to say he wants big, experienced players to help his team gain promotion to the Premier League. For me, this is an opportunity for me to get into the system. I believe that within a year, we will be playing in the Premier League,” the Benue-born player said.

The veteran English manager had earlier confirmed that talks were underway for the Super Eagles vice-captain.

In a chat with THISDAY, former Nigeria midfielder, Friday Ekpo said he did not see Onazi’s move to Birmingham as a plunge in his football career.

“Looking at it critically, it’s not a bad move after all. He is going to play under a coach that believes in him and had even wanted him before this time.

“Moreover, Harry Redknapp has the track record of reviving team; it is not surprising therefore that Onazi had challenged himself to help return the club back to top flight,” Ekpo said.

Continuing, the former international said,  Onazi had been unfortunate to have played in clubs where they owe him salaries, which sometimes unsettles him. He is now going to play in a system that is well organised. With many of his international colleagues playing in England, this will go a long way in helping him to settle down fast.”

Onazi’s performance in Turkey had earlier caught the eye of La liga side, Sevilla. According to AOIFootball.com, Sevilla’s new coach, Manuel Eduardo Berizzo who took over from former manager Jorge Sampaoli wants to bolster his squad ahead of the new season and fancies the midfielder’s playing style.

“The fact that a side like Sevilla still admires Onazi only goes to show that his game has not nosedived in anyway. He had only gone to play in a club where he is going to be playing regularly, which is not only good for him but for the national team,” Ekpo noted.

Onazi began playing football in the streets of Jos in 1998, from where his football skills drew a lot of attention and afforded him the opportunity to play in some academies in the city.

His footballing abilities came to prominence when he moved to Lagos to play for My People FC.

Onazi joined Lazio in 2011 and was first promoted to the Lazio first team during the following season after appearing at youth level. In the following 2012–2013 season, Onazi was granted more playing time featuring in the defensive midfielder role.

He scored his first Serie A goal in a 3–1 win over Inter and his second in a 4–2 defeat to Napoli.

In 2016 he was transferred to Trabzonspor for €3.5 million.

On the international seen, Onazi represented Nigeria at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, where Nigeria was runners-up.

However, he was overlooked for selection at the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup two years later, despite participating in the training camps in Portugal and Panama.

He made his debut for the senior team in an AFCON qualification match against Liberia and his first goal came in his second international match, a 3–1 friendly win over Venezuela in Florida.