John Ogu: Making a Statement with Poise

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Nigerian football fans were disappointed when Super Eagles Technical Advicer, Gernot Rohr, omitted John Ogu’s name during Nigeria’s first World Cup qualifier against Zambia considering his form both in the Israeli league and the Europa league. The German was not convinced about him, saying then, “We have the best players with us in the team for the game against Zambia and Ogu isn’t one of them.” However, with his performance against Algeria last week in Constantine, Kunle Adewale writes on whether the player has finally won the heart of the German tactician

Speaking at a media parley ahead of Super Eagles’ World Cup qualifiers game against Zambia, Gernot Rohr revealed that the highly rated defensive midfielder who was voted as the best foreign player in Israel in 2016 was not among the best players in Nigeria. “We have the best players with us here in the team for the game against Zambia and John Ogu isn’t one of them,” he had said.

In Ogu’s first two notable games for the national team, he came in as a substitute. In his first game against Kenya in 2013, he came in for injured Victor Moses, while in his second game, he replaced injured Ogenyi Onazi, until he was handed another opportunity to make the Super Eagles’ team in an African Cup of Nations qualifying match against South Africa.

With injuries to several players in Nigeria’s last match against Algeria, Ogu was given a starting shirt and he put up a superlative performance, crowned with a spectacular goal.

However, he would not have been available for the game after picking an injury in his club but had to go the extra mile to spend his personal money to be ready for the game against Algeria.

He went off injured in a Europa League game for his Israeli side, Hapoel Be’er Sheva against Romanian side, Steau Bucuresti, due to a muscle injury, and was later told he would be out for four weeks.

However, the 29-year-old battled his way back to full fitness in order to be fit for the game against Algeria, and returned to the pitch two weeks earlier than the time the doctors gave him.

“October 20, in a game against Steau Bucharest in our UEFA Cup match, I had a little tear in my satorious muscle that forced me out of the game. I usually don’t go out from games but that night it was painful so I did.

“Weekend of that same week, we were to play against Maccabi Tel Aviv which is a very important game for my club. Training on Saturday, I wanted to play with me begging our doctors to inject me .But they refused because they don’t want to risk it.

“I was thinking also of this day and moment in my career. So, I went for Ultra sound and it was revealed I had a tear and that I will be out for four weeks. Thank God for the Gene he blessed me with. I told them I will be back in two weeks. “I spent my money to visit a specialist, went for a therapy with my team three times, spent also on Orthotics to fit in my boots and came back exactly in two weeks just to be back to represent my country after missing three league games and Europa League game.

“I’m not looking way too sharp yet but I will keep working hard. I’m really proud of the team against Algeria. We worked as a team and fought for each other. I am Happy all my efforts were not in vain. I’m grateful to God for his grace upon my life,” Ogu said on his Twitter handle.

Speaking with THISDAY, former Nigerian international, Tajudeen Disu, said: “I think Rohr is starting to trust Ogu after his performance against Senegal in London. Though, it was far away from a vintage performance but the coach saw in him a bright future and a room for improvement and the player grabbed the opportunity with a vintage performance against Algeria. He has the potentials no doubt, but he needs to compose himself more and prove to the coach that he’s the best option for that position.

“Without trying to undermine his Israeli club-Hapoel Be’er Sheva, a regular shirt for the national team could also earn him bigger clubs in Europe and ofcourse, better pay. Those are some of the advantages that come along with enjoying regular shirt for the national team,” Disu stated.

He, however, attributed his absence from the national team to the decision he took while in Portugal. “It started with a friendly in South Africa when the coach asked me to feign injury but I refused. We were African champions and I wanted to be part of the squad, playing for my country is too important for me,” Ogu told Supersport. “When I returned to Portugal everything changed and he stopped playing me. I didn’t get much attention. I continued working on my game but he never played me. It was only after the team list came out for the World Cup that he (the coach tried to be nice to me) but it was too late. Now, I am in Israel and playing regularly, enjoying my football, winning league titles and back in the national team.”

On how he feels that at Hapoel he is one of the first names on the team sheet but for the Super Eagles, despite his experience, he is not a guaranteed starter, he said: “I am one of those who will always respect the decisions of the coach. It is a dream to be called up to represent Nigeria and so it is an honour to be in the squad. So, when I come to the Super Eagles camp, I do not feel I am coming to replace anyone. I just feel I am coming to help my country win matches and qualify for tournaments.”

It therefore remains to be seen how much conviction Rohr now has in Ogu.