Brian Idowu never hid his excitement at joining the Nigeria team in Russia for the friendly encounter against Argentina after the St. Petersburg-born player was named on the standby list for the Super Eaglesâ€™ clashes against Algeria and Argentina. But injuries to some members of the squad saw him called up.
Revelling in his involvement with the three-time African champions, the 25-year-old via the team team’s Twitter handle said: â€œI’m happy to be invited to the national team as part of the Super Eagles.
â€œI want to do my best, take this chance to play my best football and be with the squad for a long time to support the team and to help the team in any way I possibly can. This is a great opportunity for all the Nigerians out here in Russia. We qualified for the World Cup and we are preparing and hope we are going to bring joy and excitement to all Nigerian fans.”
Idowu put up a sterling performance against Argentina and also scored the goal that shot Nigeria into the lead for the first time that evening as the Super Eagles came from two goals down to win 4-2.
Little wonder Super Eagles Manager, Gernot Rohr, at a press conference following Nigeria’s thrashing of Argentina singled out the Amkar Perm defender and Deportivo de La CoruÃ±a goalkeeper, Francis Uzoho, for special praise.
At half-time, Idowu and Uzoho came on in place of Ola Aina and Chippa United’s Daniel Akpeyi respectively for their first appearance for the Super Eagles.
”Brian is a newcomer, but he’s not the only one. We have three new players, and I would like to highlight our 19-year-old goalkeeper Uzoho. He played well.
”Such matches are specially designed so that we can evaluate new players in the team. We have three players who have a special relationship with Russia. There’s also Ahmed Musa and the captain of the team, he has a connection here through the family. Brian played well, scored a goal. His prospects depend on how he will perform at the club. His debut, I’m happy. On his position we have other options, so who will play better will be in the team.
â€œI am happy we came back from two goals down to win 4-2. It shows we have great team spirit and determination, when you keep fighting after going two goals down against a great team like Argentina,â€ Rohr said after the match.
However, the German has warned that the victory has not made Super eagles favourites to lift the 2018 Fifa World Cup, stating they had a lot to do.
â€œIt is good victory for us but it doesnâ€™t mean weâ€™ve become favourites to win the World Cup. We stay humble and realise we have more work to do. We prepared well for this game because playing Argentina is big for us, maybe it is different for them,â€ he said.
When Russia was announced as the 2018 World Cup hosts in 2010, Idowu harboured hopes of representing them at the tournament.
He was eligible because he was born in St Petersburg (where his parents met while attending university; his father studied architecture, while his mother is a doctor) and his maternal grandmother Olga is Russian. His other three grandparents are Nigerian and, when Idowu was three, the family moved to Nigeria to live in Owerri for three years before returning to Russia.
When they came back, Idowu had to learn Russian quickly before going to school – where he excelled at Russian literature – and in the same time joined the football academy at Zenit. Inspired watching Ronaldo and Roberto Baggio at the 1998 World Cup, he started out as a striker, then tried being a goalkeeper, before settling as an attack-minded right-back at the age of 12. He was considered one of the best talents in his age group, and was included in some provisional squads of the Russian Under-16 national team, but never played for them.
As time went by, it became apparent that he wouldn’t get an opportunity to break into the senior Zenit squad, and he chose to leave for Amkar Perm, in the Ural Mountains, in 2010.
When playing on loan at second division Dinamo St Petersburg in 2013, Idowu explained his reasons for leaving his hometown: “When I studied at school, people kept telling me that I would be the first black player for Zenit. But then, when I trained with the reserves, nobody told me anything. I was tired of waiting and joined Amkar. Later my agent openly told me that Zenit donâ€™t accept black players.
“I think it’s not about the club policy, but rather about fans. They want to be different from the big rivals Spartak Moscow and CSKA Moscow who won their titles with the help of black players. Zenit fans are proud to be different, and the club doesn’t want to disappoint them.”
With little experience of first-team games, Idowu only made his full debut for Amkar in May 2012, a few days before his 20th birthday, and spent another season in the reserves before getting some playing time at Dinamo.
It took until the end of 2015 before Idowu finally proved himself at Amkar under the guidance of veteran coach Gadzhi Gadzhiev. He gradually improved his game and became the starting right-back in a team known for its defensive organisation. That form was noticed and his first contact from Nigeria came soon after. “Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr contacted me and told me that he was following me. He wanted to invite me to the squad, but that was impossible because I don’t have a Nigerian passport,â€ Idowu said in November 2016.
“Gadzhiev said that such a call is not incidental, and I should keep progressing. He advised me to wait and see if I get called by Russia as well. I don’t see why I can’t play for Russia if I keep getting better, but they have good players like Mario Fernandes -CSKA’s Brazilian-born right-back in my position. They don’t miss me.” But with Russia yet to make a move, Rohr was keen to revisit Idowu’s nationality switch – made more complex by the fact he could have lost his place in the Amkar team because, according to Russian FA rules, each club can only field six foreigners (in a six+five system) at the same time.
“A year ago, Idowu was invited to the national team, but then he did not play because of the difficulty with the limit on the foreign players in the Russian championship,â€ Rohr told Sport Express Russia ahead of the Argentina game. ”But now the situation has changed … I look forward to Brian not only as a good interpreter in Russia, but also as a fully-fledged player who will make the World Cup roster.”
Amkar have more Russian players in the squad this season, which has made Idowu’s situation easier, but there is a still a chance of a U-turn if he gets a call from Stanislav Cherchesov and only plays for Nigeria in friendly matches until the World Cup. Though, after his debut performance in the 4-2 win over Argentina, the chances are that Russia will lose out on a top talent to the Super Eagles.
“I feel great with Nigeria. I have been well received by both players and coaches. The atmosphere is very positive. For me this is a huge chance and experience. As for why I’m not playing for Russia, I shouldn’t be asked this question. I want to go to the World Cup with Nigeria, because they believe in me,” Brian said.