Odion Ighalo’s hat-trick against the Mediterranean Knights of Libya took the shine off other players at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo, last Saturday. However, the exceptional performance of Super Eagles new boy, Jamilu Collins did not go unnoticed
Since Celestine Babayaro made the left-back of Super Eagle defence his left-back and later Ifeanyi Udeze, the position has been the weakest link in the senior national team’s line of defence.
While Elderson Echiejile has held the left-back position for the better part of the last decade, several players including Juwon Oshaniwa, Stanley Amuzie and Kingsley Madu have auditioned for the role but failed to nail down a regular spot till right-footed Brian Idowu’s emergence prior to last summer’s World Cup in Russia.
However, succour may have after all been in place if the performance of new boy, Jamilu Collins against the Mediterranean Knights of Libya in the double header 2019 Africa Cup of Nations billed for Cameroon is anything to go by.
Collins did not quite turn heads in much the same way in his first start and full game against Libya. What he did show, however, was that there was the potential to be something more than just a trialist.
“I was very happy with him,” Rohr told KweséESPN after the game. “He did well and we are happy to have him.”
Udeze also told KweséESPN that he was impressed by this latest successor to his number three jersey.
“He is good, but we still need to watch him play more games,” Udeze said. “I like his recovery and he knows how to cover from the left side. But he needs to get himself involved more during the game.”
With Echiejile back at Monaco but essentially clubless, Collins is now the only natural left-footed left-back available to Gernot Rohr.
As a matter of fact, he is one of only three natural left-footers in the squad; the other two being Kelechi Iheanacho and John Ogu. Rohr’s other options in the position are inverted players, Bryan Idowu and Ola Aina.
This lack of natural left-footers has left the Super Eagles somewhat unbalanced, with wide players always looking to pinch in rather than do what Collins did on their game with Libya in Uyo which was to provide the dual threat of driving in and attacking the full-back on their outside while keeping open the threat of a cross.
Of course, one game is not enough to make a judgement. Kingsley Madu impressed on his debut in the same position under the late Stephen Keshi, but dropped off the radar after Keshi was replaced.
Collins has the advantage of a coach who not only believes in his ability but who also appears willing to trust him to grow into the role alongside Idowu and to some extent, Aina.
That competition should be of immense benefit to all three players. But more importantly, if Collins does reach the potential that Rohr appears to envisage for him, he could well be a long-term solution to the Super Eagles left-back issues.
The 24-year-old is on the payroll of second-tier German Aged 18, the Kaduna native was called up by John Obuh for the 2013 Toulon Tournament where he made no appearance.
Five years later after surviving five loan spells from his first professional club Rijeka in Croatia and a promotion from German third-tier league, he was handed his maiden national team invite alongside England-born centre-back Semi Ajayi, also part of Obuh’s set-up in 2013.
Collins indeed admitted having been taken aback after receiving news of his first ever call-up to the Nigeria national side ahead of last month’s international duties against Seychelles and Liberia.
The 24-year-old turns out for Paderborn SC in the 2. Bundesliga in Germany and his invite to join the Super Eagles came as a surprise as he never expected being on the radar of Coach Rohr and his scouts.
Collins indeed expressed his delight at the opportunity to represent his country despite playing in the lower league.
“At first, it was surprising, despite the fact that I’ve been working really hard in Paderborn,” Collins told Goal.
“Secondly, I’ve been praying for it to come and when I got the call-up, I was a little bit surprise – surprise of happiness and it was a joy for me to see that I’ve my country watching over me while playing. I never expected it that they watched me. It was a great feeling and I was happy about it.”
“I know that if you follow football very well you’d never react badly to a player invited from the 2. Bundesliga. When you don’t follow football, you can’t [have a] say… but it’s normal. This is not the first time, we have such everywhere.
“It was a great experience, great team at that moment but unfortunately things didn’t work out the way we all wanted it; for me and some of my teammates. I feel good seeing my friends again and we chat like before and the relationship is back again, so it’s a great feeling.”
In Seychelles camping, Collins left a good first impression on Rohr whom during Libya’s pre-match presser revealed that injury limited his chances in last month’s 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifiers win over Seychelles before he was handed his debut in the friendly win against Liberia in Monrovia days later.
“Good, good physique, he’s quick, he can go forward, he’s defensively strong,” the German tactician lauded his defensive and attacking qualities – as well as the width and balance his left foot brings to the team.
“My style of play; I play to instructions; I play to what the coach wants. We are all professionals, we have quality. The way the coach asks me to do, I do,” he said.
Asked what he’d do to keep it, he said: “I’ll play my football, playing the same style I’m best at.
“Everything! The same way I play my football. The same thing the coach saw in me that made him invite me.”