Nigerian fans would have watched one of their own strutting his stuff in Russia’s colours at the 2018 World Cup if the European country had not dilly-dallied.
Perhaps Brian Idowu would have jumped at the opportunity to represent the country where he was born.
Until the 25-year-old energetic and tough-tackling defender made his international debut in the Super Eagles’4-2 defeat of South American giants Argentina in a friendly affair in Krasnodar, Russia, on Tuesday, he was eligible to play for both Russia and Nigeria because he holds dual citizenship.
The utility Amkar Perm player was born in St Petersburg, Russia, where his architect Nigerian father and his medical doctor half-Nigerian and half-Russian mother met while attending university.
Idowu, whose middle name is Oladapo, was touted as a potential star in the Russian set-up following his standout performances in Amkar’s campaign in the 2015-16 Russian Premier League season. With the player’s performance turning him into something of a cult hero in the team, some sections of the Russian media tipped him to represent the national team at the first World Cup holding in the country since its inception in 1930.
Now, the player, who scored on his international debut after coming on as a half-time substitute for Ola Aina at the Krasnodar Stadium, has revealed that he was forced to consider representing Nigeria when Russia failed to make their intentions known despite his week-in-week-out head-turning performances at Amkar.
The Russian Football Union was reportedly keen on having Idowu, who can play as a left-back, right-back, central defender, winger and central midfielder, in the national team. But Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov, who never gave Idowu a chance on the first team when he managed Amkar from 2013 to 2014, refused to invite him.
Idowu grew frustrated with Cherchesov’s apparent lack of interest in his services – and decided to listen to Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr when the 64-year-old German sounded him out about his Nigeria project.
But his Russian coach at Amkar Gadzhi Gadzhiyev wanted Idowu to play for the country where he was born and tried to stop him from switching his international allegiance to Nigeria.
“Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr contacted me and told me that he was following me,” ESPN quoted Idowu as saying on Thursday.
“He wanted to invite me to the squad, but that was impossible because I didn’t have a Nigerian passport.
“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 in my position. They don’t miss me.”
Apart from guaranteeing him a place in his World Cup squad to Russia 2018, Rohr is looking to Idowu to play dual roles at the tournament.