How Ahmed Musa became Nigeria’s favorite son

Ahmed Musa

Days after suffering a humiliating defeat against Croatia in their first group game at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, the Super Eagles filed out for the second time around, against European darlings, Iceland. The World Cup debuting Iceland team was freshly confident, following their unexpected draw with the Lionel Messi powered Argentina in their first game.

The first half of the game was largely uninspiring as both sides failed to make any serious impressions. Soon after the start of the back half though, striker, Ahmed Musa, acting on a cross from Victor Moses, fired home a spectacular half volley from close range past Iceland goalkeeper, Hannes Halldorsen. Ivorian football legend Didier Drogba, who knows a thing or two about scoring brilliant finishes, gushed to the BBC, ”That’s a great finish, the first touch is unbelievable, that is the perfect touch to finish a goal, a good goal,…The difficulty in controlling the ball makes it a beautiful goal.”

But Ahmed Musa wasn’t done yet.

In the 75th minute of play, he bolted down the left, turned sharply to surprise defender Kari Arnason, and sent a shot high into the open net. Musa would later walk back the magic of the terrific second goal for KweseESPN, “Once I beat the goalkeeper, I wanted to shoot, but I saw the two defenders on the line and I knew that if I rushed the shot I could miss it, or they could block it. So I had to stay calm and let them commit before I took the shot.” He recalled.

Nigerians everywhere around the world were ecstatic.

The sheer beauty of Musa’s two goals would have been satisfying on any given day. But Ahmed Musa had also succeeded in rekindling the World Cup hopes of around 180 million Nigerians. For a moment in time, he became a national hero, engraved in the hearts of overwhelmed compatriots. The Man of the Match honor that followed was merely a formality.

With his double brace against Iceland, Ahmed Musa, a former captain of the Super Eagles, entered the history books as the highest scoring Nigerian footballer at the World Cup. This adds to his previous tally of two, recorded in a single game against Argentina at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Musa also equaled his Brazil record by scoring more than once for the second time in a FIFA World Cup match.

Musa’s English Premier League Club, Leicester City, from where he is presently on loan to Russian side, CSKA Moscow, also recognized him as the first player from the club to score at the World Cup, proving that success does have many friends.

Local Champion

Ahmed Musa was born on the 14th Of October, 1992 in the city of Jos, Plateau state to the polygamous family of Alhaji Musa from Maiduguri, Borno state. His mother, Sarah Moses, a Christian from Afuze, Owan, in Edo state raised he and his four elder sisters after his father passed on. Musa was seven years old at the time. Musa turned his energies to football when it became obvious his family lacked the means to fund his education. He took to playing on the streets whenever the opportunity presented itself and for lack of options, his mother supported him.

Musa joined the Aminci Football Academy in Jos as a thirteen-year old from where he was scouted by division one local side, JUTH FC, where he was soon engaged on loan. Musa lasted for a season, playing 18 games and scoring four goals before he was promptly snatched up by Kano Pillars, also on loan. It was in Kano that Musa would first demonstrate his prodigious gifts on a broad platform

During the 2009/10 season, Ahmed Musa’s first stint in the Globacom Premier League, he erased Ishaya Jatau’s almost 20 years old local league record of 17 goals when he scored 18 goals to help Kano Pillars finish second in a stellar campaign. This was nevertheless, two goals short of Musa’s personal target of 20 goals. He modestly expressed his pleasure to sports correspondent, ‘Tana Aiyejina about a year later, ‘’Honestly I never expected that I could emerge highest scorer in the Nigerian league because of the tough style of play and great players in the league.’’

It was soon obvious that the talented forward was not going to last for much longer in the local league as bigger prospects came knocking. But even after leaving the local league, Musa was full of encouragement for the players and was quite eager to be surrender his goal scoring record. As he told Aiyejina in 2011, ‘’My prayer is that the record gets broken immediately and I hope this season’s highest goal scorer will finish with at least 20 goals. We have players who can do it.” The record has since been improved upon, at least three different times with Eyimba’s Mfon Udoh standing as the current holder with 23 goals in a single season.

Musa’s ferocious pace, dribbling skills and confidence with the ball made him a star and it wasn’t long before Daniel Amokachi, coach of the home based Super Eagles B team, invited him to lead Nigeria’s charge for glory at the West African Union (WAFU) nations cup final in Abeokuta. At the tourney, Musa proved his class as Nigeria defeated Senegal to clinch the title.

Welcome to the big leagues

Europe came calling and Ahmed Musa answered.

His first port was in the Netherlands, where he joined Eredivisie side, VVV-Venlo. In keeping with FIFA rules, Musa had to wait for some months till he turned eighteen before making his European club debut. He started in his first match against FC Groningen and scored eight goals in 37 appearances, helping the Dutch side escape relegation in his first season there.

In 2011, Musa was listed by Goal.com amongst the Hot 100 young football stars in the world, drawing comparisons at VVV-Venlo with former Super Eagle Tijani Babangida who once played at the club side.

Back home, it was a series of hits and misses, ups and down. Ahmed Musa was pivotal to Nigeria’s 2011 African Youth Championship win and was rewarded with the Most Valuable Player (MVP) title for his efforts. He was also part of Nigeria’s 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup campaign that ended in a quarter final defeat to France. He was shortlisted for the tourney’s Golden Ball.

Musa was part of the national side that won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, as well as the unsuccessful team knocked out in group stages at the FIFA Confederations Cup. He made his World Cup debut in 2014 and is already one of the most experienced players on the team.

After entertaining offers from major club sides like Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham Hotspurs and Ajax Amsterdam, Musa signed with Russian side, CSKA Moscow for an undisclosed fee. In 2015, he renewed a contract to keep him in Moscow through 2019 but the lure of the English Premier League proved impossible to resist. After intense negotiations, Musa moved to champions Leicester City for a then club record of 16.6 million Pounds. The plan was to have Musa understudy English striker, Jamie Vardy.

The forward struggled in his first season in the Premier League, scoring a miserly four goals in 32 appearances for Leicester. Musa insisted the club did not give him opportunity to show his quality, especially after Claudio Ranieri, who championed his move to King Power Stadium, was sacked in 2017. At the World Cup in Russia, he responded to reporters thus, “Did they give me any opportunity to show myself after they sacked the coach? So I don’t want to talk about that.”

He was encouraged by Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr to secure a transfer back to CSKA Moscow to enable him amass game time that would qualify him for the 2018 World Cup. Musa made the move in January this year and found his form again, scoring six goals in 10 appearances for the Russian Horses. He is full of gratitude, “They helped me get back to the style of play I had today. Were it not for CSKA, I would not have been in the World Cup.”

 

Family Affair

It isn’t only professional challenges that Ahmed Musa battled while in England. In April 2017, Leicestershire policemen were called in to investigate a disturbance involving Musa and his first wife, Jamila, at Ahmed’s Countesthorpe home. Musa was let go without charge and his agent, Tony Harris insisted that tabloid reports of the player’s arrest had been exaggerated.

According to Harris, a row ensued between Musa and Jamila which drew the attention of neighbors, hence the police notification. Harris added, ‘’The police duly spoke with Musa along with a couple of witnesses in the house and have since closed the matter with no further action whatsoever as there is no case to answer. No charges were brought against Musa or his wife.’’

Leicester City released a statement regarding the incident, “The inquiry has since been closed and no further action is to be taken. We see no reason for formal action internally, though Ahmed will be given the opportunity to discuss the matter with football management when the squad returns to training on Friday.” Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president, Amaju Pinnick also rose to Musa’s defense, adding on Twitter, “Reports of wife battering are false. Musa remains a responsible family man and player.”

About a month later, Musa wedded old flame, Juliet Adeh Ejue in an intimate ceremony in Abuja. He has two children from the initial union with Jamila. “The past remains in the past. I’m happy now and I think well and I can focus on my game which suffered a bit.” Musa told Complete Sports after his wedding.

Despite his relative youth, Ahmed Musa is considered a leader by peers and regular folk alike. He retains fond memories of his time in Kano and as a way of giving back to the city that made him famous, returned last year to donate a public sports complex and fitness center reportedly valued at 500million Naira.

The center is equipped to address gaps in the training of young persons interested in sports by providing world class sporting and recreation services. Representing the Governor at the unveiling of the center, chairman of the Kano state sports commission, Ibrahim Galadima gushed, “Ahmed Musa has to be celebrated. He has made us to understand that our players need to make investment that will touch the lives of others. This place is an ideal place for aging people and even the younger ones to keep themselves fit.’’ Musa’s mother, Sarah Moses confirmed at the unveiling in Kano, ‘’He has been the bread winner of the family and even our extended family members. He is taking good care of all of us.’’

What the future holds

Whatever is to be said about Ahmed Musa’s game and the quality or lack thereof, he is not a chameleon, able to adapt to various states of play on the pitch. On account of the downturn in fortunes recorded at Leicester City, Ahmed Musa was not on most pundits’ radar to make a sterling outing in Russia and the first game against Croatia in which he came on as a substitute for Alex Iwobi gave no signs of an uptick in form.

In an piece published ahead of the Iceland game for KweseESPN, renowned sports journalist Colin Udoh offered up a clear-eyed analysis of why Musa represents Nigeria’s best hope for goals against Iceland. Udoh argued, ‘’While considered a winger in Nigeria, his inability to cross — not one of his strongest assets — has been held against him for years. But that is not Musa’s strength. His biggest assets are his speed and finishing. Those are the qualities which propelled him to the Nigerian league golden boot. They are also the assets which have helped him bag those goals at CSKA, and not by crossing a football. He has excelled in Moscow by being stationed as a central striker.’’

Thankfully Gernot Rohr, desperate for a result against Iceland, opted for a change in tactics and Musa was able to take advantage of his new lease to repay the faith in his abilities. Infused with a fresh blast of confidence, not only for the rest of the World Cup, but also for his club side future, Musa has every right to be optimistic.

His immediate future in Europe is likely tied to his performance at the World Cup but whatever happens, Ahmed Musa is certainly back in the game.

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