‘Slowly but surely’ is the maxim that springs to mind when summarising the career of Ideye Brown. The Nigerian forward has never hurried any important decisions on the table in front of him, nor tried to force his own destiny. And these are doubtless some of the reasons that persuaded Lars Lagerback to include the 21-year-old in Nigeria’s preliminary squad for 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
A simple text message was sufficient for FIFA.com to get in touch with the Sochaux player. “Call me whenever you like, any time!” was the amiable response. A few hours later, it is with a pleasant “Hi, how are you?” that the interview gets under way.
It quickly becomes clear that the young frontman is not the type to take himself too seriously, answering every question humbly and honestly. When the subject of his call-up is raised, he cannot hide his delight. “It’s huge! Can you imagine? To be considered one of the 30 best footballers in my country is a dream come true. But I know that the hard work starts here if I want to make it into the final 23.”
When the path Brown has taken to date is put under scrutiny, it is not difficult to see why he is now in contention at international level.
North American launch pad
He learned his trade at the modest Nigerian club of Bayelsa United, but it was with Ocean Boys that he began to make his mark. Alongside the looming presence of fellow rising stars Stephen Worgu, Blessing Okardi and Ikechukwu Ezenwa, his power and finishing ability came to the fore. In 2007, he won the Nigerian Championship, before travelling to Canada to represent his country at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. “It was my first time abroad,” recalls Brown. “Overall, things went pretty well for me on the pitch. I’d taken the competition extremely seriously right from the start. I was aware that there was no better place for me to showcase my skills.”
Included in the starting line-up for all five of Nigeria’s matches, he managed to find the net against Costa Rica and played a large part in his country’s good run to the quarter-finals. His performances did not go unnoticed in Europe, particularly in Switzerland, where Neuchatel Xamax made him their top signing target. He would eventually join the club in December of that year, right in the middle of winter.
To be considered one of the 30 best footballers in my country is a dream come true. But I know that the hard work starts here if I want to make it into the final 23.
“The first few weeks were really hard. It was as if I’d landed in the Arctic (laughs). But I tried to put it out of my mind, to not let myself miss my family and friends too much, in order to concentrate solely on football.”
Having had the wherewithal and patience to wait until he turned 20 before moving to a foreign league, unlike many of his fellow Africans, he was already sufficiently mature to first settle in well, and then establish himself in the team. In three seasons in Switzerland, he scored 27 goals in 58 appearances. He became one of the most dangerous penalty-box predators in the league and began to attract the attention of teams in more high-profile championships.
From lion cub to Super Eagle
Because in the sporting world one man’s calamity often becomes another man’s chance, it was the terrible injury suffered by Charlie Davies that would eventually lead to Brown joining Sochaux, to cover the American attacker’s absence. Les Lionceaux (The Lion Cubs) took their time to make a formal offer, concerned about making the right choice, but when it finally came, it represented a record amount for both clubs.
Located a stone’s throw from the Swiss border, Sochaux appears to suit Brown perfectly, providing him with the ideal environment to develop further, and to retain links with Neuchatel. “The moment that I have a bit of spare time, I get in my car and visit my friends in Switzerland,” he says. And while he feels that four goals in nine matches does not yet signal that he has properly found his feet in his new surroundings, it would not be farfetched to imagine his goal ratio improving even further over the coming months.
With a sense of having accomplished this season’s mission by keeping Sochaux in Ligue 1, Brown can now concentrate all of his efforts on being on the plane to South Africa. He has already begun to imagine what could be waiting for him at the FIFA World Cup. “My dream would be to grab just a few minutes to show what I can do. But I’m not expecting anything – I’m still young, after all. Just making it into the 23-man squad would be an incredible opportunity at this stage in my career.”
Drawn in a tough Group B alongside Argentina, Korea Republic and Greece, the Super Eagles will have to show considerably more than they did during their qualifying campaign in order to progress. But the players believe they have a chance, as their enthusiastic spokesman confirms. “If we can get out of our group, the sky’s the limit. I can even see us reaching the semi-finals.”
Brown may be young, but he knows where he wants to go. Slowly but surely.