From Lagos to Goodison and back
"I want to play for Nigeria because that's where I was
born," said a 17-year-old Victor Anichebe back in February
2006. "I go back every Christmas and I've still got a lot
of family there. Although we moved to England when I was one year
old, I still feel Nigerian."
Now, just over two years later, his wish has come true. On 26 March, Anichebe was called up by coach and former Super Eagles star Samson Siasia for the crucial Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 qualifier against South Africa.
This first cap was a dream come true for the young striker. He came on as a substitute for Solomon Okoronkwo and helped his team to qualify, notching the final goal in a decisive 3-0 win. Now he hopes to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessors, who won gold at Atlanta in 1996.
" ," said Siasia after calling Anichebe up to the squad.
Born in Lagos on 23 April 1988, the following year Anichebe and his parents set up home in Liverpool, where it was the Toffees rather than the Reds who snapped him up. He stood out at an early age in Everton's academy, but his coach exercised caution, not wanting the youngster to take on too much, too quickly.
Indeed, it was not until 28 January 2006 that he made his top-flight debut, coming on in the last minute of normal time to replace Simon Davies in an FA Cup fourth round match against Chelsea. He signed his first professional contract in April of that year and won the reserve player of the year award for 2005/06. On 7 May 2006, the final day of the season, he even netted his first Premier League goal, firing past West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak.
The following summer, he became a fans' favourite at Goodison Park, scoring four times in six pre-season matches, but the best was to come this year. Having scored four goals in 23 matches last season, he signed a contract extension tying him to the club until 2011 and went on to become coach David Moyes' secret UEFA Cup weapon.
In eight European matches, he scored four times - against
Metalist Kharkiv of Ukraine, Greek side Larissa, Germany's
Nuremberg and Brann Bergen from Norway - and this was when the
nationality question came up. Would he choose the country of his
birth or the one where he has spent almost all of his life?
Having made his mind up a long time before, Anichebe was not influenced by the public debate. In March 2007, former Super Eagles coach Berti Vogts had already selected him for a CAF Africa Cup of Nations Ghana 2008 qualifier against Uganda, but Anichebe made it no further than the substitutes' bench on that occasion. He was called up twice more but had to drop out due to injury both times.
Now, having waited so long, the player's wish is finally coming true. "Every player dreams of one day donning his country's colours," he said. " ."
Every top player, however, dreams of winning titles, and Anichebe hopes to open his account this summer in China. His coach has every faith in him: "My boys have proved that they will be in the hunt for a gold medal come August, and we're going to prepare for the tournament with that as our mindset. Together, we want to make our dream come true," Siasia concluded.