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Nigerian Football

Ukraine war: The Nigerian player, Olakunle Olusegun  paying a ‘heavy price’ for playing in Russia

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Olakunle Olusegun is one of several Nigerians playing for Krasnodar while the Russian side also have Angolan striker Batxi as a member of their squad

BY OLUWASHINA OKELEJI

Nigerian forward Olakunle Olusegun says he is “paying a heavy price” for his decision to stay at Russian club FK Krasnodar despite Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.

The 20-year-old moved to Russia in August 2021, initially joining Krasnodar on loan from Bulgarian outfit Botev Plovdiv before sealing a permanent switch.

But unlike compatriot Sylvester Igboun, who departed another Russian side, FK Nizhny Novgorod, after the war broke out in February 2022, Olusegun refused to take advantage of a Fifa rule allowing foreign players to leave the country.

“Staying in Russia has really affected my career,” Olusegun told BBC Sport Africa.

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“In my first season, I scored some fantastic goals which would have led to a call-up to the Super Eagles or Under-23s, but due to the sanction no one is watching the Russian League.

“My dream is to play for Nigeria again. But with where I am, maybe it’s a dream that has to wait. That is one of the disadvantages of me staying back in Russia.”

After shining with Fremad Amager in the second tier of Danish football, where Olusegun scored 12 goals and assisted four more in the 2020/21 campaign, the forward took to Russian football with surprising ease.

He started his debut campaign in Krasnodar’s second team before forcing his way into the senior side and helping the Bulls to a fourth-place finish. This season, he has scored five goals in all competitions and assisted twice.

While his exploits have seen him linked to clubs in Europe’s top five leagues, the ripple effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been felt in the country’s sporting arena.

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Its exclusion from Uefa competition has limited Olusegun’s visibility while the outflow of talent has adversely affected the competitiveness of Russia’s top flight.

Olusegun first came to global attention as part of Nigeria’s 2019 Under-17 World Cup squad, where he scored in the Golden Eaglets’ Round of 16 elimination at the hands of the Netherlands.

He has been unable to fulfil his dream of progressing through the national ranks, with the player convinced his position in Russia is largely to blame.

“I was called to the Nigeria Under-20s last year but with the sanction of Russia – including flights in and out of the country – I could not meet up.

“I contacted the coach and reminded him that maybe next time I might be able to come if he invites me. That was the only call up I had.”

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It came as a surprise when Olusegun declined to take advantage of Fifa’s special dispensation, especially considering that Krasnodar captain and Poland international Grzegorz Krychowiak was one of the first to do so, when the decision was announced in March 2022.

Olusegun suggests his own swift adaptation to Russian football was a double-edged sword.

“These past winter and summer windows, I got some interesting offers from some top leagues in Europe,” he revealed.

“But if they (Krasnodar) like your performance, and your dedication to the team, they will surely want you to stay. So they won my heart with that.

“We had a review of my contract and I decided to continue at Krasnodar, but with certain conditions and clauses.

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“Maybe if I had accepted one of the offers elsewhere my career would have taken a different direction.

“I am loved at this club, they take care of me quite well and I feel at home.

“Maybe I am paying a heavy price for my decision but then again I am growing here and will continue to fight for the club.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February 2022. At the time, with its Premier League on a winter break, Olusegun was removed from the impacts of the conflict.

“I was in Turkey for pre-season when the problem with Ukraine started,” he recalled.

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“I was like, ‘Okay, I will not be going back to Russia. I have to terminate my contract.’ But my agent told me, ‘It’s something that will surely happen [the Russia-Ukraine war] and it has happened already. I don’t think terminating your contract will be the best option for you.’

“I listened to him and I also didn’t think it was fair to leave the club in such conditions.

“My family and friends back home in Nigeria were also worried about my safety but I explained that nothing in Russia made me feel unsafe.

“This is my destiny. Coming to Russia, a lot of people criticised it. Many said, as a young boy going to Russia, it is to make money.

“I tried to explain that it wasn’t about the money. I believe maybe I will shine in Russia and people will get to know me.”

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-BBC

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Nigerian Football

Osimhen’s outburst was a moment of madness, says Amaju

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Former Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) President and a  FIFA Council member, Amaju Pinnick has expressed shock at last month’s outburst by Super Eagles’ striker, Victor Osimhen against Finidi George.

“It is very unfortunate”, Amaju Pinnick remarked on an Arise Television programme. The former NFF president said he had put a call to Osimhen who was very remorseful while the telephone conversation lasted.

  “I told him he has to apologise, and I am sure he will if he has not yet done so.” Amaju remarked that he could not comprehend what went wrong as Osimhen was the most cool-headed player in the national team.

He went on to remark that Finidi George was not a personality to be disregarded like that. He has won virtually every honour available during his playing days and was a member of the Super Eagles at their peak when Nigeria ranked fifth in the world.

“I believe players should learn to respect their coaches”, said the former NFF boss.

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Nigerian Football

I prefer a foreign coach for the Super Eagles, says Amaju

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Nigeria’s FIFA Council member, Amaju Pinnick has told the world that he has always been an advocate of foreign coaches for the Super Eagles. He spoke on Arise Television while fielding questions with Reuben Abati, Rufai Oseni and Ayo Mairo-Ese. 

His reason for being averse to indigenous  coaches stemmed from lack of respect for them by the players.

“Yes, the Nigerian coaches have the requisite knowledge and the technical ability, but modern football is beyond that in managing players.

“Will the national team players respect the coach? The sad thing is that they don’t”, said Amaju Pinnick.

 He however revealed that he supported the appointment of Finidi George owing to the circumstances that the NFF found itself after the exit of Jose Peseiro.

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 The NFF, he revealed, had no money to hire a foreign coach. The body therefore went for the most available option, Finidi to ensure a smooth transition.

 “Finidi was part of the coaching crew of Peseiro and it was therefore logical to ask him to continue.

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Nigerian Football

NFF to train referees on VAR

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Application of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR)  may soon be introduced into Nigeria’s domestic football competitions.

This is deduced from the statement of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) President, Ibrahim Gusau while addressing the annual general meeting of the Nigeria Premier League.

He also disclosed plans by the federation to train Nigerian referees on the application Video Assistant Referee (VAR).

Gusau revealed that  NFF had already secured the communication gadget that the referees will use during matches.

“We have to train the personnel that will manage the VAR now. We have selected some of the referees that we are to start training.

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It is not a training of one day, one month or two months; it is a training that will take a little bit of time. After the training they have to go on practical training on the VAR system by going out while some matches are ongoing to see how they can manage it. But when we are sure we have the personnel that can manage it in the next one or two years, we will start to see how we can use VAR in our system,” Gusau said.

He also said that the federation intends to make the league attractive by discouraging Nigerian players from joining other lesser glamourous African clubs without established football pedigree.

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