Kenneth Omeruo’s performance during the group stage of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Egypt was adjudged the best among players in the Group B centre based in the city of Alexandria. With an average of 8.09, he was considered second in over all ratings to Senegal’s Ismaila Sarr (8.55) according to Whoscored.com.
The Leganes of Spain player is one of the three surviving stars that won the AFCON in 2013 in South Africa. The late Stephen Keshi coached the team. Others in the 2013 Eagles are team captain, Mikel Obi and Ahmed Musa.
Omeruo’s exploits in South Africa 2013, pundits thought, had announced the arrival of the former junior international into the big time Chelsea’s first team. For many, his handling of his teammate and legendary striker, Didier Drogba, at the AFCON 2013 en route to winning the title for Nigeria, showed he was now mature and ready to compete with the best defenders at the Stamford Bridge.
Unfortunately, injury to his shoulder at the 2013 AFCON ruled him out for four months and after recovery, he was again sent on loan, making it the sixth time he had gone on loan to clubs in Europe. But his performance at Leganes has given him a new lease of life and opportunity to feature for the Eagles in Egypt. Speaking with The Guardian’s SAMUEL IFETOYE in Alexandria, Egypt, Omeruo said he hoped to play more for the country as he continued to work on his game. Excerpts:
How would you describe your return to the first team of Super Eagles?
For me, personally, it was difficult. But one thing, I never doubted my ability. I did well in my club last season and since the team’s selection rested on the manager, I was invited to prove myself. I’m happy that last season, I played in a league where Nigerians could watch me week in week out. I think it was one of the reasons I’m here today and I’m bringing that form into the Eagles as well.
It’s been long since you appeared for the Eagles consistently after the 2013 AFCON glory. What happened?
I had an injury that required a surgery on my shoulder, which kept me away from the game for four months. The opportunity to prove a point after the 2013 AFCON passed by and I had to go on loan again to be able to make it to Brazil 2014 World Cup. That exactly was what happened. But everything is okay now, as I have had a good time playing in other leagues. I’m just happy with the way my career has gone so far.
What do you hope to achieve with your newfound form in the team?
I’m so happy with my last game, especially as I was awarded the most valuable player in the game against Guinea. I ‘m happy with the award, as it meant a lot to me. For me, it shows that that belief I had in myself is there. So, it can only get better.
How did you feel scoring your first goal for Nigeria?
I felt good and proud. I was so happy because it was my dream to score for Nigeria and I’m glad that this goal meant so much for the country as well. So, I am happy about the goal.
How would you rate Nigeria’s chances, as fans have described the Eagles reserve bench as the best in Egypt?
I don’t want to start thinking about lifting the trophy for now when we are still in the process of qualifying for the next round of the competition. It is okay for the fans to think we can win the trophy. But for us, as players, we need to take every step as it comes. We will not think about the trophy until we get there.
What is the spirit like in the camp?
It is very positive now. We want to win every of our games to stand a chance of winning the trophy.
What special thing has Rohr brought into the team?
I think one thing I have learnt from him is patience. And his philosophy on patience has impacted on the team.
This is good for the team and his selection process too has been unbiased, as he brought in players, who were in top form into the team. This is very important for us the players, who are fit and in top form in our club sides as well. For me, these are the two things he brought into the team.
How would you rate your club performance last season?
We did well, the aim was to stay in the league, which we did. And for me that chapter is finished. Though they are still trying to see if they can buy me, I don’t know how possible it can. But we will see how it will go at the end.
Where do you hope to see yourself in the next two to three years?
I hope to be at the top. I have to keep working on myself just to get to the very top.
Who has been your hero?
Former Eagles defender and captain, Joseph Yobo, has been my role model and I had the opportunity to play alongside him during his playing days for Nigeria. I love the way he played. I was fortunate to have played with him and it was good for me. Then if I had to mention, who my role model is right now, I will say is Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos because as a defender he scores as well.