Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Moses headed for promised land with Nigeria

You wouldn’t expect that making an appearance in the 22,000 capacity Stade Régional de Nyamirambo in the Rwandan capital of Kigali is on the wish-list of most Premier League footballers. But when Wigan Athletic winger Victor Moses steps out there to play for Nigeria in next week’s 2013 African Nations Cup qualifier, it will represent a home-coming of sorts for the 21-year-old.
It’s now a decade since Moses arrived in the UK as an asylum-seeker after his parents – both Christian missionaries - were killed in religious riots in his home town of Kaduna in the north of the country. His father Austin had run his own church and was targeted by Muslim extremists determined to enforce Sharia Law after it was introduced to the region the previous year.
Moses was reportedly playing football with friends when his uncle rushed to inform him that rioters had broken into their home and murdered Austin and his mother, Josephine. With his family fearing for his safety, the 11-year-old was hidden at a friend’s house and arrangements were made for him to move to England a week later.
According to legend, Moses was eventually spotted playing in a local park by scouts from Crystal Palace and joined their youth team at the age of 14. Having initially enrolled a local comprehensive in Croydon, south London, he was then given the opportunity to attend a prestigious public school called Whitgift and scored all five goals for them in a national youth cup final in 2005, with his exploits featuring in an article by Guardian writer Paul Kelso.
The skilful forward went on to represent England at several junior levels as he broke into the Palace first team under Neil Warnock and was sold to Wigan for £2.5 million in January 2010 as the club battled against administration. It was then that Nigerian officials first contacted his agent to see if there would be any chance of Moses considering switching allegiances to the land of his birth - despite his recent inclusion in Stuart Pearce’s under 21 squad.
At the time, Pearce expressed his regret that a change in FIFA’s rules meant appearances for junior sides no longer restricted players from switching to a different country at senior level. Now, after nearly two years of soul-searching, it seems Moses has finally made up his mind.
Despite a last-minute wobble when he was called up by the Super Eagles for two friendlies at the end of 2011 and then failed to turn up, a series of discussions with friends and family back home seem to have finally convinced the player Wigan boss Roberto Martinez last week compared to Lionel Messi. Fellow members of the Nigeria squad who are based in the Premier League including West Brom’s Peter Odemwingie and Yakubu from Blackburn have also played their part in persuading Moses to shelve his ambitions of playing for England as new coach Stephen Keshi tries to rebuild the morale of a damaged nation.
The failure to reach the 2012 African Nations Cup Finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea marked a new nadir for Super Eagles fans, but with an in-form Yakubu and Moses joining the likes of CSKA Moscow winger Ahmed Musa and Inter Milan’s Joel Obi, their future seems bright. Yet in the week that England also lost promising Blackpool winger Matt Phillips to Scotland, perhaps the FA will one day end up regretting not having done more to keep hold of Wigan’s star player?

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