A member of the 2007 victorious Golden Eaglets and former Olimpikos Donetsk of Ukraine midfielder, Sheriff Isa has said he feels no shame coming back to play in the Nigerian domestic league with Nasarawa United football club. The Sokoto State born player who joined the ‘solid miners’ last season spoke to Trust Sports on why he returned to the NPFL and his plans.
Could you share your experience in Europe with Nigerians?
Okay, let me try to summarise. After we won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2007, I went for trials at Monaco in France. From there I went and spent some time at Atletico Madrid in Spain. From Madrid, I travelled to Ukraine where I signed and played for Olimpikos Donestk for nearly four years. I later had issues with my club when I got a better deal but they refused to release me. After some time, I was loaned out to Chornomorets Odesa also in Ukraine. It was when I was playing for Chornomorets that I sustained a knee injury that kept me out for a whole year. So my last club in Europe was Chornomorets. Due to the injury, I decided to come back home to revive my career.
What informed your choice of Nasarawa United?
When I returned home, I wanted to join Kano Pillars. I even resumed with them and we were discussing but along the line, things didn’t work out. They wanted to pay for my clearance but there were some hitches. It was at that time that the former chairman of Nasarawa United Barrister Isaac Danladi who is a close friend of my uncle and guardian came for me. I didn’t reject the offer from Nasarawa United because they are also a big club in the NPFL. The truth is that I have a deal that is waiting in Europe but the club wants to see my fitness level.
Considering your profile, don’t you feel ashamed, coming back to play in the NPFL?
I have ambition. And when you have an ambition, nothing is too big or too small for you to do. Life is not a bed of roses. There are usually ups and downs. I desire to go back to Europe and I believe Nasarawa United will help me realise my dream. Secondly, Nasarawa United is one of the biggest clubs in the Nigerian league. Thirdly, we are talking about professional football. In Europe, it was professional football and here in Nigeria, it is still professional football that I am playing. So there is no iota of shame in the decision I have taken. I took the decision and it is helping me a lot. I am feeling better mentally and physically.
So what is your advice to other Nigerian players in Europe who may be feeling reluctant to return to the NPFL?
I advise them to feel free to follow my good example. Where is the shame in coming back to revive your career? Most of them started their professional football here in Nigeria. It is said there is no place like home. Instead of them wondering about in Europe, I advise that if anyone is out of contract, he should feel free to come back home. The Nigerian is one of the best in the continent of Africa
So how long do you intend to play in the NPFL?
Like I said earlier, I am still in touch with some clubs in Europe so anytime I get a concrete offer, I will discuss with my present club and then take a decision. However, for now, my attention is on the NPFL which started last week. I want to help Nasarawa United to get a continental ticket. So far, everything is working according to plan.
What is your candid assessment of the NPFL?
I have noticed some improvement and won’t hesitate to commend the league organisers. I want to mention officiating and remuneration or let me say players welfare as the most improved in the league. The referees are doing their best and the clubs too are becoming more professional in their dealings with the players.
Are there areas that need improvement?
There is an improvement in officiating but the referees should do more. Clubs should be given a level playing field home and away. It will make the league more competitive. Secondly, I wish to see improvement in our pitches. We don’t have standard playing pitches in the league. When you play in Europe and you find yourself in the NPFL, this is one area you will find hard to adjust to. I just hope something can be done about our pitches.
As a winner of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, do fans recognise you when you play for Nasarawa United?
I was a champion long ago so some remember me only when my name is mentioned. It is hard for most of them to recognise me immediately. Only a few fans recognise me immediately they see me. And once they recognise me as a member of the victorious Golden Eaglets, they become excited. However, some ask me what I am doing here in the NPFL. For such people, I should be playing in Europe.
Do you feel embarrassed anytime you are asked why you are back in the NPFL?
Like I said before, there is no shame and no embarrassment. I know why I am here. I am a Nigerian and if I have an opportunity to help develop the league, I just feel it is proper for me to give my support. I have been brought up to be humble and patient.
Could you describe the feeling when you won the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup with the Golden Eaglets in South Korea?
It was unbelievable. It was something out of this world. We believed in our ability to win the world cup but when it happened, it was like a dream. That is still the happiest moment of life.
Would you say you were adequately rewarded for winning the world title?
Yes, we were adequately rewarded. I appreciate the kind gestures the government extended to us. Some of us are still benefitting from the houses that were given to us in Abuja. Apart from the houses, we also got cash rewards.
How did you get into the 2007 Golden Eaglets?
You know I am from Sokoto so I represented Sultan Atiku Secondary school in the Shell Cup. That was where I was scouted for the U-17 national team. It was not easy to make the final list. We spent more than a year in camp.
Are you still nursing the dream of playing for the Super Eagles?
I believe it is not too late for me to play for the Super Eagles. I am confident that my performance in the NPFL will attract the attention of national team handlers. God’s time is the best so I will continue to work hard.