Nigeria is considered the most powerful football nation in Africa – but missed the 2022 World Cup. Now the “Super Eagles” are starting the next World Cup qualification – with offensive power from Leverkusen.
Nathan Tella has had an exciting week: first there was his rather weak performance for Bayer Leverkusen in Azerbaijan at Qarabag Agdam (1-0), then the call-up for Nigeria’s national team came as a complete surprise. And at the weekend, in the game against Union Berlin, the English-born 24-year-old, whose Nigerian roots now make him a national player, scored his first Bundesliga goal.
“Pretty upset” about his own performance
“I found out about the nomination after the game in Baku,” said the fast winger, and “I was really surprised.” Because he felt his performance in Azerbaijan was bad: “I was pretty upset with how I played.”
When he saw the amount of messages, he thought that it said “that I played some real rubbish”. When he checked the news, it turned out to be the official nomination and congratulations from his family and friends.
Nathan Tella from Bayer Leverkusen
Off to Nigeria
On Monday (November 13th, 2023) Tella jetted with his teammate Victor Boniface to the Nigerian team, for which the first two qualifying games for the 2026 World Cup are on the program. On Thursday we’ll face Lesotho in the Nigerian provincial town of Uyo – where Nigeria’s only truly FIFA-compatible stadium has been located since 2017.
Three days later, Boniface, Tella and colleagues meet Zimbabwe – the game will be played in Rwanda for security reasons. The “Super Eagles” are highly favorites for both games. This is usually the case when they meet opponents from their continent. After all, Nigeria is not only considered one of the strongest nations in Africa economically. In football, too, we almost traditionally see ourselves as industry leaders.
Nigeria: Successes urgently desired
Alone: All too often in the recent past, the national team has been unable to bring joy to its fanatical supporters. The last major success came in 2013 when the team became African champions in South Africa under coach Stephen Keshi. A year later they reached the round of 16 at the World Cup in Brazil. Hardly anything came after that. The longed-for success also failed to materialize in the five years under the German-French Gernot Rohr (2016-2021).
The Portuguese Jose Peseiro has been at the helm for a year – real successes are now urgently expected from the 63-year-old. World Cup qualification is seen as mandatory. Victory at the Africa Cup of Nations, which will be held in Ivory Coast in January and February, is also expected.
Nigeria’s offensive – top staff
In purely nominal terms, Nigeria is one of the top favorites there. The offense in particular is extremely strong. Above all, Victor Osimhen from SSC Napoli – Africa’s reigning footballer of the year – is a top trump card. But there are also ex-Union players Taiwo Awoniyi (Nottingham), Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester) and Terem Moffi (Nice) who are just waiting for their chance.
Positioning yourself among the stars – that may not be easy for Leverkusen’s Tella. But he was initially extremely happy to have been nominated at all: “It’s a very big thing for me and one of the goals that I had set for myself.”
Tella – born in England, parents are Nigerian
Tella was born in England. In Stevenage, a small town about 40 kilometers north of London. His parents are from Nigeria. When he was introduced to Leverkusen, he said that he dreamed of playing for the country in West Africa where his family’s roots lie. “I want to make the most of this opportunity,” emphasizes the 24-year-old.
Tella is said to have cost Bayer Leverkusen over 20 million euros in the summer. He came from English second division club Southampton FC – coach Xabi Alonso really wanted him: “Nathan has the ability to make the right decisions,” says the coach. “Nigeria has a lot of great strikers. But they also need great wingers. I’m happy for him that he’s in the national team.”