Samson Tijani, the 16-year old Nigerian U-17 international, was just a midfielder before the West African Football Union (WAFU) tournament which, if they won, meant the Golden Eaglets were going to the 2019 U-17 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Tanzania. And then, two days before the start of the tournament, Sani Abacha, who was supposed to captain the side throughout the tournament, didn’t pass the MRI test and was sidelined. Coach Manu Garba had to choose another player to lead the Eaglets and he chose Tijani.
The young midfielder already had a good reputation, and he was noticed by everyone because of his performances in the Zenith U-15 national tournament and youth development programme organized by the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF). In the four matches he played, he was the man of the match after each of the games. Coach Garba noticed his leadership abilities during the preparation for the tournament and to him, this was an obvious decision. And Samson Tijani didn’t disappoint.
The Golden Eaglets didn’t start their qualifying campaign well, losing to Burkina Faso after conceding two early goals. But they recovered and thrashed the Ivory Coast team in the next game. Much of that was due to the work done by the coach to motivate his youngsters to respond but also due to the way Tijani, nicknamed Borga by his teammates, influenced the players on and off the field. And the result was seen by everyone.
Nigeria managed to book their way into the semi-final game with a win over Ivory Coast where they met with Niger. They beat them with some ease and secured a final game with their long-time rivals Ghana. Tijani’s job as a defensive midfielder was to provide support for the defence and play as a link to the attacking players which he has done brilliantly all throughout the tournament. He has protected the back four with precise tackling and linked up well with the other three midfielders, as well as providing great passes up front.
After the game with Ghana went into a penalty shootout, Samson Tijani wasn’t phased by the pressure and scored one of the penalties to help Nigeria win the WAFU Zone B tournament and qualify for the AFCON 2019 next year. For his efforts, he has received the title of the Most Valuable Player in the tournament and a reward. He has shown massive talent, and he will be careful when he chooses where he will go next, but not before next may when he hopes to help Nigeria win the championship and qualify for the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru.