CLOSE-UP: From Ajegunle to Bulgaria — Who Is Junior Lokosa, The Surprise Name On Nigeria's World Cup List?
Lokosa (front) with his Kano Pillars teammates
And he swings to the left, he finds his way through two defenders while another two rush towards him. He cuts back a little, leaving them falling like children who had accidentally stepped on a banana peel. He takes a lethal shot; it’s a goal!!! It’s April 2018 and Junior Lokosa has just scored his 14th goal of the 2017/2018 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season for Kano Pillars.
He has scored four more since — and it's just halfway through the season. He is the first ever player to score in six consecutives league games; and if he is only at 50% efiiciency in the second half of the season, he would become the most prolific player ever in the history of the Nigerian league.
So, who is Lokosa?
That is the question many Nigerians have been asking since the name appeared on Gernot Rohr’s 35-man provisional World Cup list for the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicking off in Russia next month.
But why, by the way, are we needing to introduce to the public the highest goal scorer of the country’s Premier League? Why did we need a provisional Super Eagles World Cup list to take notice of Lokosa? This in itself is bad advertisement for the league; but then, Lokosa’s latest feat is nothing but good advertisement for the same league: the feeling, among the younger footballers, that no matter how long it takes, excelling in the league will someday be noticed even if it looks like taking forever.
Lokosa has come a long way to reach this point; and whether or not he makes the final World Cup list, he can be proud of his modest achievements, knowing how difficult the journey has been.
His parents tried stopping him from playing football
Born August 23, 1993, in Badagry, Lagos state, Lokosa fell in love with football at a very young age — a situation that angered his parents. Like most Nigerian parents, Lokosa’s wanted him to study, get a degree and finally get a job.
“It wasn’t easy because all parents want their children to go to school,” he told Daily Trust in an interview back in March. “However, when they realised football was in my blood and they couldn’t pull it out, they had to accept it. I think today, everybody in the Lokosa family is happy.”
Starting on the streets of Ajegunle
Knowing what he wanted, he stuck to his dream of playing football. He began on the streets of Ajegunle, a Lagos community known for its high poverty and crime rates.
Football began to grow from being just a hobby to a career for Lokosa when his brother took him to a field where he began to play structured football. Soon, things started taking shape, as he got signed to play for an amateur side before catching the eye of First bank football club.
A ‘miraculous’ offer to join Kano Pillars
The 24-year-old centre forward was still with Lagos-based First Bank Football club in 2017 and was “praying to God” for a better team when, “like a miracle”, he was offered the chance to join Kano Pillars.
“I didn’t plan to join Kano Pillars. However, one day, I returned from training and I got a call from someone who asked if I wanted to play for Kano Pillars and I said yes,” he recalls.
“Of course, I was praying to God for a better team to play. So it was like a miracle to me. The following day, I travelled to Kano and everything went on smoothly. I have to thank God because joining Pillars is a big lift in my career.”
A dream debut
Lokosa had a debut to remember for Pillars, scoring in the match against Niger Tornadoes. His goal for Kano pillars came as no surprise to his First Bank teammate Abou, who would later tell goal.com: "I am very happy for my pal, Lokosa. I believe in his abilities and I am not surprised he scored on his debut at Kano Pillars.
“Lokosa is a lethal striker who makes goal-scoring look very simple. He plays with so much calm yet he punishes goalkeepers. I wish him all the best and to Kano Pillars, they are lucky to have a lethal striker who will score so many goals that will make them achieve their set goals.''
Complete team player
When Lokosa scored his 11th goal of the season, a journalist asked to know how happy he was.
“I wasn’t really happy because my goal did not give the three points to my team,” he responded. :It was not our intention to draw again at home but there was nothing we could do to save the situation. We still feel bad with the result but we just have to move on. That match has come and gone.”
He responded in typically calm fashion when asked to respond to clamour for his invitation to the Super Eagles.
“I don’t know much about that but every player wants to play for his country so my case is not different,” he said. “By the grace of God, when I am invited I will do my best. However, if God says it is not yet time, there is nothing I can do about it. At the moment, I have a job in hand so I have to focus on it.”
Bulgarian club comes calling
As you read this Junior Lokosa, the boy who used to ply his trade in Ajegunle is currently in faraway Bulgaria, where he is billed to have medical and fitness tests with Ludogorets, a club that has won 11 league titles.
Confirming this, Kano pillars Chairman, Tukur Babangida said: “Kano Pillars (are) only allowing him to go for medical and fitness tests. He is not going to have a trial. Presently many clubs are looking for him, including clubs in Sudan, Algeria, Serbia, Bulgaria and you know the mentality of Nigerian players once they have clubs sprawling for them like this.
“We want the best for him and we are monitoring the situation to ensure that everything works according to how we have planned it.”
How did he manage to come this far from such humble background? “Well, it is all about hard work and focus,” he says. “I know what I want for myself. Once you know what you want, you have to work hard towards achieving it. This is exactly what I am doing and God is also helping me to achieve my dreams in my chosen career.”
This may well just be the start
And if his role models in the industry are anything to go by, the sky can only be the limit for Lokosa.
“My role models are Samuel Etoo and Lionel Messi of Barcelona,” he once said. “I get inspired by these two legendary football players. I learn a lot from them and other good strikers. As a matter of fact, I draw inspiration from them to score my goals.”
If Lokosa manages to find the inspiration to score many goals in the Eagles camp, don’t bet against him getting on the plane to Russia.