Kenneth Omeruo: His World Cup dream, passion for grassroots football
After helping the Super Eagles to conquer the rest of Africa at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, defender, Kenneth Josiah Omeruo vowed that he would use every opportunity offered by his career to raise the standard of grassroots football in Nigeria.
“This achievement (pointing to the AFCON trophy) will forever remain indelible to me. And it is my wish to use the rest of my football career to build a solid foundation for grassroots football in Nigeria because I always feel happy whenever I see other people happy,” Omeruo told The Guardian as he joined his teammates in celebration at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg shortly after the victory against Burkina Faso. That was on February 10, 2013.
Before the final match, Omeruo made big headlines in many South African newspapers when he prevented Cote d’Ivoire danger man, Didier Drogba and his ‘boastful’ teammates, including Yaya Toure, Solomon Kalou, Emmanuel Eboue, Wilfred Bony, Didier Zokora and Gervinho from ‘chewing the Eagles like Super fried Chicken’ in the quarterfinal battle in Rustenburg.
Five years on, the Kasımpasa of Turkey defender, who is on loan from Chelsea FC, says he is keeping to his promise of helping young Nigerian footballers realize their dream.
Omeruo is hoping to make the final cut for the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup, as well as feature at the 2019 Afcon in Cameroun.
Head coach of the Super Eagles, Gernot Rohr will submit the names of 30 players in his preliminary team list to FIFA next week, and Omeruo is expected to make the cut. The bulk of the players who qualified the country for the World Cup are in the list, alongside some new players who impressed Rohr in recent friendly games.
Omeruo was involved in Super Eagles’ AFCON 2019 qualifier against South Africa in Uyo. He was on standby for the World Cup qualifying match against Algeria as well as the international friendly against Argentina, which Nigeria won.
Omeruo says he would launch a post World Cup Foundation soon after the Russia 2018 showpiece to drive his support for grassroots football in Nigeria.
Already, the defender has set up a foundation that provides water to remote areas in Abia State and other parts of the country as part of his humanitarian service to Nigerians. “I am always looking at other charitable causes to help people because I always derive joy in seeing people around me happy,” Omeruo said.
Born in Abia State, South East Nigeria in 1993, Omeruo discovered his passion for football in primary school. By the time he was 12 years old, the young lad was already travelling from state to state, playing matches against other schools and teams. The news of his good defensive work soon spread across the land, attracting coaches from far and near. Omeruo’s first professional club in Nigeria was Sunshine Stars of Akure.
Omeruo was barely 19 years old when he played for the Super Eagles for the first time in a match that ended goalless against Cape Verde. He went on to play in all of Nigeria’s matches at South Africa 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which the Stephen Keshi-led Eagles won, beating a resilient Stallion of Burkina Faso in the final.
Later that year, he was named in Nigeria’s squad for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, and played in all of the three group games as the Super Eagles finished third in their group.
He made Super Eagles’ final squad for the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup, and started in all four games as Nigeria finished second in their group before they were eliminated by France at the Round of 16 in the city of Brasilia. Omeruo was also part of Nigeria’s 35-man provisional squad for the 2016 Summer Olympics at Rio de Janeiro, though he could not make the final 18-man squad.
A strong centre back, who always gives his best, Omeruo says he wants to be one of the best defenders in the World. He ended the 2017 football season on a high, biding farewell to bachelorhood, as he got married to his soulmate, Chioma, at a celebrated wedding ceremony in Enugu.
Omeruo rose through the ranks before hitting limelight as Super Eagles defender. He was part of Nigeria’s U-20 team (Flying Eagles) that reached the quarterfinals at the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia.
He signed for Chelsea from Standard Liege in January 2012, and went on loan to Dutch top- flight side, ADO Den Haag. It was in Eredivisie that Omeruo earned a call up to the Super Eagles. He is currently the most experienced centre back for the Super Eagles with over 40 caps.
Apart from playing with Ado Den Haag (Netherlands), where he featured in 36 games, scoring two goals (2012 – 2013), Omeruo also featured for Middlesbrough in England (Loan) – 33 games (2014-2015) and Alanyaspor in Turkey (Loan) – 26 games, scoring one goal (2016-2017). He was honoured as the 2016 Sports Personality of the Year for his contributions in support of African entertainers in Turkey, as well as Sports personality of the year 2016 (Screams All Youth Awards).
Apart from eying a place in Super Eagles’ World Cup final list to Russia 2018, Omeruo says his other target is to cement his final place in Chelsea FC for the 2018/2019 football season.
Some Nigerian football fans and analysts believe that Omeruo’s inclusion will form a good partnership with the likes of Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong in Super Eagles’ defence for the World Cup in Russia.