CURRENT Super Eagles captain, Ahmed Musa, barring any hitch would file out for Kano Pillars on Sunday at the Sani Abacha Stadium, Kano, against Adamawa United.
Musa last month [April 14] joined the growing list of stars to watch in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) following his decision to rejoin the club which shot him to the limelight 11 years ago. He was signed by Pillars as an Elite player until the end of the 2020/21 season.
Musa is not the first player to return to domestic football after stints in Europe. In 2001/02 season, the late Rashidi Yekini made a sensational return after his conquest in Europe to play for Julius Berger FC and later Gateway FC; Daniel Amokachi also played for Nasarawa United as coach/player in 2005 season as well as Mobi Oparaku who returned from Rivoli United of Jamaica to play for Gateway FC in April 2005 and then Enyimba in 2008, while Sani Kaita also returned from Olympiakos Nicosia of Cyprus to play for Enyimba in 2014 and later FC IfeanyiUbah in 2015.
Lately, goalkeeper Dele Aiyenugba after his sojourn in Israel returned to play for Kwara United in the ongoing season.
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Musa hit the headlines in the colours of Kano Pillars in the 2009/10 season when he emerged goal king of the Nigerian top-flight with 18 goals, and thereafter began his sojourn abroad with VVV Venlo in the Netherlands and then CSKA Moscow before moving to Leicester City and lastly Al Nassr of Saudi Arabia.
Last October, many were surprised when Musa quit his €16.5 million contract with Al Nassr, but as many football faithful began to guess his next port of call in Europe, he chose to return to domestic football instead.
The move is aimed to primarily maintain match-fitness ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
His inclusion in the Super Eagles’ squad for the last two Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers against Benin and Lesotho in March generated controversy as a result of his clubless status, while manager Gernot Rohr, said he only invited him as a non-playing captain.
The former Leicester City winger eventually had a cameo appearance in the 3-0 victory over Lesotho in Lagos. It was his 96th appearance after his debut for Nigeria on August 5, 2010 in the 2-0 victory over Madagascar, which also made him to become Nigeria’s third most-capped player after Vincent Enyeama and Joseph Yobo.
After his unveiling by the Sai Masu Gida, the 2013 AFCON winner, had his first training with teammates at Bukavu Army Barracks, Kano, on Monday, April 19, and was well received by the club captain Rabiu Ali ‘Pele’ among other players in the club. He was solid in the light training under the club tactician Ibrahim Musa Jugunu and impressed a handful of spectators at the training ground.
He began to motivate his teammates when he pledged N500,000 to share and an additional N100,000 for his side that beat Rabiu Ali’s side in the day’s training session game.
“It was truly amazing to be with you guys, I must commend my teammates’ attitude for working hard ahead of the biggest challenge before the team. It’s challenging, every player wants to earn playing time under coach Ibrahim.
There is a lot of competition in the training ground. I urge the team to keep up the good work and always have it at the back of mind that we are serious contenders for this year’s NPFL trophy. Let’s continue to work hard and be determined,” he was quoted as saying after the April 28 training.
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He featured in a friendly on April 22 when Pillars beat Dabo Babes 3-0 in what turned out to be his first game after his return.
Perhaps, Musa should be ready to face a series of challenges playing in the highly physical domestic league.
Unlike his level of zeal to overcome obstacles and make name when he began his career in 2009, this time, Musa would only play for pride and maintain fitness ahead of potential return abroad.
“He must be prepared to control his temperament in the face of bias officiating which can not be ruled out especially at away games likewise the rigours in honouring away games by road.
“Musa will also need to be mindful of the typical Nigerian football which is more physical and know how accept dangerous tackles from opponents and let the referee act apporiately to deal with such a situation,” noted a stakehloder.
Musa made it categorical that he will play for free for the four-time NPFL champions Pillars, while his match bonuses too will go to charity homes according to an official of the team.
Fondly called D’Governor by his admirers, Musa, after his unveiling paid a courtesy visit to the Kano State governor, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, on April 17 at the Government House and assured him that Pillars would make the state proud this season.
In a video monitored by Tribunesport, Musa explained reasons behind the choice of the Sai Mai Gida.
“With my coming back to Kano Pillars, I want to assure you that great things are coming back to Kano State. It’s not that easy to make this decision but with your support to the team and my support, I believe we will bring a trophy to Kano State this season,” Musa said.
The GBS Football Academy product Musa recalled his first stint with Kano Pillars over a decade ago after a loan spell with JUTH FC of Jos in 2008/09 season.
“I left Pillars over 10 years ago without winning the league then, but now, by God’s grace, I will make a special record by leading the club to the Nigeria Professional Football League title.
“Anything that improves the image of Nigerian football is something that I strive to embark on and Kano Pillars holds a special place in my heart.
“It’s the team that helped me become the professional footballer I am today, so this is more than just football but a very strong bond.”
But fans in other parts of the country who are eager to see Musa in NPFL action may be disappointed as he might only play in homes games for Pillars.
According to the club chairman, Alhaji Surajo Shuaibu Jambul: “Ahmed Musa is a big player but at the moment, we know the economic situation of the country and the bad roads in some regions.
“He is going to honour all our home matches and if there is an available flight in the state when we have an away game, then he is going to attend.
“He did not say that he’s totally going to be unavailable for our games on the road, but he is going to attend those matches by flight, but for the games that are close by, like a game at Katsina or Bauchi, he is ready to go. But we need to provide good facilities for him”.
Also, part of the agreement reached is that Musa is free to leave once he gets a foreign offer.
To former international, Felix Owolabi (MON), Musa’s return remains a boost for NPFL.
“I see no reason why some people will be criticising the decision of Ahmed Musa to return to the NPFL. As a professional player. It is basically unfair to say that Musa’s return to the domestic league is a sign of retrogression in his career considering his great talent. For me, this is one sacrifice that I know will pay off soon for him.
“I am confident that Musa’s return will improve the quality of the NPFL regardless of what people say about him,” Owolabi, 1980 AFCON winner said.
Also, ex-international, Mutiu Adepoju, corroborates Owolabi’s position saying “going back to a club that made you who you are today makes it a perfect reunion, and I think he has made the right decision to choose Kano Pillars.
“NPFL players are surely going to benefit from his wealth of experience, and I know his return will bring positive value to the league,” Adepoju, former Real Sociedad star said.
However, ex-World Cup star, Finidi George, believes “Ahmed Musa playing for Pillars again is good for Pillars, it’s good for the fans. It’s good for the face of the League too, but they should not expect Ahmed Musa who played 11 years ago because our fans sometimes expect him to perform magic.
“At his age now; he’s aging, we don’t expect to see the Ahmed Musa of five, six, or seven seasons ago. If they expect that, I believe it will not happen because football is all about time.”
“For him to get playing minutes because the Nations Cup is coming and the qualifiers are coming up; We need him to be in good form. It doesn’t really matter, he has learned a lot outside the country.
“I don’t think coming back will make him a lesser player, the only thing is that he’s not going to have that good top competition week in week out, that is the only difference. But he has to be fit if he wants to play for the Super Eagles and as the captain, he has to make some sacrifices,” Finidi, ex-Ajax Amsterdam star told brila.net.
Also, another ex-Ajax star, Tijani Babangida, says Musa took the right decision after all.
“There is nothing bad with the second coming of Ahmed Musa to the NPFL. I love his boldness to have made such a decision, and I believe it will be to the benefit of the senior national team and Kano Pillars as well.
“For me, Musa’s return to the league will keep him fit for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and also open a window of opportunity for him during the summer transfer window in Europe. So you can see why I commend his decision,” Babangida said.
Indeed, the Sani Abacha Stadium may not be able to contain the crowd even outside the pitch due to COVID-19 protocols, as many fans would want to catch a glimpse of Musa when he files out against Adamawa United on Sunday in the NPFL matchday 21 fixture.