Shehu Abdullahi got his 21st cap for the Super Eagles in an international friendly against Poland on Friday night in Wroclaw, as the Three-time African champions intensify preparations for the 2018 FIA World Cup in Russia.
The former Flying Eagles utility player made his international debut for Nigeria on 8 October 2015 against DR Congo in an international friendly in Belgium under former Super Eagles coach Sunday Oliseh.
He played his 21st game as a Super Eagles player in Wroclaw on Friday and he has featured 13 times under Gernot Rohr as preferred first choice at right-back.
“I am honoured to reach this level with the national team after my debut in 2015 and I am grateful to coach Gernot Rohr for the trust he had in me,” said Abdullahi to Naijafootballplus.com.
“The test against Poland was huge for us and the experience was amazing, despite the atmosphere we were able to win. The team unity is massive and everyone is ready to work for the team, whether you are playing or not the mindset is unique and we all have one target, the team must be successful.”
The World Cup vibes:
Shehu Abdullahi featured in all six matches of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers and he was voted ‘Man Of The Match’ against Zambia for his brilliant performance and his assist for the goal that took Nigeria to Russia scored by Alex Iwobi. He was however the subject of an ineligibility controversy to hit Nigeria after playing in the final qualifier against Algeria despite an accumulation of yellow cards.
“It was a tough experience for me because I had to explain this to a lot of people that it’s not my business to keep records of my cautions. However, the yellow card came two years before the Algeria game. Prior to the game no one discussed the yellow card with me and I was cleared to play, such happens in football and the entire team learnt its lessons.
“Apart from the controversy, we had a superb World Cup qualifiers starting with that win against Zambia in Ndola. Before the qualifiers we were rated behind Algeria and Cameroon but we finished unbeaten. The momentum was right and everyone worked so hard, the massive support from the Federation and the fans was a big factor.
“We are all looking forward to the big stage in Russia, it will be more tense than the qualifiers. It’s the highest level in football, a dream of every player and our preparations have been positive. We’ll continue to grow and develop, and I am optimistic of our chances in Russia.”
January transfer to Turkey
Few Nigerian players moved during the european January transfer window. Shehu Abdullahi made his unexpected transfer from Anorthosis Famagusta of Cyprus and teamed up with two other Nigerians Troost Ekong and Mikel Agu at Bursaspor. He was in the news in England for a possible move to the Championship but the former Kano Pillars player chose Turkey and he has settled down quickly.
“The fans in Anorthosis were shocked when I was leaving, the love they had for me is overwhelming. I saw kids and adults crying. In my last game, I was even honoured to score from the spot and say goodbye. I played for the team with passion and I commanded respect but it was time to move on and I chose Bursaspor, one team I have followed like forever since I moved to Europe. I love their culture, their fans, coaches and team management.
“Another factor was Ekong and Agu,with so many other Nigerians in Turkey who helped me settle down quickly. These are difficult times for the team and we are working hard to revive the season. I have started couple of games and I won the ‘Man of the Match’ once. Paul Le Guen is a great manager and I am enjoying my time playing under him.”
Competition with Tyronne Ebuehi and Ola Aina in the National team.
Abdullahi faces big competition from Tyronne Ebuehi and Ola Aina in the Super Eagles but he has remained Coach Gernort Rohr’s first option. Abdullahi says the competition is welcome and it gives the manager a positive headache.
“I am happy I have got two great guys competing with me. It’s fun and it makes everyone to work really hard for the team. It gives the coach positive headaches. It means we have abundant quality in the team and everyone is equal to the task. I am not worried, we’ll continue to work together and give our best. The most important thing is the success of the team irrespective of who is playing.”
Abdullahi was replaced by Tyronne Ebuehi in the second half of Friday’s friendly due to injury.
“I am fine. The substitution was meant to be a precaution and I am better now. The doctor will assess me in London and I should be available for the Serbia game.”
Shehu Abdullahi gives all his coaches several options as a member of their team. He started as a midfielder in the NPFL with Plateau United and played mostly in that role at Kano Pillars where he won the league title. He also featured for the Eagles B side at the 2014 CHAN in South Africa as a midfielder, same position he played in for the 2013 Flying Eagles squad. Since he moved abroad he has developed into a utility player and already at Bursaspor this year he has played in three different positions.
Abdullahi can play as right-back, defensive midfielder and central defender depending on the occasion and his coach’s decision.
“I started my career as a midfielder but growing up I developed the attitude to play more than one position. Right now I don’t think I love one position more than the other, rather I am always ready to work in any position. In my first game at Bursaspor I started as a central defender. I played mostly at right-back in Cyprus and I have started the last three games in Turkey in the midfield.
“Even in the national team, Rohr played me in his early days in the midfield. I’m more consistent from the right-back but I am always ready to pick up any duty both at my club side and for the national team.”