Manuel Veth –
International friendlies are full of oddities, and one of them involves South American giants like Brazil and Argentina selling their right to play at home to other sponsors and investors. Hence, Argentina will play their second friendly during the international break in Krasnodar, which oddly enough was left off as a World Cup host city, against Nigeria. But regardless of the odd choice of venue, Nigeria’s Brian Idowu will have a home match on Tuesday.
The Nigerian midfielder did not only play in Russia for Amkar Perm but was also born and raised there. Developed at Zenit’s youth academy, Idowu failed to break into the club’s first team and was released in 2010. Instead, Brian Idowu joined Amkar Perm where after a short loan spell with Dinamo Saint Petersburg, where he played 25 games in Russia’s Football National League (second division), he managed to become a regular first-team player in 2014.
Since then Idowu had steadily increased his playing time in the Russian Football Premier League from just eleven games in the 2014-15 season to 22 games in the 2015-16 season to 26 games last season. This year he is once again a regular starter for an Amker Perm side that despite a small budget can survive in what has been a very competitive Russian Football Premier League season.
Brian Idowu – Would he have been Good Enough?
Russia in the meantime is going through a transition and Stanislav Cherchesov the head coach of the Russian Sbornaya has recently bloodied a bunch of young players in an attempt to change the culture of the squad. To a certain extend Cherchesov has been successful, ignoring calls to re-activate the ageing Lokomotiv midfielder Igor Denisov, Cherchesov has brought in the likes of Anton Shvets, Anton Miranchuk, Daler Kuzyaev and Roman Zobnin to lower the average of the squad significantly.
At the same time, the 25-year-old Brian Idowu was ignored by Cherchesov. Of course, an argument could be made that Idowu did not warrant a call-up to the Sbornaya. His current average Whoscored.com score of just 6.37 (he has a similar ranking with Sofa Score as well) ranks him 199 in the RFPL among players. He has also played significant minutes as a wing-back this season and with Russia finalising the naturalisation of Mario Fernandes and the addition of Konstantin Rausch Idowu may not be good enough to make that squad.
Idowu’s work rate and aggressive playing style is exactly what is missing from the Sbornaya. Adapt to play in the 3-5-2 Idowu could have also slotted into the Sbornaya and Cherchesov has not shied away from experimenting in the past. Playing for Amkar and his Russian citizenship have always made him a potential call-up to the Sbornaya—a call-up that would certainly not been without controversy in Russia given his ethnic background.
Idowu has always been an outspoken personality and in the past, has made the headlines after he spoke out on his youth in Saint Petersburg and the problems of racism in Russia. “In high school, I did not often think about those issues [racism]. But when I got older I learned about skinheads, but I did not often come in contact with them. One day, though, in the Metro my friend spotted a group of them and shouted to me “Run!” My parents were always worried about this, and I was not able to move around in the city [Saint Petersburg] freely.”
Brian Idowu’s Call-up Would Have Ignited an Interesting Debate on Citizenship
Although racism and xenophobia remain a significant issue in Russian football since those statements were made in 2015, there have been some steps made towards combating the problem. Idowu’s old club Zenit and the Russian Football Union have been part of campaigns to tackle the issue of racism and xenophobia, and Cherchesov has called up Brazilian born keeper Guilherme. Guilherme’s call-up was also met with controversy after he was subject to racist chants and his call-up was part of endless debates on social media.
It would be difficult to conceive that Idowu’s call-up would not have been met with similar, or worse, controversy, than Guilherme’s call-up, despite the fact that Idowu was born in Russia. Without a doubt, Brian Idowu playing for Russia would have created a controversial, but perhaps necessary debate, on citizenship, naturalisation and integration into Russian society.
Perhaps his past and the possible debate on his call-up had a role to play on why he ultimately chose to take the call-up from his parent’s country instead. Speaking to a Nigerian news outlet, Idowu explained: “As for why I’m not playing for Russia, I shouldn’t be asked this question. I want to go to the World Cup for Nigeria because they believed in me. This is important for me and my parents. If there is a next challenge, then everything will be decided, whether I play in the Russia 2018 World Cup.”
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and social media editor at Bundesliga.com. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.