Nigeria hopeful Jamilu Collins has no time for haters

Jamilu Collins in action for German outfit SC Paderborn. TF-Images/Getty Images

If there is one thing that has remained consistent among Nigerian football fans, it is a determination to tear into the seeming demerits of any newly-released Super Eagles squad.

This week, after coach Gernot Rohr released his squad for next month's Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Seychelles, the complaining centered around the call up of two second division players, Jamilu Collins and Semi Ajayi.

One of those two players is not taking the criticism lightly. Collins, who plays in Germany's Bundesliga 2 for SC Paderborn, bristles with indignation at any suggestion that the division he plays in should be a hindrance to his international prospects.

"Because I play the second Bundesliga does not mean I am not capable. The second Bundesliga is one of the toughest leagues in the world," the defender tells KweséESPN.

"It is rated the same as Portugal first division, as the Turkish first division, as the Croatia, Serbia, Russia, Netherlands first division.

"It is called second but it is just second in name only. The game and the quality inside is great. If it is cheap, I don't think the coach can call me.

"When the qualifier comes and if I get my chance, we will see if it is second division football that I play."

Them's fightin' words from a player who doesn't even have his foot in the door yet. But Jamilu is used to confronting, and overcoming, adversity.

Born in Kaduna, the city known as a veritable conveyor belt of football talent in Nigeria where only the best make the breakthrough, the now-24-year-old excelled enough to find himself at the Football Academy Abuja as a teen.

Signed up by Croatian side Rijeka in 2014, the defender found minutes hard to come by and was sent out on loan every season for the next four years. In each of those seasons, he made appearances in double figures, but still ended up unable to break into the Rijeka side.

As if that was not bad enough, he suffered two serious injuries during those periods, not only further compromising his chances of first team football with his parent club, but costing him a move to a different club.

"I went on loan because I asked for it because I needed to play. I did not want to be seen as a young player who did not play. I was the youngest on the team so I wanted to get playing time and then come back to my club," he says.

"But I got injured for most of the season when I was playing on loan in Slovenia and when I returned to Rijeka, I got injured again. It was a difficult time for me but even with the injuries, I never doubted myself. I always believed that I would come back stronger."

Come back stronger he did, but not before another setback, when he was released by Rijeka after his recovery. He quickly joined the then-third division Paderborn and has not looked back since, amassing 19 league appearances as the club finished second last season to secure promotion to Bundesliga 2.

It was those performances that caught the eye of the Nigeria manager, with Rohr telling KweséESPN: "He is a young player I saw in Paderborn and he is a very interesting player for us in that position."

What's interesting is the German's decision to call up another left-sided fullback when he has Bryan Idowu, Elderson Echiejile, and Ola Aina at his disposal. This suggests that he is either in need of extra depth in that position, or is simply not convinced by the personnel available.

Echiejile's lack of club minutes so far this season, and his advancing age (he is 30 this year) means he may have drifted out of Rohr's youth-focused considerations. Idowu is currently first choice, and Aina has shown enough to present a strong back up option.

But there are many who remain unconvinced by Idowu's World Cup showing and have not seen enough of Aina as yet. All of which mean that Collins will have a winnable battle on his hands to dislodge either of the two.

He takes this in stride, adding: "It has always been a tough time for me. I have faced a lot of difficulties. But you have to stand up and keep pushing. This is just another challenge in front of me, and I will continue to give my best.

"It has always been my dream to play in the national team because it is the biggest fulfilment of my career. Those who are doubting me, we will see when we meet."