By Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde
Sports Writer, kick442.com Nigeria
Another member of Nigeria’s golden age of football. He scored what was Nigeria’s arguably best goal at the FIFA World Cup in France 1998 during Super Eagles 3-2 win over La Furia Roja of Spain. Sunday Ogochukwu Oliseh is Number 6 on Green/Super Eagles Greatest of all Time Countdown list as compiled by Soccernittygritty.
6. Sunday Oliseh
“From the explanation you gave us about this boy, we thought he was good but didn’t know he was very good- we have agreed to sign him.”- RFC Liège Director speaking to Oliseh’s agent shortly after his auditioning.
That was all the 16 year old needed to do to attain European breakthrough via RFC Liège. Such was Sunday Ogochukwu Oliseh’s work ethic. He was clearly Nigeria’s ‘most exposed’ professional footballer. At his peak, he wined and dined with the best players world-over for long periods in his illustrious career. He rubbed shoulders with the elites in the game and was unarguably one of the best central midfielders in the world as evident in his rich resume.
Born in Abavo,Delta state, he, however, grew up in Lawanson, Surulere, Lagos where he attended Bright Star Nursery and Primary School, Ajao Estate High School, Anthony Village and Methodist Boys’ High school for his Primary and High School education respectively. He’s a product of a large family (6 boys, 1 girl) and most of the boys patronized football in one form or the other. His father, an accountant, wasn’t a big fan of the sport and never held back his reservations. He finally gave Sunday his blessings after the teenager delivered his first-ever paycheque earned through a local football club to his father. In a state of utter bemusement, he convened the rest of Sunday’s siblings: “Your brother’s been paid more than I was paid as an accountant”. From that point onwards, he had gained the required freedom to embrace his biggest passion.
His first break finally came following an invitation to Belgium through one of his connections, Claude Bissot. With only $50 on him, an Adidas knapsack and a pair of boots he was airborne in a jiffy. Sunny as he was fondly called impressed in his first auditioning and joined RFC Liège. A dedicated professional, he sustained focus through the nascent stages of his career and made the most of his Belgian four-year stint which saw him feature in 75 games and netted 3 times. He had done enough to prick the sensitive ear lobes of Super Eagles manager, Clemens Westerhof who had assembled a bunch of bright talents over four years, yet, had a major problem.
A desperate Westerhof was searching for the jigsaw to complete his puzzle – ‘a natural defensive midfielder’. The Dutchman had improvised using several players like Emeka Ezeugo, Austin Eguavoen, Friday Ekpo to no avail. The 19-year-old was typically brave, thus, unfazed by the threats posed by the several veterans in camp. He impressed Westerhof and finally handed a debut on the 24th July 1993 in the very last African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifying game at home to Ethiopia. Spotting a rare no.7 jersey, Sunny was such an amazing sight to watch with his boisterous play as the Super Eagles ran over their opponents 6-0. His place in the Tunisia -bound squad was however sealed in the last practice-game against arch-rivals Ghana . He kept the Ghanaians at bay to the delight of a relieved Westerhof.
Oliseh turned out pivotal to the Super Eagles triumph supplying pinpoint passes which led to two assists in only his debut game/tournament to Rasheed Yekini and Mutiu Adepoju in the 3-0 victory over Gabon. In the second game, he launched another ridiculous 40-yard assist that was met by Yekini’s sophisticated ball-control before the deadly striker released a ballistic missile which beat boastful Ahmed Shobair but was only saved by a battered crossbar which must have vibrated for minutes. Oliseh was back in the Quarterfinal game against Zaire where he supplied a replica of the Egypt-assist, this time, Yekini buried with aplomb past goalie, Tambwa Bilolo. By now, Sunny was a legit provider of goals and did just that yet again in the final game against
Zambia when he supplied a long-range pass just after the center-circle to a rampant Amunike to seal victory as the Nigerian side recorded a third
Oliseh had completed a most remarkable transition from anonymity to legitimacy.
Fast forward just a couple of months in the days leading to Nigeria’s maiden World Cup and Sunny suddenly seemed like a veteran in the squad. His fearless mannerism on the pitch was all the Super Eagles needed to seize the core of the Bulgarian team led by Yordan Letchkov and it wasn’t long before Sunny resumed business.
Oliseh kickstarted the attack that led to Nigeria’s first-ever World Cup goal when he broke a Bulgarian attack and managed to spray the ball wide to Daniel Amokachi who in turn released to Finidi George who was in flight. The Ajax winger served the ball on a platter and there was absolutely no way Yekini would miss from less than 3 yards. Oliseh was a warrior in the midfield against Argentina as he battled the legendary Diego Amando Maradona fearlessly, a trait conspicuously missing at the highest level in today’s bunch who are easily intimidated by mere names. Overall, Oliseh had a fantastic World Cup amid a most painful Rund of 16 exits.
Sunny was one of the most dedicated Nigerian players in history- an indubitable patriot.
The workaholic midfielder following an Olympic gold medal outing in Atlanta had grown into an icon globally. He soon sealed a move to European giants, Ajax, after featuring for Reggiana and Koln in the Bundesliga. He had three successful seasons and the Eredivisie title and 2 Dutch Cups.
Strings of superlative performances in his second World Cup in France especially the game against Spain and Bulgaria sealed a big move to Turin with Juventus. It was an ill-fated move, yet, there was no denying the clout of Oliseh as Juve isn’t easy to come by.
Sunny moved on again to the Bundesliga, this time with Borussia Dortmund where he enjoyed a relatively better stint that saw him win the title in 2002 and featured 53 times.
Oliseh featured regularly in several FIFA 11 squads and was named third best in Africa in 1998.
The Nigerian legend featured in 2 World Cup and 3 AFCON tournaments. He narrowly missed out on captaining Nigeria to an AFCON title on home soil in 2000 where he played in sickness and saved Nigeria from the shame of an early exit in the hands of Senegal in the quarter-final when he delivered a signature long-range pass to a no-nonsense Aghahowa for a last gasp equalizer. Sunny featured 54 times across an amazing nine years – proper legend.
All rights reserved. This material and any other digital content on this platform may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, written or distributed in full or in part, without written permission from our management.
This site is not responsible for the content displayed by external sites