After making the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 squad, Germany-based Anthony Ujah was within a post of having a dream come true by playing the following summer for Nigeria at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™.
However, there was disappointment when then-coach Stephen Keshi left the exciting striker home. Ujah, who at the time had just gained promotion with Cologne into the German Bundesliga, vowed that he would work hard to get back into the mix, and he has done that, scoring his way into new boss Sunday Oliseh's first roster and now on a track to reach Russia 2018 with the Super Eagles. After ten goals last term as Cologne finished 12th Ujah earned interest from other clubs, and in the end he signed with fellow Bundesliga club Werder Bremen with an eye on the next mundial.
“It is very, very important for me to get another chance to play for my country because up to now I have not had so much success, but with the new coach and the new set-up I hope this will be my chance," he explained. "I think the move [to Werder Bremen] played a role because I had a very good pre-season. With our style of play, with the offensive football in Bremen, its a dream for every striker to be a part of. I think it will make me a better player.”
Of course his bigger goal is making the team for November's 2018 World Cup qualifiers, which will be against the winner of the two-legged tie between Djibouti and Swaziland. He believes he can keep himself in the new coach's plans.
“Sunday Oliseh played in the German Bundesliga, so I hope that will speak for me" Ujah said. "He is well informed because the German league is not a small league. It is the league where the world champions came from.”
A goal, a celebration and a billy goat
Ujah broke into European football with Norwegian club Lillestrom, scoring an astonishing 27 league goals in just 36 matches before moving on to Mainz. He sees the path of his career going from strength to strength, saying: “I think every move I have made has worked out.”
The only small argument to that has to do with a famous goal celebration gone awry during Cologne's home win against Eintracht Frankfurt in March this year. Ujah was in brilliant form, setting up his side's third before scoring the fourth himself. Ujah was so excited after the goal that he ran up to Hannes VIII, the club's billy goat mascot, and tried to pull him onto the field. A tug-of-war developed between Ujah and the goat's handler, which was documented in widely published photographs.
“It was just too much emotion," Ujah said with a smile. "I had previously celebrated with the goat, but I never came in contact with it. Cologne is a club I love so much, and the club mascot, the billy goat, is like a symbol for the club.
"There is no game where the goat is not there, come rain, come sunshine, whatever the weather is, the goat is always there. So when I came close I was half out of my mind, I did not know what I was thinking at the moment. So I just did it. But directly after the game I felt different.”
The incident caused a huge reaction and Ujah had to go to the zoo to show that he had not meant to be cruel to the goat. “And then a few days later it was the goats' birthday and I had to go back again with over 20 journalists," Ujah explained. "It was a horrible week after this happened, but I learned from it. I am not someone who is mean to animals or disrespectful in any way, so I apologized as soon as I understood.”
The 24-year-old affirms he has learnt his lesson and will stay far away from Bremen's mascot (a dog) and Nigeria's (an eagle). “They are more dangerous!" Ujah exclaimed. "I promise I am not going close to any mascots any more.”