Name: Samson Tijani | Age: 17 | Club: Collins Edwin | Nationality: Nigeria | Position: defensive midfield | Height: 1.66 metres
Coming into the 2019 Under-17 World Cup, people expected Nigeria to be the best performing African side competing in the tournament despite “only” finishing fourth in the Under-17 African Cup of Nations a few months earlier. The Eagles are proud of their achievements in this tournament, with their 5 wins in 30 years making them the most successful country in the history of the competition – an outstanding achievement for an African country.
Nigeria ended up only making it to the round of 16, after a 3-1 loss against the Netherlands but they were still one of the most exciting teams to watch during the tournament. The verticality and fast combination play that these young African players were showing made them a very entertaining side and helped mask their many defensive flaws.
One of the standout performers of the team was the captain, Samson Tijani, who has attracted the attention of Red Bull Salzburg and recently featured in Liefering’s friendly versus Pinzgau Saalfelden. The 17-year-old was one of the players tasked with distribution and dictating the team’s tempo when they had the ball.
Tijani’s main strengths are his capability to break lines with either his dribbling or his passing. Although he doesn’t seem to be a very creative passer, he is able to do his job properly by often finding teammates between the lines when he has the chance or constantly recycling the ball until there’s an opening.
He always receives the ball with an open body and with the furthest foot. This allows him to look over his shoulder in order to know where his teammates are and decide quickly what he should do next. The Nigerian showed an incredible ability to pick a pass fast and accelerate the game, even though sometimes the execution wasn’t the best, he’s more than willing to take risks with his passing.
During the tournament he was rarely closed down aggressively but when he did get pressured, he was able to control the ball with his first touch to create space and turn quickly to get past the opponent. At 1.66 metres, it’s only natural he makes use of his lower center of gravity in these situations.
Due to his height, he’s bound to lose most aerial duels but excels in ground duels, mainly interceptions, which he makes a lot. He reads the game well, enough to know when he should step out to press an opponent and potentially steal the ball from him. Although, he still needs time to get better in timing this aspect but he will definitely improve as he gets more experienced.
We are yet to see how he will adapt to European football, but I believe Tijani will benefit from Salzburg’s high intensity play style. The Austrian club is becoming increasingly popular in Africa, having invested heavily into infrastructures and scouting networks on the continent. Recent success with Champions League winners, Sadio Mané and Naby Keïta, as well as upcoming talents such as Sékou Koïta, Amadou Haidara, Enock Mwepu, Patson Daka, and others, makes them a very attractive club for young African players to develop.
The Red Bull clubs are already known for their excellent work with younger players and hopefully the Nigerian midfielder becomes another case of success for Die Roten Bullen.