Nigeria international, Ola Aina, has joined newly-promoted English Premier League (EPL), Fulham, on a season-long loan from Italian Serie A side Torino.
The Cottagers also have an option to to make the 23-year-old’s arrival permanent.
Aina, who came through neighbouring Chelsea’s youth system and played for Hull City, said he was happy to return to London where he was born and raised.
“I feel very excited and privileged to be able to play for a Club like this. It feels amazing to be back closer to my family, back in the capital where I was born and raised,” he said on the club’s website.
“There’s a great bunch of lads here. I’m really good friends with Big Hec and Josh Onomah.
“I feel very comfortable on either foot, I can fill in wherever needs be. I’d say I’m pretty quick and I like to attack, but I also like to help the team and do the dirty work as much as I can.”
Aina spent the last two seasons with Torino, where he played 69 times with his versatility allowing him to play on either flank.
“I feel very comfortable on either foot. I can fill in wherever needs be,” he added.
“I’d say I’m pretty quick and I like to attack, but I also like to help the team and do the dirty work as much as I can.”
Aina’s signing follows the capture of midfielder Harrison Reed, goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, right-back Kenny Tete and midfielder Mario Lemina and left-back Antonee Robinson.
Winger Anthony Knockaert’s loan move was also made permanent.
Fulham gained promotion to the Premier League after winning the second tier Championship playoffs last season. They begin their campaign on Saturday with a visit from fellow London side Arsenal.
‘From goals to match winners,’ African top performers in the Premier League so far
We’ve so far witnessed two match weeks in the English Premier League this season, and African players have played a huge part of the action.
From scoring goals – including match winners – to making assists, and leading from the front, to lining up defensively or coming off the bench for their respective sides.
Five of the 23 goals in the opening week’s set of matches were scored by African players. And 17 African players featured in the just concluded match week two, accounting for three of the 44 goals scored.
But, with only 18 matches played in total, some of the African contingent have no doubt made early statements of intent.
With some displays already grabbing headlines…
News Central sports looks at a few of the them who have shone brightly for the continent.
Sadio Mane (Liverpool and Senegal):
After starting both games for Liverpool – their 4-3 win against Leeds United – and twice finding the back of the net against Chelsea at Stamford bridge. Sadio Mane looks to have picked up from where he left off last season, playing a huge part to end Liverpool’s 30-year-wait to bring the title to Anfield, albeit in a season delayed by a pandemic.
The reigning African Footballer of the year caused problems for Chelsea’s back line at the weekend, forcing a red card on Andreas Christensen after the Blues defender wrestled him down to reduce Frank Lampard’s side to 10 men. He also showed determination and quick reaction to score his second at the bridge, following a mistake by the Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
If Liverpool are to retain their title, Mane is sure to be front and centre of things, alongside his other African teammates.
One of whom is…
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool and Egypt):
Salah opened his account with a hat-trick against Leeds – the first to be registered this season, and the Egyptian has so far, as always, looked nothing short of dangerous for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Salah’s electric presence and goals have been crucial for Liverpool since he joined them in the summer of 2017, helping them to both a domestic title and European glory in the Champions League in 2019. And many of their fans, especially those in Africa, will hope the goals keep coming and in double figures this season.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal and Gabon):
The Arsenal captain got on the score sheet in their opening game of the season against Fulham on 12 September which the Gunners won 3-0, before putting pen to paper three days later on a new contract to keep him at the Emirates Stadium – a priority accomplished for manager Mikel Arteta after the Gabonese striker’s exploits in the Gunners FA final and Community Shield trophy-winning victories.
Aubameyang has already started repaying that confidence back, providing the assist for Alexandre Lacazette’s opener at home against West Ham in their second game at the weekend. And should Arsenal have a crack at a title challenge this season, Aubameyang will be the obvious target man.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace and Ivory Coast):
It took only 13 minutes for the Ivorian to grab a winner for Palace against Southampton on match day 1, before scoring a second-half brace at Old Trafford against his former club Manchester United. Zaha’s future has been the subject of lots of speculation in recent years, having been linked to moves away from the club and the 27-year-old has never been one to be shy about his intentions.
Palace manager Roy Hodgson will be hoping to keep Zaha at Selhurts Park by the close of the transfer window on 5 October, but with such match-wining displays, a move, though hard to see based on his current high market value – especially in a pandemic – might not be entirely ruled out for an eager talisman like Zaha.
Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City and Nigeria):
Not one known for scoring many goals, Ndidi helped Leicester City keep a clean sheet in their 3-0 win at newly promoted West Brom on the opening weekend, whilst starting in the centre of a defensive back-four set-up for the Foxes. He also had the same placement in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Burnley at the King Power Stadium.
But a position his manager Brendan Rodgers explained is temporary: “Wilf is a player that I have real confidence in,” said Rodgers. “He played the position [centre-back] very well and he has the attributes to play there. We don’t want him there for a long period of time.”
Ndidi’s tackling ability and pressing in midfield may not have been entirely missed, but likely to be in more demand as a main stay for Leicester City and whatever their ambitions for the season might be.
Jeffrey Schlupp (Crystal Palace and Ghana):
Schlupp has looked good on the left flank both wins for Palace, and he provided the assist for Andros Townsend’s opener at Old Trafford. Schlupp’s contributions to the Palace attack has also helped flourish the combination between fellow countryman Jordan Ayew and Wilfried Zaha upfront.
Cheikhou Kouyate (Crystal Palace and Senegal):
AnotherAfrican in the Palace starting set-up. The 30-year-old centre-back showed solidity at the back at home against Southampton and away against Odion Ighalo’s Manchester United.
Yves Bissouma (Brighton & Hove Albion and Mali):
The 24-year-old started both games Brighton this season, but now faces a three-match after getting sent off in their second with a straight red card for catching Newcastle’s Jamal Lewis in the face from a high black-heeled kick.
Son Of Former IAAF Chief Taunts France After Corruption Conviction
Papa Massata Diack, the son of the disgraced former International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President, Lamine Diack, has reacted to the jail term slammed on him in France.
Papa Massata was sent to five years imprisonment by a French court for corruption and breach of trust. His father, Lamine, also bagged four years in prison for corruption and money-laundering.
Reacting to the sentence, Papa Massata told French authorities they will have to send special forces to Senegal if he is to serve the jail term.
“They can send special forces to pick me up,” he brazenly asserted on Monday as he continued to protest his innocence.
The Senegalese is at the centre of corruption probe that now spans Europe, Asia and the Americas, and includes the awarding of the 2020 Olympic Games to Tokyo and the 2016 Games to Rio de Janeiro.
Papa Massata refused to leave Senegal for the trial, claiming the French court had no jurisdiction as the alleged crimes took place in Russia, Qatar, Senegal, Japan and Turkey.
He was sentenced in his absential.
Since last week’s verdict, his lawyers in Senegal have said he was denied a fair trial and would appeal.
He further warned that his father could reveal some hidden truths in the world of sports administration should he wish to speak.
“I’m not afraid to say that there is racism in this story,” Papa Massata, who was banned for life from athletics in 2016, ventured on Monday.
“There is a will to do morality, but that’s not law, it’s not a legal process, it’s a moral process. They do not respect Africans and they have shown that with Lamine Diack, they do not respect anyone.
“Let me tell you now: I will react to any disclosure published in the press, because I also know things. The day Lamine Diack speaks about the Olympic movement, let me tell you, the IOC will explode, Fifa, the IAAF.”
In 2016, Interpol issued an arrest warrant for Papa Massata, has been based in his West African nation ever since.
The Interpol’s Red Notice read, “Formerly a consultant with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), and the son of former IAAF head Lamine Diack, Papa Massata Diack is wanted by France on charges of complicity in receiving bribes, aggravated money-laundering, and conspiracy in an organized group to invest, conceal or convert the proceeds of active corruption.”
Last week, 87-year-old Lamine Diack was convicted of corruption in France in relation to a Russian doping scandal and sentenced to two years in prison, with another two years suspended.
Diack profited from a scheme that allowed Russian athletes who paid millions in bribes to keep competing when they should have been suspended for doping.
The Senegalese was also said to have played a role in the payment of $1.5m from Russia to finance President Macky Sall’s campaign for the 2012 Senegal presidential election.
Hoffenheim Star Akpoguma Keen On Nigeria Switch
Nigeria national football team manager Gernot Rohr has revealed that Hoffenheim central defender and former German youth international star Kevin Akpoguma is ready to commit his international future to Nigeria.
The 25-year-old central defender, who plays for Bundesliga side Hoffenheim, has a Nigerian father and a German mother – making him eligible to play for the three-time African champions.
And although he has earned 62 caps for Germany at Under-16, Under-17, Under-18, Under-19, Under-20 and Under-21 levels, he has opted to capitalize on the FIFA rules which allows him to switch allegiances. He could follow in the footsteps of Leon Balogun who is also of Nigerian-German heritage.
Akpoguma first came to the attention of the Nigeria Football Federation in 2015 when he captained the German national team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. He played in five matches including the second round encounter between Germany and Nigeria which ended 1-0 in favour of the European side.
Standing at towering 6ft 4in, Akpoguma has been with Bundesliga side Hoffenheim since 2015 and made 18 league appearances last season, helping them to finish sixth in the campaign.
Speaking to German television SWR TV in 2017, Akpoguma shot down any talk of changing nationalities when he said, “That (Nigeria’s interest) honours me, of course, but I’m German, I was born here, and then I should play for Germany too.” However, in October 2018 he stated that he was open to playing to Nigeria and now he seems to be matching those words with action. He is still eligible to play for the Super Eagles since he has not represented Germany at senior level.
Rohr has revealed that he has met with the player who announced his decision to commit his international future to Nigeria.
“It was not my job to convince [Kevin] Akpoguma to come and play for Nigeria,” Rohr said.
“I had a good conversation with him and his family while watching several games in Hoffenheim.
“After the matches, we met and could talk. I presented our projects and I could speak about the team, about this incredible period in the Super Eagles and my vision for the team.
“He was sold on this and would love to be a part of the team and play in big international competitions like the Africa Cup of Nations or even the World Cup.
“We are very happy about the decision of Kevin Akpoguma to switch from Germany to Nigeria. Because he played for Germany at youth levels, the process is not finished yet because Fifa must give the authorization.”
Nigeria will play two international friendly games against Tunisia and Ivory Coast in October but the German tactician recently unveiled his squad for the matches with Akpoguma’s name not included. However, he explained that the defender is still waiting on approval on a request made to FIFA to change his eligibility.
“He has fulfilled the written request to switch and we only await the good news that he can finally play for us,” Rohr continued.
“It’s too soon to expect him to play our two friendlies in October, but hopefully for the Nations Cup qualifiers in November.”
Last week, FIFA voted to change the rules pertaining to players’ international eligibility.
Players can now represent a second national team, provided they are eligible to represent that country and have played no more than three matches for the first national team at senior level, with all the appearances coming before the player turns 21.
Appearances in World Cup finals matches or continental finals such as the Euros would also prohibit a player from switching, but appearing in a tournament qualifier – or the Uefa Nations League – would not.
Under the new rules, for example, Irish international Michael Obafemi could declare for England or Nigeria from next year, if he wished. Under the previous rules, his appearance in the 2018 Nations League tie against Denmark had tied him to Ireland for good.
However, there is no suggestion that the Southampton striker has any interest in switching allegiance.
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