There has rarely been a dull moment in the life of Malmo’s Nigeria-born striker Peter Ijeh since he began the 2002 Allsvenskan campaign with eight goals in six appearances.
As the goals continued to rattle in, Ijeh harboured hopes of making a late pitch for a spot in Nigeria’s World Cup squad. But the call never came, and after claiming that a request for an explanation for his omission was met with a stony silence, he has apparently decided to turn his back on his homeland, looking instead to the country where he earns his living for international football.
The Swedish federation has subsequently contacted Ijeh with a view to enlisting him for its own national team, and there may be grounds for naturalisation. Although Ijeh has already played twice for Nigeria, neither game was a competitive fixture.
His acceptance into the Swedish fold will, however, be anything but straightforward. Swedish citizenship has a five-year residency requirement, and Ijeh has been in the country only since 2001, joining Malmo from the Julius Berger club after helping them win the Nigerian League the previous year.
Despite such an obstacle, Ijeh believes he is a special case. ‘The immigration rules state there can be exceptional circumstances, and I think this is one of those exceptions,’ he says. ‘I am a sportsman, they might need me to play for them, so it doesn’t really matter how long I have lived here. I think I should get it.’
Ijeh has been quick to pay tribute to the role played by Malmo coach Tom Prahl in his spectacular development. In the 2001 season, Ijeh contributed just four goals in 19 appearances, while this term he is the country’s top scorer with 24 goals to his name.
Prahl is equally complimentary to the Nigerian, pointing to the part the improved form of Ijeh played in transforming the team from mid-table makeweights to championship contenders. ‘Peter has been the key player for us,’ insists Prahl. ‘He has great balance – so even if you tackle him, he can stand up to it and is not easily dispossessed – good technique, speed over short distances and is strong in the air.’
News of Ijeh’s feats has spread like wildfire, with agent Gunnar Grynner claiming that Barcelona and Parma are among 10 European clubs interested in his client. If he did make such a move to one of the continent’s top leagues, he is unlikely to be overawed. ‘You might be beaten in a match sometimes,’ he says, ‘but if you are strong, you need to balance everything out and the sky can be your limit.’ Greg Lansdowne
Club Malmo (Swe)
Born March 28, 1977, in Lagos
Previous clubs Nitel FC, Julius Berger
International caps 2