Ebuehi thriving against the best with the power of positivity

Tyronne Ebuehi relishes playing against the best (Credit: IMAGO/Xinhua)

INTERVIEW Ebuehi thriving against the best with the power of positivity

Solace Chukwu 12:30 - 08.09.2023

The returnee Nigeria international speaks on the mentality to build back to his best level, standing up to Rafael Leao and adapting to Italian football

The last time Tyronne Ebuehi played for Nigeria was at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon.

At the time, he was on the road to full recovery still, only months out from missing an entire campaign on account of injuring his anterior cruciate ligament following what seemed like a dream move to Portuguese giants Benfica.

He has had to rebuild piece by piece, leaving the Eagles first for a return to the Netherlands, and then settling in Serie A with Empoli, where he has once again found consistency and his best form.

Now, over two years on, Ebuehi finds himself in the reckoning for a spot in the Nigeria squad to next year’s AFCON in Cote d’Ivoire. He is part of the Super Eagles squad for their final qualifier, a dead rubber against Sao Tome in Uyo on Sunday

Super Eagles defender Tyronne Ebuehi
Tyronne looks back to his very best at Serie A side Empoli(Credit: Antonio Balasco)

In an exclusive interview with Pulse Sports, the 27-year-old spoke about trusting his body, testing himself against the best in Italy’s top flight, and the adaptation he has had to undergo to find his feet in Serie A.

The mental strain of possible injury recurrence

For professional footballers, the threat of injury is an ever-present one. This is especially so for those, like Ebuehi, who have looked that boogeyman in the face once already. For the Empoli defender, the road to recovery was far from easy physically and mentally, the injury coming as it did when his momentum seemed unstoppable.

Now that he has built back up to his best level, how then does he process the possibility of something like that happening again?

“That’s a good question,” he says. A pause, then a smile. 

“I think the most important [thing] is that you shouldn’t think, like, ‘Oh, it can happen again.’ Like, you shouldn’t be thinking negative, you know?

“You see that a lot of players who had ACL injuries, it changed them and they became more scared, they don’t come back as the same player or stronger. So i think it also has a lot to do with your brain and your mindset.

“But, like I said, if you’re not positive and you don’t have hope of becoming the same player or even stronger, then yeah, it’s going to be really hard for you. For me personally, that was the most important thing. Of course, you have to learn more about your body and about taking care of yourself.”

Shining against the best

Playing in Serie A since the 2021/22 season has afforded Ebuehi the opportunity to face off against some of the most dangerous widemen in the business, from Rafael Leao to Kvicha Kvaratskhelia. It is an unforgiving task for any full-back: these two have been voted league MVPs for each of those campaigns respectively.

Ebuehi, however, relishes the match-ups. “It’s great, you know. Personally, I like those types of challenges – playing against the best wingers, the best players. Just to see where you stand, you know?”

Super Eagles defender Tyronne Ebuehi
Tyronne Ebuehi has relished his meetings with Rafael Leao over the last couple of seasons. (Credit: IMAGO/Zuma Wire/Fabrizio Carabelli)

One particular encounter sticks in the mind: while on loan at Venezia, he played a stormer at San Siro against Leao, and only when he went off with injury 15 minutes from time did the Rossoneri seize control of the game. Last season, he repeated the trick, earning Empoli a big point on the road against the erstwhile league champions.

“I can still remember those games,”he says. “I did really well. 

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“I know what I can bring to the team, and what I can do myself. Games like that against great wingers, those are the games I like the most."

The peculiar challenge of Serie A

While Ebuehi is properly bedded now, his initial experience of Italy was, by his own admission, removed from what he had previously come to see as normal.

No surprises that, as Serie A was his first experience of playing in one of the top five European leagues, he found his biggest challenge to be the sheer intensity. “It was a lot higher than it was playing in [the Netherlands] the year before,” he admits.

There were cultural differences as well, particularly around physical rhythms, that were difficult to get to grips with.

Super Eagles defender Tyronne Ebuehi
Tyronne Ebuehi needed to overcome cultural barriers to thrive in Italy

“I think, also, the way of living. I mean, like, training at the end of the afternoon a lot, those types of things. In Holland, you are used to training early in the morning, and then you have like the rest of the day off. But here it’s yeah, you can wake up late and then you have to wait the whole day for training. Those types of things, you know?

“There’s also, like, the mindset of the people. (Italians) are a really proud people, let’s say it like that. So yeah, you have to adapt to those things.”

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