Jordan Torunarigha: 'I can only say sorry to Nigerians... and give everything'

Gent's Jordan Torunarigha pictured during a training session of Belgian first division soccer team KAA Gent during their summer training camp in Alkmaar, The Netherlands on Thursday 13 July 2023, to prepare for the upcoming 2023-2024 season.


Jordan Torunarigha has a message for fans of the Super Eagles. (Credit: IMAGO/Belga/Tom Goyvaerts)

INTERVIEW Jordan Torunarigha: 'I can only say sorry to Nigerians... and give everything'

Solace Chukwu 09:31 - 09.09.2023

The Genk centre-back is a polarising figure in the eyes of Super Eagles devotees, but having chosen Nigeria, he sought to clear the air in an interview with Pulse Sports

Love him or hate him, Jordan Torunarigha is a person about whom very few Nigerian football fans are properly neutral.

His father, Ojokojo, played professionally with mythic Ibadan side Shooting Stars before emigrating to Germany in the 1980s, and so it was widely assumed that Jordan, who was highly-rated enough as a youngster to excel in the Germany youth set-up, would nail his colours to the Nigeria mast.

However, the Gent centre-back is only now getting a maiden call-up to the Super Eagles having overcome his previous misgivings, the culmination of a drawn-out 'will he, won't he'. While his previous non-committal stance rubbed many off the wrong way, the 26-year-old is hoping to tap into a unique experience by representing Nigeria.

Torunarigha’s exclusive interview with Pulse Sports was full of candour, and demonstrated that a lot of thought went into his decision. It was, in essence, a heartfelt conciliatory message to Nigerians, and so his words are reproduced here directly. Any alterations are solely for the purpose of clarity.

What does it mean to you to finally be representing Nigeria when it seemed for so long like you would not?

I can't describe this moment because as you said, it took a long time. I understand people, they criticise my decision, they say I… guess I denied Nigeria? 

Former German Youth Jordan Torunarigha has switched international allegiance to Nigeria |
Former German Youth Jordan Torunarigha has switched international allegiance to Nigeria (IMAGO / Sven Simon) Jordan Torunarigha represented Germany at various youth levels (Credit: IMAGO/Sven Simon)

But yeah, it's difficult to explain because I grew up in Germany and I was there my whole life and I knew nothing about Nigeria. It's my first time to come to Nigeria and I saw my auntie for the first time after 26 years. So it was a difficult decision, but now I'm happy I made a decision and yeah, very happy to represent the country.

Like you say, this is all very new for you. What are your impressions of Nigeria so far

It’s a really nice impression. My mom and my dad told me about Nigeria, but I have to, you know… you have to see with your own eyes, and for me it's a nice impression. I like the mentality here: everybody is happy, even though people don't have so much, they are still happy. 

In Germany, it's different. For example, they don't have the newest iPhone and they already, you know, they get mad about these things. But here, some people don't have, I don't know, maybe water and they're still happy, you know. I mean, this is really nice to see.

Are there close relationships in the squad that have helped you settle in?

For sure, my colleague in my team, Gift Orban, we speak a lot. Also Victor Boniface, I know him, he played in the Belgian League. Yes, but all of the players are very nice, you know? It was not hard for me to adapt; everybody made it easy for me. We understand each other very good (sic) and it was easy for me to adapt.

You touched on it a bit earlier, but could you explain a bit more why the decision to represent Nigeria is so difficult for diaspora-born players like yourself?

Because as I said before, I grew up my whole life in Germany. I don't speak Yoruba. (laughs) I understand a bit. So it was really hard for me. And, as I said, I'm here [for] the first time in Nigeria. I didn't even play for the Nigerian youth national teams, you know? 

Maybe from outside, people say, ‘Yes, your parents are from Nigeria, you have to play for Nigeria,’ but, for me, if you are in my shoes, if you wear my shoes, it's very difficult to choose between these two countries, you know? 

I played even the Olympic Games for Germany, you know? I could see that, if I would wait a little bit more, Germany could call me up. But, for me, it was clear that the older I get, maybe it is the better choice to play for the country my parents are from. 

So that’s why I made the choice. I'm happy about this choice and I can only say sorry to the Nigerian people that it took so long, but I'm here and I will give everything to make this country proud.

You already made a good career for yourself, so why was international football important at all? You could just as easily have said, ‘since Germany isn't calling me up, I won’t bother at all.’

In my past, I had a lot of injuries, and a lot of people were doubting me. So I want to show everyone and the whole world that here is a defender who can be the next big thing, you know? And I'm happy that I represent Nigeria so that another Nigerian defender can be the next big thing. 

I want this status: to be one of the great, one of the best defenders and I’m working every day and this is my goal. 

Jordan Torunarigha is keen to be recognised as one of the best defenders in the world, and believes Nigeria is a great vehicle for his ambitions

That's why I chose to be here in Nigeria. The AFCON is in January. If the coach calls me up, I will give my best and also for the World Cup and stuff like this. I want to show the whole world that I'm ready to be one of the best defenders in the world.

Nigerians don’t know you and many are unfamiliar with your game. What qualities do you think you can bring to the team?

I think in the build-up, I have to help the team a lot. In my team in Belgium, I dribble in a lot. I can make it easier for the midfield because if I dribble in, the striker has to follow me and the midfielders have to close it. Then our midfielder is free so I can play the ball, then maybe he has more space and that's a big quality of mine that I can bring to the team. 

Also, defensive qualities: I would say I'm not the slowest guy, I'm quite fast. That means we can press higher. I think not a lot of strikers will (be able to) run away from me.

As a defender, what’s your opinion of the Super Eagles’ wealth of striking options

It's really nice, I think and not a lot of countries have this option. It also (says a lot) for Nigerian football that so many strikers are playing for Nigeria, you know? 

I'm happy that we have a lot of strikers, but also, it's going to be a battle because every striker wants to play, every striker wants to score. It's good because the strikers that are here already, they have to prove that they (deserve to) stay in the team and, and the strikers that are new, they have to show that they want to play. 

It’s good and yes, we're going to see what happens in the future.