Turkish league winner hopeful of Super Eagles return

In Turkish football, three teams rule the roost while the rest continue fighting for scraps. Fenerbahçe S.K, Besiktas and Galatasaray S.K. have shared the Super Lig title 55 times between them since the reformation of the league in 1959.

Although Trabzonspor bucked that trend during the late 1970s to the early 1980s, normal service resumed until now.

And that’s where Nigerian international Azubuike Okechukwu slots right in. The defensive midfielder lifted his first-ever domestic league title with Istanbul Basaksehir FK at the end of the season and he hopes that this piece of silverware will convince Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr to call him up to the national set-up once again.

“For me to get it (the Turkish Super Lig) this early in my career is huge for me. This is a good feeling that I’m feeling. I’m starting to think I’m a legend already because people start to say, ‘you’re young, you came in then won the championship,’” he told ESPN FC’s Colin Udoh.

The 23-year-old talent hopes that the advent of playing in the UEFA Champions League next season will stand him in good stead once internationals get underway.

“I think it (the Champions League) should help, it was a long season and then finally, we’re champions. At the time, the coaches were watching the games we played in the (UEFA Europa League), but I did not get a call although I’ve had comments; I’ve heard people say you deserve a chance to be in the Super Eagles. So, I think winning also caps it all.”

Okechuku’s career has been bookmarked by loans all around the Super Lig after leaving Nigerian side Bayelsa United for Yeni Malatyaspor in 2015.

In his first three seasons, he made 87 appearances, helping the Malatya-based side gain promotion to the Super Lig and by the time he’d signed for Egyptian side Pyramids FC for an estimated €2million, Malatyaspor finished in a respectable 10th position in the club’s first season in the top tier.

However, his time at the Cairo-based outfit was reduced to six appearances off the bench due to injury and by the start of the 2019 January transfer window, former head coach, Ramon Diaz released the midfielder on loan to Caykur Rizespor, ending the season with 14 starts and one goal and one assist.

In the 2019/2020 campaign, the Nigerian was then loaned out to Istanbul Basaksehir, who he ended up joining permanently in early August 2020 and now that his future looks secure, his aim to wear the green and white is very much at the forefront of his mind.

“It’s the Super Eagles, it has always been hard because you have talents everywhere. So, for me I know right now it’s very hard with the midfield talent.”

As he continues pre-season preparations, Okechukwu will aim for full fitness to give himself the best chance of selection.

“If I want to start making excuses or trying to say it was because of injuries, maybe I will start to feel down. So, I don’t want to make excuses. I want to start to say ‘OK, I’m injured so if I come back I have to do more than the players inside’. There is no holiday for me because I have to be with the physiotherapist and try to get myself ready. They are saying after the first two games of the season I will be 100%, but you never can tell.

“I’m trying to watch my diet and everything. I have also a physiotherapist also from Spain who is here. It’s like an extra treatment that I am doing separate from that of my club. So, I’m working towards coming back before then and hopefully I can be back maybe the first game or the second game,” he added.