Shola Ameobi is an enigma of sorts, revered in many quarters, yet loathed at some. He has come full circle in his career and he is a classic example that it is not over until it is over.
At 31, he made his Nigeria debut after going through a labyrinth of red tape issues and contractual clauses that saw him miss the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.
He has not exactly won over a lot of Nigerian fans who felt he is undeserved of the national colours after it was alleged he refused to play for Nigeria when called up earlier in his career, something he argues is not the case at the time.
Ameobi can be said to be a an odd mix of a professional footballer and a nerd at the same time. He was born in the academic town of Zaria, Northern Nigeria where his father taught at the Ahmadu Bello University.
His family moved to the UK where his father started a PhD programme and assimilating into the system was a huge problem for the young Ameobi.
“For a few years we struggled to pull the strings together and fit in,” Ameobi told the UK Guardian.
“It took us a while to be accepted. We looked different and we lived differently and I still remember the shock of the cold.”
Despite being brilliant in school he elected to play football and joined the Newcastle set up where he later went on to make his first-team debut in September 2000 in a home game against Chelsea. He played 22 times for the first team that season.
The tall striker, who has Under-21 caps for England, will forever be remembered by the Geordie faithful for his spectacular against Barcelona in a 3-1 reversal at the Nou Camp n the 2002-03 season in Newcastle’s last Champions League sojourn till date.
Shola comes from a family of two brothers and three sisters. His brother, Sammy, also a striker with Newcastle United, is earmarked as one for the future by Nigeria.
A lover of books, he will be making his first appearance at the World Cup with less than 10 caps for Nigeria, yet the striker who has just been released by Newcastle United says he is ready for the challenges ahead.
Australian A-League side, Sydney FC, are reportedly in the hunt for the striker to replace departing Italian icon, Alessandro del Pierro, himself a World Cup star for the Azzuris.
The gangling striker has the enviable Premier record of most substitute appearance by an active player, and even though this has elicited mixed reactions from different quarters he is well loved by Nigeria head coach, Stephen Keshi, who says Shola is much more than a player in the team.
“Shola (Ameobi) is the consummate professional,””Keshi told supersport.com as Nigeria qualified for the 2014 Fifa World Cup after beating Ethiopia in Calabar.
“He is a leader on and off the pitch and his experience is invaluable to the team.
“I have a young team. We need someone like him to guide and inspire them and of course he has played at the highest level for so long. That counts for something,” he added.
After all the issues were sorted out, Ameobi finally made his Nigeria debut against Venezuela in November 2012 and scored his first international goal against Burkina Faso in an international friendly in Kaduna.
He has defied all odds and made the final 23 man squad for Nigeria’s fifth World Cup appearance and coming this late in his career is surely an opportunity to prove himself at the highest level.
The World Cup will be Ameobi’s first outing in a major tournament for Nigeria, and with Hull City, New York City and Sydney FC, all looking to sign him on, the stage might just be ripe for Ameobi to repay the faith shown to him by Keshi and set the tone for another stage in his career.