Jamilu Collins admits having been taken aback after receiving news of his first ever call-up to the Nigeria national side ahead of last month’s international duties against Seychelles and Liberia.
The 24-year-old turns out for Paderborn SC in the 2. Bundesliga in Germany and his invite to join the Super Eagles came as a surprise as he never expected being on the radar of coach Gernot Rohr and his scouts.
“At first, it was surprising, despite the fact that I’ve been working really hard in Paderborn,” Collins told GBP Sports .
“Secondly, I’ve been praying for it to come and when I got the call-up, I was a little bit surprise – surprise of happiness and it was a joy for me to see that I’ve my country watching over me while playing. I never expected it that they watched me.
“It was a great feeling and I was happy about it.”
News of players from obscure leagues in Europe and ‘China’ getting invites to represent the Super Eagles are not always met with great reception by fans and the media.
Collins, who plies his trade in the second tier of the German league, was the latest to get that treatment.
Asked if he read into reactions – and criticisms – on the social media, the former Rijeka defender said: “No, I didn’t because usually before people can react [they have to follow the football there].
“I know that if you follow football very well you’d never react [badly to a player invited from the 2. Bundesliga].
“When you don’t follow football, you can’t [have a] say… but it’s normal. This is not the first time, we have such everywhere.”
Aged 18, the Kaduna native was called up by John Obuh for the 2013 Toulon Tournament where he made no appearance.
Five years later after surviving five loan spells from his first professional club Rijeka in Croatia and a promotion from German third-tier league, he was handed his maiden national team invite, alongside England born centre-back Semi Ajayi, also part of Obuh’s set-up in 2013.
Also, Super Eagles mainstays Wilfred Ndidi, Moses Simon and Shehu Abdullahi were on the party to France.
And despite their careers charting different courses, he maintains their friendship remains intact.
“It was a great experience, great team at that moment but unfortunately things didn’t work out the way we all wanted it; for me and some of my teammates.
“I feel good seeing my friends again and we chat like before and the relationship is back again, so it’s a great feeling.”
In Seychelles camping, Collins left a good first impression on Rohr whom during Libya’s pre-match presser on Thursday revealed that injury limited the newbie’s chances in last month’s 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifiers win over Seychelles before he was handed his debut in the friendly win against Liberia in Monrovia days later.
“Good, good physique, he’s quick, he can go forward, he’s defensively strong,” the German tactician lauded his defensive and attacking qualities – as well as the width and balance his left foot brings to the team.
The Paderborn man was handed his first competitive outing in Saturday’s comprehensive 4-0 victory over Libya in Uyo where, although he was largely conservative in his approach, was lit by a fine attacking burst in the first half.
Collins showed perhaps what Elderson Echiejile and Co. lacked, going fully on the offensive after being let loose by a clever reverse pass from Alex Iwobi.
The ‘quick’ left-back showed great composure to dart into the Mediterranean Knights’ box before seeing his deft chip cannon off the crossbar, thus denying him a first Super Eagles goal.
He admitted to being able to carry out whatever the coach’s ‘instructions’ were.
“My style of play; I play to instructions, I play to what the coach wants. We are all professionals, we have quality,” he continued.
“The way the coach asks me to do, I do.”
While Echiejile has held the left-back position for the better part of the last decade, several players including Juwon Oshaniwa, Stanley Amuzie and Kingsley Madu have auditioned for the role but failed to nail down a regular spot – till right-footed Brian Idowu’s emergence prior to this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
With the oft-criticised 30-year-old Echiejile unlikely to return soon [as he is yet to find a club after he was released by Monaco during the last transfer window] and Rohr seemingly looking for a round peg to fill the round hole, the Paderborn player is in pole position to make the spot his own for years.
Asked what he’d do to keep it, he said: “I’ll play my football, playing the same style I’m best at.
“Everything! The same way I play my football. The same thing the coach saw in me that made him invite me.”
Collins’ performance against Libya in Uyo might just have won him another chance to impress, again, against Libya, but in Sfax, Tunisia on Tuesday.