Super Eagles: How Remo Stars assist guru Ismail captured Finidi’s heart

Coach Finidi George’s decision to invite Remo Stars right-back Sodiq Ismail to the Super Eagles has been hailed as a watershed moment for the club, with the 20-year-old defender being the first Remo Stars player to be called up to the men’s national team.

Sodiq Ismail received his first national team call-up last Friday, when the Nigeria Football Federation named Coach Finidi George’s 23-man squad for the 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

The Super Eagles will face South Africa’s Bafana Bafana on June 7 in Uyo, before traveling to Ivory Coast to take on Benin Republic on June 10 in a crucial doubleheader.

The defender and Enyimba goalkeeper, Ojo Olorunleke, are the two Nigeria Premier Football League players on the list.

Ismail’s invitation didn’t come as a surprise to followers of the NPFL, thanks to the defender’s consistency, which puts him top of the goal providers chart with 13 assists to his name after 31 games this season. The closest player to him on the chart is Kazeem Ogunleye of Rangers with six assists.

The defender’s quality is his impeccable crosses, which have been constantly turned into goals by the club’s strikers.

After providing six assists in just 10 games last season, he started the 2023/24 season from where he stopped and raced to 10 assists in the new season as at December, when the league proceeded on the Yuletide break.

He has added three more since then, and his contribution has propelled Remo Stars chase for their first-ever NPFL title, although they trail leaders Enugu Rangers by four points.

Finidi sure knows a fine crosser of the ball when he sees one.

The UEFA Champions League winner with Ajax in 1995, was one of the best crossers during his playing time, which his teammates converted into loads of goals at both club and country levels.

Perhaps, Ismail may just be the new coach’s secret weapon waiting to be unleashed to the world.

Remo captain, Junior Nduka, described him as one of the best players in the league, who has the potential of becoming a mainstay in the national team.

“He is one of the best, if not the best in the league and with the highest assists. He delivers the ball anytime with precision, the (Eagles) attackers should just get ready,” Nduka said.

“We were so happy when we heard the news because it shows that we are progressing in the league. This is our first invitation at Remo and we are so happy. We wish the Super Eagles the best. The present coach knows what Ismail can do and I know he will be part of the team in future if given the opportunity.”

Before their match-day 33 game against Kwara United, Remo coach, Daniel Ogunmodede, charged Ismail’s teammates to be inspired by the defender’s invitation.

“I’m proud of Remo Stars players because Ismail’s invitation would not be possible without the team,” Ogunmodede stated in a chat with the players.

“We haven’t seen a player that made the list all by himself. We want to commend you for helping the team and helping yourself. It’s a big relief for the team and it should also serve as motivation for the rest of the team.”

Ismail was promoted from the team’s academy in the 2019/20 season but he didn’t feature as Remo were relegated back to the second tier.

In the 2021/22 season, when the club returned to the first tier, he was in the squad but also didn’t feature under then coach Gbenga Ogunbote.

He waited till January 2023 before getting a chance, and he made his mark under Ogunmodede with six assists in 10 games.

According to Dimeji Oshode, the team’s media officer, Ismail has been a quality crosser of the ball, while also tracking back for his defensive duties, since he joined the academy in 2015.

“Everything is a matter of time and chance. Crossing has been part of his assets since he joined the academy in 2015 and we are glad to see him blossom now,” Oshode told our correspondent.

Having been a reliable starter for the team over the last 18 months, Ismail has proven himself to be an excellent option to fill the void left by Ola Aina’s injury.

His impressive form on the right flank of the defense makes him an ideal candidate to replace the Nottingham Forest player in the Eagles’ lineup.

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