Nigerian midfield stalwart Ogenyi Onazi has lifted the lid on a near-miss that could have altered his career trajectory: a brush with Premier League giants Chelsea in his teenage years.
Onazi’s talent came to the limelight at the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup, where he played a huge role in guiding Nigeria to a second-place finish, Footballrover reports.
This impressive performance caught the eye of Chelsea scouts, who invited the young midfielder for a trial.
While he dazzled on the pitch, a bureaucratic hurdle stood in his way: age restrictions.
Not yet having reached the age of majority, Onazi’s dream of a Chelsea contract had to be put on hold.
“We were underage and couldn’t play. There was a lot of process, and we had to wait until we were 18,” Onazi explained in a recent interview with Sports Arena.
Recognising the potential pitfalls of a lengthy wait, Onazi’s manager devised a strategic alternative: Italy.
In 2011, he joined Serie A powerhouse Lazio, initially starting his journey with the club’s youth teams.
This proved to be a shrewd move, offering valuable playing time and fostering his development as a footballer.
Gradually, he earned his stripes and progressed to the first team, eventually becoming an integral part of the Lazio setup.
While reflecting on the Chelsea chapter, Onazi acknowledges the missed opportunity but emphasises the wisdom behind his Italian adventure.
“That’s why my manager decided that we would go to Italy at that time. So I could start on Lazio’s second team, and then, when I developed, I could start on the first team,” he said.
Now 31, Onazi continues to ply his trade in Italy, currently representing Avezzano Calcio in Serie C.
He has made over 50 appearances for the Super Eagles, leaving his mark on Nigerian football with his tenacious midfield presence and commitment.