Perfect start to life in Belgium for Nigeria’s Michael Essien-like midfielder

A little-known Nigerian midfielder began his Belgian journey on a positive note at the weekend, and he could be one of the biggest stars in the country at the end of the campaign

With more established Nigerian footballers like Henry Onyekuru, Paul Onuachu, Ahmed Musa, and Mikel Obi constantly hugging the top transfer news section in recent weeks, Alhassan Yusuf Abdullahi’s switch from IFK Goteborg to Royal Antwerp went under the radar with minimum fanfare.

The Belgian top division is a step up for the young Alhassan Yusuf who spent the last three years in Sweden honing his skills and getting ready for the big time.

Yusuf landed in Goteborg in 2018 from Nigerian academy Tiki-Taka and was named the Allsvenskan Newcomer of the Year at the end of his first season in Europe.

Tenacious, tough-tackling, hard as nail, the 21-year-old has a style that reminds one of former Chelsea star Michael Essien.

It was, therefore, no surprise to see the midfielder help Goteborg lift the Swedish Cup in 2020 and attract admiring glances from several quarters in Europe.

Royal Antwerp, eventually, won the race for his signature this summer for a reported €1.5 million, and it could be the most rewarding investment the Great Old have made in recent years.

Yusuf’s addition to the Belgian side’s squad is already yielding positive results.

Antwerp enjoyed a successful campaign, finishing 3rd in the Jupiler League last season, but they started this term with consecutive losses to Mechelen and at home to Kortrijk. Yusuf was not involved in any of those matches.

Manager Brian Priske, however, handed Yusuf his debut away to Standard Liege on Sunday, and the result was a resounding 5-2 victory over the former champions.

Michael Frey scored all the five goals for Antwerp in a man-of-the-match display, but Yusuf was equally impressive in midfield, lasting for the entire duration of the encounter.

Priske, Antwerp’s boss, will realise over the course of the 2021/22 season that the youngster can do a decent job as a right-winger and in central midfield, but he is at his majestic best when deployed as a defensive midfielder.

Aside from a callup to the Super Eagles, a move to the Premier League is not beyond Yusuf’s reach in the not too distant future should he further develop his potential in the coming days.

If Wilfred Ndidi can carve out his niche in the world’s most glamorous league, having arrived from the Jupiler League, what stops Yusuf from excelling there as well?

But first, he needs to make the most of his time in Belgium.  And on the evidence of his display on Sunday, that chapter of his story promises to be a successful one.

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