When Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr extended a late invitation to Emmanuel Dennis after a couple of regular players pulled out of Ukraine vs Nigeria friendly last month, not a few eyebrows were raised.
It had nothing to do with Dennis playing in Belgium. Nigeria has, in years past, witnessed some of her finest stars – Daniel Amokachi, Samson Siasia, Uche Okechukwu and even Stephen Keshi (God bless his soul) among several others – rule the Jupiler Lig like kings and princes.
Dennis case was different. For one, the 21-year-old forward was not the most high-profile Nigerian at his Belgian club side. A certain David Okereke, who had been snapped from Spezia after a breakthrough season in Italy was the newest sensation at the ground of the former Belgium champions. Okereke hogged the headlines during preseason, scoring goals for fun and providing assists at will.
A few voices wondered what was it about Dennis that had impressed the German tactician to the point of preferring the youngster to his older, flashier compatriot.
On Tuesday night, at the grandest of all stages, Emmanuel Dennis Bonaventure spared Rohr’s blushes by silencing them all.
Dennis and Club Brugge arrived in Spain to face the most successful club in Europe as the clear, undisputed underdogs. It didn’t matter that Brugge had gone 14 games without defeat. No one cared that the Belgians boast a fearless attack that had found the back of the net in an incredible twenty-one of their previous twenty-three games. Not many spared a thought that coach Philippe Clement had his joker, not up his sleeve, but out there wearing 42 up his pants.
Real Madrid are Real Madrid. The La Liga giants boast in their fold the likes of Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema, and Gareth Bale. All of whom are proven Champions League campaigners. All are certainly among the best players on the planet. All are capable of producing match-winning magic in a split second. That was one of the reasons why the major concern of most analysts and bookmakers, moments before the match, was by how many goals Los Blancos would humiliate the less fancied Belgians.
By the end of the first half, however, Dennis Bonaventure had announced himself to the world in more ways than one.
Emmanuel Bonaventure Dennis’ first moment of glory arrived just after the 8th minute mark. The striker, together with Percy Tau, burst clear of the home team’s defence to go two on one with the goalkeeper. The South African attacker squared a fine pass to Dennis which he miscontrolled but was grateful to watch it roll past Thibaut Courtois. Madrid fans went numb.
The referee ran to the Bernabeu’s rescue and cancelled the goal. But VAR would have none of it, overturning the centre official’s incorrect decision and handing the young Nigerian his moment of glory.
But Dennis was not yet done.
And half an hour later, he completed his brace. If the first goal was a fluke, the second was a freak. A beautiful freak, if there can be anything like that.
Last season UEFA Champions League’s best player, Luka Modric gave the ball away to Dennis who turned and sped away with the pace of Usain Bolt in his prime. Courtois rushed to meet him and for a brief moment, it seemed as though the former Chelsea goalkeeper had driven fear into the 21-year-old as he nearly lost his footing at the most critical point. But Dennis showed an incredible presence of mind to clip his strike over Courtois and into the net.
Still, he was not done.
Off he ran to the corner flag to celebrate by mimicking the popular Ronaldo ‘Si’ celebration in front of the Bernabeu fans: the jump, the turn, the pose, and the roar, all Ronaldo-esque.
Speaking after the match, the Nigerian international revealed why he celebrated like that: “… because I like Ronaldo, he is my favourite player in the world and I am not happy he left Madrid, so I just do the celebration to show them (Madrid fans) they miss something.”
Lovers of football will certainly hope to see more of the Yola-born forward. There will be more tests and challenges on his way, as he works to make a name for himself but he has shown even at a tender age that he is ready for the fight.
So How Did His Journey Begin?
The odds were stacked against him when he left Accademia di Abuja still in his teen to move to Ukraine but he beat those odds, scoring on his Zorya debut and grabbing five more goals in just 22 league appearances mostly as a substitute. It was there that he earned himself the nickname: the Nigerian Neymar.
Not many paid him mind when Club Brugge forked out €1.2 million to acquire his services from Zorya. But he rolled his sleeves and got down to work, allaying all fears of being a flop by banging in five goals in his first six matches in Belgium. Dennis ended up playing 30 matches as Brugge romped to the 2017-18 Belgium First Division A title in his first season at the club.
Dennis Bonaventure has had one more year to develop and this season could turn out to be the one that launches him to the big time with one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Especially after passing his audition on Tuesday night in flying colours.
Gernot Rohr may have handed Emmanuel Dennis the last 8 minutes of the friendly tie against Ukraine but, having introduced himself in stunning fashion to the whole world, the German tactician will need no third party to convince him of the quality of Nigeria’s newest King of Belgium.
Long may he reign!