The Italian first division has been home to some of Nigeria’s finest talents, including Taribo West, Obafemi Martins, Ogenyi Onazi, but the former Juventus star remains the trailblazer
Sunday Oliseh has revealed how excelling at the 1994 African Cup of Nations helped him seal the move to Reggiana, becoming the first Nigerian international to feature in Serie A.
Oliseh was just 19 years old when he made his debut for the national football team in 1993 after making a name for himself in the Belgium Jupiler League with Royal Football Club de Liège.
The following year, he played a critical role as the Super Eagles secured their second continental crown in Tunisia.
Oliseh provided the assist to Rashidi Yekini’s first goal at the tournament, in a three-nil defeat of Gabon.
He later supplied the assist to Emmanuel Amuneke’s title-winning goal in a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Zambia in the final.
Such impressive displays didn’t go unnoticed as France Football named the defensive midfielder its player of the tournament earning the youngster international acclaim, which facilitated his move to Italy.
“The 1994 AFCON was very special for me,” recalled the former Borussia Dortmund star as quoted in The Punch.
“In fact, it was my first major tournament for Nigeria in Tunisia, and we had some great talents in the squad at that time. We were favourites heading into the tournament, and we ended up winning it.
“On an individual note, it was the breakthrough for me at the international level. I was blessed to be the one that gave the pass to the late Rashidi Yekini for our team’s first goal, and I was also the one that gave Emmanuel Amuneke the final pass to score the winning goal in the final against Zambia.
“So, it was like I opened the tournament and closed it for my country. It was really exceptional and special for me.
“I was voted the player of the tournament by France Football, and that was a confirmation that I could really go further with my game.
“That feat also propelled my move to Italy at that time. I was the first Nigerian footballer to play in the Serie A with Reggiana.”
Oliseh spent only a year at Reggiana before heading to the German Bundesliga with FC Cologne. He later returned to Italy in 1999 to star for Juventus under coach Carlo Ancelotti.