The last time Rangers played in a European cup final, one of their best performers this year and a part of their Nigerian trio Calvin Bassey was just 8
Bassey at the time may not even be certain what life held for him but the years that followed would soon lay a clear path to glory.
Other than Bassey, there are two Nigerians; Joe Aribo and Leon Balogun, and something bigger than football unites these players. It’s not the good and bad days they have shared as brothers nor the weight of expectations of a country on their shoulders. It’s in the similarity of their stories.
Aribo was once dubbed a kid that would best be a Sunday league player, as he didn’t look yo have what it takes to thrive in professional football. Relentless efforts, doggedness and hard work have helped the former Charlton Athletic player rewrite his story.
He’s a huge example to his community and one of his coaches once described him as a better example than Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Aribo has played almost everywhere this season, featuring for the Gers in at least eight different positions, expressing his exceptional technical qualities as a modern-day footballer and putting his comfort on the line. The game against Frankfurt will be his 65th this term, a pointer to his great physical shape.
He’s loved around the club, and the night in Seville will be one of the perfect places to bid the club farewell if he’s thinking of that move to the Premier League.
Balogun, like Aribo has also had to fight doubts for the better parts of his career. He was once dubbed too light to play for the Super Eagles as his physicality went under the x-ray. Ever since, he’s grown to be a part of a good pair of foreign-born defenders known as the Oyinbo wall in Nigeria.
The former Mainz defender has moved from Germany to the unforgiving pressures of top-flight English football where he struggled to break into the Brighton & Hove Albion first eleven. His loan move to Wigan reminded Balogun that he still has a reasonable level of quality and it was good enough for Rangers to take him to Ibrox.
In two years, he has hit the highest heights of his career, helping Rangers to win the Scottish league for the first time in ten years last season. While this season has been somewhat tougher for the former Fortuna Dusseldorf man, he has proven good enough for top-level football when called upon.
The final against Eintracht Frankfurt brings familiar foes to Balogun, born in Germany to a Nigerian father and a German mother and calls the country home. It will be a perfect night for him if he helps Rangers win a European trophy in their first European final in more than a decade.
Bassey’s career has made an upturn in the last 18 months, after Steven Gerrard brought him from Leicester to Scotland. At 21, Bassey struggled to break into the Leicester first team but Gerrard saw just enough to make a monster.
What he has become for the team isn’t just a promising young defender, but an astute technical leader on the pitch who’s never afraid of a duel and faces his demons.
His presence and the options he offers Giovanni Van Bronckhorst has been one of the major reasons Rangers are playing in the final of the Europa League.
The lights will be up on Wednesday night again and it will cast its brightness on the Nigerian trio. There’s no hiding place from glory. It’s the final destination in a journey that has attracted the whole of Europe and a perfect night in Seville will be just the best reward for the efforts they’ve put in.