Benue State, North-central Nigeria has not been to produce a world-class midfielder since the exit of Ogenyi Onazi from the Super Eagles, but the talented 14-year-old Nderneh Imbah from Gboko seems poised to take over from the former Lazio man in the nearest future, following his outstanding performances in the middle of the park in the tough and murky waters of the domestic league.
Imbah, who plays for Empire FC in the Nationwide League One, the third-tier level of club football in Nigeria, is one player who looks tailored for the modern game.
The young and skillful midfielder, who told our correspondent he models his game after Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, has been one of the shining lights of the Empire boys this season.
Since joining their senior team at the start of the season, Imbah has taken charge of the side’s midfield responsibilities, slotting into an anchorman role regularly as required.
According to his coach, Samun Templa, Imbah has been one of the league’s top tacklers, and only few players in the division have won the ball back more in the middle third despite his considerable output further up the pitch.
He has been likened to the 2018 Ballon D’Or winner, Modric, already. Anyone in that mould would be relished at any cadre of the Nigerian youth national team.
“Imbah is a player with a fine touch and a really strong outlook on the whole pitch,” Templa told PUNCH Sports Extra.
“His performances in the Nationwide League One are a real sign of someone able to puff their chest out and play at a really high level.
“We saw the same thing on his debut in the league, it didn’t scare him at all and he ended up winning the man of the match award.
“There’s a big chunk of potential in him and I think he will be the next big midfielder out of this state, after Onazi, someone who’s packed a lot into a relatively short career.”
Empire FC are unbeaten in three of the five opening league games Imbah has featured in in the NLO this season and Templa believes he could be the ace to his side gaining promotion to the second tier division.
“The level of his performances in the games he has played has provided strong reassurance that with good management he could be our rare gem in achieving our ambitions this season, which is to gain promotion,” Templa stated.
According to his coach, the youngster assisted the winner in Empire FC’s 2-1 triumph over NYSC. He also starred for the club in the 2-1 win over Flash FC from Zaria and their 1-1 draw with Tanko Baba from Lafia, Nasarawa State.
Templa also hopes the teenage sensation could make the difference for his side when they take on Nyerima FC on Thursday.
Speaking on his sudden rise, Imbah says his ambition is fuelled by his two brothers failed transfer moves to Europe.
He revealed that two of his elder brothers were selected for trials in Turkey but failed and he is determined to break that jinx.
“I am happy with my progression and my schooling,” Imbah told PUNCH Sports Extra.
I want to make myself, my brothers and family proud. So, I hope to be like Ogenyi Onazi and Luka Modric, like they call me here in Gboko. It has been fun playing with the first team and I hope to do better and hopefully get into the U-17 team.”
Combining education and sports hasn’t come easy, though, for Imbah.
Imbah, whose favourite NPFL star is Lobi Stars’ forward Joseph Atule, is a Senior Secondary School 2 student of Divine Progressive College, Gboko, Benue State.
“When I close from school in the afternoon, I rest a bit and go for training at 4pm. I do this regularly and it has been tough for me physically and mentally, that is why I missed some league games.”
The player, however, hopes to complete his secondary school education, before veering fully into professional football.
“My parents have always encouraged me to play football. And I want to be a football star like Modric, but I would like to continue with my education before becoming a professional footballer,” Imbah said.
“My dream is to play for Nigeria and Real Madrid someday, but only dedication and hard work can take me there.”