British Soccer Wizard May Play for Sierra Leone

20 February 2006 at 12:01 | 3004 views

By Abu B. Shaw, Vanguard London Bureau

The news that a British sporting star is contemplating to switch his
football allegiance to poverty-striken Sierra Leone is like a thunderstorm
reverberating beyond the wildest dreams of many Sierra Leoneans in the
United Kingdom as well as soccer crazy fans back home.

This sporting icon is no less a person than the Under-21 England
international Captain Nigel Reo-Coker. The midfield maestro, who
also captains English premier outfit West Ham United, took the bull by
horns when he recently declared his ultimatum to the English Football
Association particularly to Sven Goran Eriksson’s successor: “You either
select me for the senior England team, the Three Lions or I’m off to Sierra

Reo-Coker’s parents hailed from Sierra Leone but he was born in the UK. The
21-year-old is openly frustrated at the lack of opportunity for the England
squad. His excellent contribution so far to uplift West Ham United in the
premiership is clear for all to see his talent. England will benefit if he
is included in the team for this year’s World Cup in Germany, sports
analysts believe.

The Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) is extremely thrilled to hear
this unexpected news. From the capital Freetown, the SLFA Secretary General
Alimu Bah told of their delight when they heard this good news. “The FA
secretariat welcomes any player of that calibre to join our campaign. If
they can’t play for England, then they should come and help the Leone
Stars,” Mr. Bah told the Patriotic Vanguard on Saturday February 18.

The SLFA scribe said his many visits to London in recent times have afforded
him the platform to push the button and make sure footballers of Sierra
Leone origin do not forget about their motherland. Mr Bah confirmed talking
to striker Carlton Cole of English champions Chelsea FC. Carlton Cole, who
also plays for England’s Under-21, is of Sierra Leonean and Nigerian

The lack of full squad recognition for Reo-Coker has increasingly frustrated
him even though the England manager Sven Goran Eriksson named him last
December as a possible replacement for this summer’s World Cup, but is yet
to play for the senior side. Concerned that Sven Goran Eriksson will be
leaving after the World Cup, Reo-Coker is pinning his hopes on who comes in and whether
the new manager would give him a chance to prove himself.

“I can still change my allegiance. As soon as you stop playing Under-21
football for a country you have a year to change if you want to feature for
another national team. There is an alternative. I could play for Sierra
Leone but I’ve not thought that far ahead,” Reo-Coker noted. He
however added that his main focus now is on his beloved West Ham United FC.
They are occupying the sixth spot on the premiership table.

Reo-Coker’s attractive anticipation to play for Leone Stars could not have
come at such a right time for Sierra Leone. The fact that there is a stiff
competition in the England team for the midfield role is an added incentive
for him to join Leone Stars. He is aware of the many talented
midfielders vying for very few places including Chelsea’s Shaun
Wright-Phillips, Tottenham Hotspur’s Jermaine Jenas etc. Reo-Coker is
worried that such a competitive whirlpool will push him to eventually play for
Sierra Leone.

Many professional footballers of Sierra Leone origin with British
citizenship have proved very difficult to be lured back to their motherland.
Some used the decade old civil war as an excuse to boycott the Leone Stars. A
few were decent enough to shuttle back and forth to feature in some Leone
Stars’ encounters. Other footballers were totally indifferent towards the Leone Stars and to Sierra Leone itself.
Former football internationals like Chris Kamara, Leroy Rosenoir have been
the focus of persistent uproars with the SLFA. Chris Kamara’s stance not to
play for his country of origin, for reasons best known to him, was a disapointment for many Sierra Leonean soccer fans.
Chris is currently a football commentator for Sky Sports TV News in England.

A true and outstanding son of Sierra Leone who exhibited the true spirit of
patriotism was Leroy Rosenoir. Rosenoir, who until recently was the manager
of league two side Torquay FC, is a sports analyst and commentator. Despite
his dual British citizenship, Rosenoir’s footballing skills contributed in
no small way to taking Sierra Leone to the 1994 African Nations Cup.

A prolific goal scorer, Steve Kabba of Championship heavyweight Sheffield
United is another Sierra Leonean on the rise in England. If Steve Kabba can
only emulate the likes of Leroy Rosenoir and join Nigel Reo-Coker to play
for Sierra Leone, the Leone Stars would have got the best of acquisitions
for any future competition in African football.

Whether SLFA would seize the moment and court these players is the million dollar question.

Photo: Nigel Reo-Coker