'It's all just a question of faith' - Kingsley Ehizibue opens up on his Nigeria dream, Udinese's ambition and God's love

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Kingsley Ehizibue smile Udinese interview HIC 16:9
In an exclusive interview with GOAL, the 27-year-old defenders opens up on his dream of representing the Super Leagues at international level

It's a beautiful spring day in Italy. The sun is shining and Kingsley Ehizibue has a smile on his face as he trains with his team-mates at Udinese's impressive sporting complex.

And that's hardly surprising. Just four days previously, in Udinese's final game before the international break, against AC Milan, Ehizibue scored the final goal in his side's 3-1 win at the Dacia Arena.

But when we meet after training in the press room at the same venue, Ehizibue has an admission to make: he'd rather be somewhere else right now.

"On weeks like this, when I see everyone's gone away on international duty, I think, 'Oh man, I need to do something to change this!' I don't want to be left here training with just 10 other guys," he tells GOAL, laughing.

"Even just for that reason, I'm desperate to get called up!"

Ehizibue was born in Germany and raised in Netherlands, whom he represented at under-age level, but he makes no secret of the fact that his dream is to represent Nigeria.

He's been called up before but has never made an appearance for his parents' homeland. A debut might not be that far away, though.

  1. 'I cannot let this chance pass me by'

    Ehizibue is flying right now, a regular on the right-hand side of an Udinese team that has surpassed expectations this season, up to eighth in the Serie A standings, just three points behind Juventus.

    Nobody is more pleasantly surprised by how things are panning out than Ehizibue, who was facing an uncertain future at Koln last summer.

    "I was happy there but then the trainer came to me and said, 'I have three right-backs and I want to give everyone a chance, so you're not going to play every game next season. So, you have to decide what you want to do,'" the 27-year-old explains.

    "I kept doing my thing, kept training but then Udinese said they were interested and I was like, 'Wow! This is a really big opportunity. I cannot let this chance pass me by.'

    "So, I was delighted that it happened because I could just feel that Udinese were really motivated to sign me. I felt that straight away. I felt the love.

    "It was also clear that they wanted to give me a chance but also time to prove myself. Some clubs that give you that kind of feeling of support.

    "But with Udinese, they believe in your abilities and what you can achieve. They believe they can help you develop, so that was really important for me.

    "I really think it's a great club for a player trying to improve his game and take your career to another level. They have a great reputation in that regard for a reason."

  2. 'What have I got myself in for?!'

    Ehizibue, though, was left questioning his own ability after his very first training session with the likes of Gerard Deulofeu and Robert Pereyra.

    "I knew beforehand that Udinese was a big club in Italy and in the weeks before I arrived, I was looking up things online and I could see they had some quality players," he explains.

    "But the standard was just so high. One time we played like this positional game and they guys were unbelievable. I was like, 'Whoa! What have I got myself in for?! I'm going to really have to up my game here.'

    "But at the same time, when I saw the level, I was really happy. I knew I had some serious work to do to get in the team, but I was excited about playing with these guys."

    The new signing understandably took some time to settle. He wasn't just taken aback by the quality of some of his team-mates; their fitness levels blew him away too.

    However, once he got up to speed, Ehizibue discovered that Udinese's preferred formation was ideally suited to his particular skillset.

    "In Netherlands and Germany, I often played in a flat back four. But here, we play with three centre-backs and two wing-backs, so I just have the whole right wing to myself," he says, his eyes lighting up.

    "So, that was really new for me but now I absolutely love it, because I get to attack so much.

    "But, again, that first month here I was almost crying! They were training so hard and running constantly.

    "At the start of the season when we had (Destiny) Udogie on the left and Pereyra, 'How are they doing this?' And 'How am I going to do this?! Where did these guys get their lungs from?!'"

  3. 'God is the reason I'm sitting here today'

    Ehizibue has always been able to overcome such periods of self-doubt thanks to his Christian faith. His parents introduced him to The Bible as a child but it was the likes of Kaka and David Alaba who showed him that religion can play an important role in the career of a footballer.

    "They were great role models for me," he reveals. "I saw that faith was a big part of their game, and who they were, and I wanted to be like them.

    "When I was young, my parents helped me to start building a relationship with God but when I got a bit older, around 17, I just wanted to do my own thing.

    "I was like a lot of teenagers. I was like, 'No, no, I don't need God. I can do it all on my own.' But then I got to about 21 and there was a moment when I realised that things were going downhill and I started to understand that I shouldn't just be putting faith in my own abilities.

    "It's not just about me. It's about God too. I've had a lot of ups and downs in my life and even when things were going okay, I still had this insecurity, anxiety and fear, so something still wasn't right.

    "I was wondering how do I get rid of these feelings and that's when I learned to pray and trust in God. And when I felt this love, that God was on my side, I felt at peace.

    "So, this is how I face my battles now, with the knowledge that God is on my side. When I enter the pitch, he's with me. I feel like someone is looking out for me, and that puts me at ease. That helps me keep going.

    "He's basically the reason why I'm sitting here today. It's not just because I can play football, it's because of my faith in Him.

    "Believe me, I've seen a lot of players a lot more talented than me, but they didn't have the same faith. So, by God's grace, I'm enjoying my football, and my life."

  4. 'Like making a dream come true'

    'Like making a dream come true'

    However, while Ehizbue feels at peace, he certainly hasn't lost any of his hunger or ambition.

    For starters, he is determined to help Udinese qualify for the European competition for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

    "We have the quality to do it," he insists. "We started the season really well and then we had some difficulties, we didn't win for a long time, but as the Milan win showed, we are improving again.

    "Step by step, the confidence is coming back. The team is growing again. If I look at my team-mates, I know we have the ability to qualify for Europe.

    "And at a club with this quality and ambition, you have to aim to finish as high as possible. You need these big targets."

    He has one of his own of course: an international call-up.

    "For real, it would be like making a dream come true," he says, "because I used to watch Nigeria playing in the World Cup, so to wear that jersey was the goal for every kid.

    "So, I will do everything possible to make it happen. I've played with guys that represent the national team, in Netherlands and Germany, and I'm so proud of them.

    "But, at the same time, I'm also thinking, 'Well, if they can do it, I can too. It's possible for me too.'

    "I genuinely think it's a realistic goal. I'm now playing at the same level in the same competitions as some of the guys so why can't it happen for me?

    "Everything is possible if you see it clearly and work hard enough."

    Having God on his side should also help him ensure he never again has to spend his international breaks in Udine.

    "Exactly," Ehizibue says, smiling. "It's all just a question of faith."