Bethnal Green defender earns Nigeria under-23 call-up

Bethnal Green United defender Ajibola Olatunbosun was shocked and honoured at being named in Nigeria's preliminary under-23 squad for their match against Poland later this month

Bethnal Green United defender Ajibola Olatunbosun was shocked and honoured at being named in Nigeria's preliminary under-23 squad for their match against Poland later this month.

The powerful Homerton centre-half has been a regular in Justin Gardner's backline this season. Helping the East End outfit into a position to challenge for the Essex Senior League title and gain successive promotions, in what is their first season in semi-professional football.

The 21-year-old youth worker was only watched once by the Nigerian scouts, but that was all that was needed to convince them he has what it takes to train with the squad on April 10 at Loftus Road.

"It's a big surprise and I was not expecting to be selected. It is a great honour," Olatunbosun said.


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"They watched me when we played away at Enfield 1893, I knew they were coming and luckily I played well and was given the man of the match award.

"I have had an up and down season truth be told and have suffered a few injuries to my hamstring and groin, but that is behind me now.

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"I told the kids I help at Tower Hamlets College where I work and they couldn't believe it when I told them, but they are really happy for me."

In truth the youth worker has been on Nigeria's radar since he was a youth team player at MK Dons, the club he began his career with.

"I used to have the same agent as Bolton defender Danny Shittu," he said.

"We became friends and he recommended me to the Nigerian scouts.

"They came over in 2007 to have a look at me and they invited me to train with the full squad. It was a great experience playing with the likes of Kanu and Obafemi Martins and I learnt a lot."

The six foot six centre half is confident he will be picked in the main squad, although he acknowledges there are elements to his game which do need improving on if he is to fulfil his dream of becoming a professional footballer.

"For a centre-half I'm too quiet and I need to talk more," he said.

"I also need to improve my composure on the ball, that is why MK Dons let me go. Paul Ince saw me train and decided I was not good enough on the ball."

Undeterred and keen to remain in the game, Olatunbosun moved on to Tilbury where he remained for seven months, before the commute from his east London home became too much.

"He is a raw talent who has had good days and bad days but he has all the attributes to be a top centre half," Gardner said.

"He has pace, can tackle head and at well over six foot he has a lot in his locker and if he does improve his technique he could be a pro."

Olatunbosun joined up with Bethnal Green United where he helped Gardner's outfit to promotion from the Middlesex County Football League and into the Essex Senior League.

The club are currently second and in line for back-to-back promotions and even Olatunbosun is taken aback by how far they have come.

"I was not really expecting us to be this good and I thought in our first season we would consolidate and sit in mid-table," he said.

"We've gone from strength-to-strength and I am really confident that we can go up, which would be a great achievement.

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