Terem Moffi: Playing for Nigeria still sinking in for Lorient forward

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Terem Moffi in action for LorientTerem Moffi has struck 16 times in Ligue 1 for Lorient since joining the club in October 2020

Lorient forward Terem Moffi admits he was left "speechless" when he joined up with the Nigeria squad for the first time in June.

His debut in a friendly against Cameroon came after a breakthrough campaign in Ligue 1, which saw him score 14 league goals in his first season in France.

"It's been very surreal - obviously I never thought this was going to be happen so soon," the 22-year-old told BBC Sport Africa.

"I recall my first time in the Super Eagles with these top players. I took a step back and wondered if it's the same players that I wanted to have pictures with that I was [there] with.

"It was crazy. You see Kenneth Omeruo, Wilfred Ndidi, senior man Kelechi Iheanacho - it's impossible."

After two appearances in back-to-back friendlies against Cameroon, Moffi made his competitive debut in September's 2-1 win in Cape Verde as the Super Eagles consolidated their Group C lead in 2022 World Cup qualifying.

"I honestly don't think I've let it settle in yet. It's quite rapid and to be called up without going through the youth teams doesn't normally come around," he pointed out.

"As a Nigerian you want to play in major competitions like the Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup. I hope I get my chance."

Terem Moffi and Kelechi Iheanacho training for NigeriaTerem Moffi with Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho training for Nigeria this summer

To the Super Eagles via the Baltic

Moffi's footballing journey has taken him all the way from Calabar to France, via Buckswood schoolexternal-link in the United Kingdom and playing in Lithuania as well as Belgium.

"I got into an English school at the age of 17 because of football," he explained.

"If you want to succeed in football and in life you can't just sit in your comfort zone, you have to take risks and that was what the time in England was all about."

Next came a spell in Lithuania at Kauno Zalgiris, which proved to be the launch-pad for his career. Despite a visa hitch, he returned to the country in the Baltic region of Europe - but this time to Zalgiris' rivals FK Riteriai.

After 20 goals in 31 games, enough to win the club's player of the season, Kortrijk swooped in January 2020.

Even during the pandemic, things again moved quickly for Moffi as his five goals in nine matches saw him swap the Belgian league for French club Lorient in October.

Terem Moffi in action for KV KortrijkTerem Moffi's spell in Belgium helped him secure a swift move to Ligue 1

"It's unbelievable. I call it God's speed," Moffi said. "From Lithuania to Belgium to France. It's not easy and too fast - so much transition.

"You'd expect to go from the Lithuanian league to Scandinavia, Belgium and hopefully France. But mine was unusual; Lithuania, then four months in Belgium, and then France.

"That's God at work and he's the only one who can do this. It's not because I am such a good player, I work hard or I have the talent - it's just God's speed."

Flying in Ligue 1

In January 2021, Moffi scored in five straight games and the last of those was an injury-time winner as the Brittany outfit handed champions Paris St-Germain their first defeat under Mauricio Pochettino in a famous 3-2 victory.

"It's like when the universe simply aligns, because PSG are undoubtedly the biggest side in France and no one gave us a chance," he recalled.

"I also came face to face with players I admire, respect and love to watch on television. To play and score against PSG with Neymar, [Kylian] Mbappe and the other top players was unbelievable.

"It remains the biggest goal of my career and it coming that late in the game sealed a lot of things in my life. I still can't believe it but with time it gets real."

Moffi not only made an instant impression with Les Merlus, but his goalscoring exploits were nothing compared to keeping Lorient in the French top flight.

"To be honest I wasn't really expecting 14 goals in my first season in France," he added.

"Coming to one of the big leagues in Europe you try to settle in, you're looking to score eight or 10 goals. It also earned me accolades, but obviously without my team-mates I couldn't have been named player of the season.

"It was really good but even better was the club staying up in Ligue 1. It was a fight to the last kick of the ball."

Terem Moffi with Alex Iwobi in 2015, and with Valentine Ozornwafor, Maduka Okoye and Iwobi in 2021Moffi with Alex Iwobi in 2015 (left), and again at training with Everton's Nigeria star (far right) on national duty this year

While Moffi's father Leo - a former pro in Nigeria with Enugu Rangers and El Kanemi Warriors - has supported his son in his burgeoning career, he also wants him to follow academic pursuits.

While at university, Leo became good friends with Chuka Iwobi, father of Everton player Alex, with whom Moffi spent a lot of time growing up.

"Until this day my father still reminds me to get a degree after football," Moffi explained. "He's so bent on it.

"Obviously I see his point - there's life after football, you can't rely too much on the fortune or the wealth you make, you need to have something to run back to. But that's not the point right now.

"I wasn't the smartest in school. I mean I had ideas, but it was only football.

"I'm so happy my father supported me. He recognised what my passion was. In Africa there are lots and lots of talents but it's a shame their family and friends don't really support them like my parents did."

Five quick facts about Moffi

  • He was rejected by Belgian team Mouscron in 2019 after a few days on trial at the club.
  • Dropped for Victor Osimhen from the Nigerian team that won the 2015 Under-17 World Cup in Chile.
  • Robin van Persie was an idol, while Obafemi Martins and Nwankwo Kanu were his Nigerian heroes.
  • He had to google Lithuania before travelling to the country aged 18.
  • His 14 league goals last season bettered Victor Osimhen's 13 in his final season with Lille.
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