Orosco Anonam has pledged his total commitment to the national team tomorrow when he dons the Maltese colours for the first time in a friendly international against Northern Ireland at the National Stadium.
Anonam has been in Malta for the past seven years now but the Nigerian-born only became eligible to play for the national team this year when he was granted Maltese citizenship.
Anonam, 26, is married to a Maltese woman. He was invited to join the Malta squad by Horst Heese - a long-time admirer of the Sliema Wanderers player. Injury had forced Anonam to postpone his first appearance for the national team in June but now he is raring to go for his adopted country.
"I'm really excited to be part of the Malta team," Anonam told The Times yesterday.
"I have been living here since 1998. The Maltese are friendly and have made me feel like one of them. This country has given me a family and now that I am fully-recognised as a Maltese citizen I want to give something back.
"I found no difficulty to feel part of the group as I know most of the players from the Premier League. It's great to be respected by the national coach and I hope to repay that faith by helping the team achieve better results."
Anonam is not the first Nigerian-born player to play for the national team. Tomorrow evening he will be following in the footsteps of Chucks Nwoko, Digger Okonkwo and Chris Okoh. In the past, these three players also represented Malta in international competition.
Since his arrival in Malta Anonam has matured into one of the most consistent performers in the Premier League, winning a string of honours for the Wanderers.
Anonam is all too aware that playing for Sliema in the Premier League and representing Malta on the international scene is a different kettle of fish.
"International football is the highest level one can aspire for," Anonam said.
"One cannot compare domestic football with that played in Europe because there's no comparison. But when I accepted to play for the national team I knew that it represented a big challenge for me.
"I do not want to be here just to form part of the group. I want to make a difference on the field of play. Since day one I have been training very hard to improve my game because I want to leave a positive mark on the team."
Anonam's first club in Malta was Naxxar Lions in season 1998-99.
At the time he formed a lethal striking partnership with compatriot Chris Oretan. The following year he signed for Sliema where he occupies a midfield role. Heese seems to be sharing Sliema's thoughts as he has already announced that he will rope Anonam in a central position against Northern Ireland.
"Playing in midfield makes a player feel more responsible to carry out his duties to perfection," Anonam said.
"A striker has one task mainly, that of scoring goals. But when you're playing in midfield you have to work harder to win possession, find spaces and then release the forwards with good passes.
"I find no problems in playing in midfield though. With Sliema I play on the wing but with the national team I will be used in a central role, which I prefer more.
"However, I am ready to play wherever Mr Heese asks me to as long as it befits the team."
In the World Cup campaign, Northern Ireland have three points from six matches. Malta lost all five direct clashes with Northern Ireland so far.
But, Anonam is showing signs of confidence ahead of the match.
"They're not a side in the class of England or Italy," Anonam said.
"I guess, their level of play is not much higher than ours... we have every chance of getting a good result.
"It's important that we take the pitch with the belief that we can do really well. OK, they have some good players in the team but our squad includes some with a good record as well."
During his career, Anonam had the opportunity to play in other European leagues but with scant reward. His experiences in Cyprus and Hungary were not lucky ones as financial problems marred his spells with Apoel Nicosia and Vasas.
At 26, he is at his prime and when asked whether he would consider another move abroad his response was straightforward.
"Definitely yes," Anonam said.
"Unfortunately, I was not so lucky before but playing in a top European league is still my ambition. This summer my agent made a number of contacts abroad but things are still at a premature stage.
"I think the national team needs more players abroad, like Mifsud, Haber and Dimech.
"Even Andrew Cohen has the qualities to do well outside the country. These players just need to show courage and make the step. I'm sure it will be of great benefit both for themselves and the Maltese game in general."
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