First the nomination for Nigeria, then his debut goal in the Bundesliga – Leverkusen’s Nathan Tella had his “best week of the year”. But the start was anything but perfect for him
It was his first action: an intercepted Union free-kick, a quick pass from Florian Wirtz from inside his own penalty area, then Nathan Tella set off on a short dribble and passed to Amine Adli, who broke away on the right and then provided Tella with a measured pass into the deep, before the latter unpacked his right hammer and fired the ball high into the short corner from half-right – a monster goal from the 24-year-old.
It was the first Bundesliga goal for the recently substituted attacker, who joined Leverkusen from Southampton FC for around €20 million at the end of August. A goal that the speedy right-footer described with a great deal of humor. “Amine waited perfectly for the right moment,” said the Englishman with Nigerian roots, praising his teammate and adding with a broad smile: “Then I thought: Shoot it as hard as you can! If it goes in, it’s in. If not, there’s the safety net behind the goal so nobody can get hurt … “
First national team nomination
Tella’s dream goal on Sunday rounded off a week that the attacker described as “my best week of the year so far”. Of course, he played in two games, both of which Bayer won, and was also called up for the Nigerian national team for the first time.
“I’m really happy about this first chance to play for my country. That was one of the goals I had set myself for this season,” said Tella, whose start to the almost perfect week had been anything but ideal.
He only found out about his call-up for Nigeria after the Europa League match in Baku against Qarabag Agdam (1:0). And initially suspected negative comments about his game when he noticed the many messages on his smartphone:
“I was pretty upset about how I played “
“I was surprised. I found out about the nomination after the game in Baku,” says the extremely fast winger, “I was pretty upset about how I had played.” When he then saw the flood of messages, he thought it said “that I had played really garbage”. When he checked the messages, it turned out to be the official nomination and congratulations from his family and friends.
“Gave me a lot of confidence for the game “
News that gave the new signing a further boost. “Getting such good news gave me a lot of confidence for the game,” explained Tella, who added self-critically: “I haven’t shown my best performance so far. I still have a lot to learn. “
And the Leverkusen coach also likes his athletic qualities. “Nathan is a player who has the ability to do the right things. He’s in the right position, has the quality to be there in the penalty area at the right time,” says the Basque and sees prospects for Tella in the national team despite the strong competition in Nigeria
“I’m happy that Nathan has been called up “
Facing attackers like Victor Osimhen and Victor Boniface, Xabi Alonso said: “Nigeria have many great center forwards, but these center forwards also need strong wingers. I am happy that Nathan has been called up.”
This only applies to his protégé’s situation, however, given the fact that Bayer could be missing five players at the start of 2024 due to the Africa Cup: Tella, Boniface, Edmond Tapsoba, Odilon Kossounou and Amine Adli.
But as he cannot prevent the impending shortage, Xabi Alonso uses a simple recipe to deal with it. “I know it,” says the Basque, “but I don’t think about it…” Soccer can sometimes be very simple for coaches too
“He shows a great attitude “
This attitude is something Xabi Alonso appreciates in the extremely quick and versatile winger. “He’s a great kid with a great mentality. He’s ready when he’s allowed to start. And he’s ready when he comes off the bench. He shows a great attitude – and that’s what we need,” the coach praised his joker after the match.