Victor Boniface: From military barracks to Bundesliga glory

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On April 14, 2024, Bayer 04 Leverkusen defeated Werder Bremen 5-0 to win Germany’s elite football competition, the Bundesliga, for the first time in their 115-year existence.

The victory means the side, founded in 1904 by employees of the German pharmaceutical company Bayer AG,  are crowned champions of Germany’s premier football league with five games to spare.

To many Nigerians, Leverkusen’s victory is not like any other title win, it has a Nigerian touch and reminiscent of the never-say-die Nigerian spirit.

To underscore the progress made by Leverkusen, the same team was battling relegation just 20 months ago, before the present coach, Xavi Alonso was appointed in October 2022.

National growth LS

Before their eventual victory, Leverkusen were considered the jinxed club of Germany, having recorded the most second-place finishes without lifting the trophy, earning the team the nickname “Neverkusen”.

The Alonso-led team didn’t just win the league; they did so in style, having not lost a single league game so far this season and playing scintillating attacking football while at it.

Now that the team has finally made history, many names have been credited for the turnaround at the BayArena, including Alonso, the management, backroom staff, fans and, most importantly the players.

In the ranks of that history-making squad is a fast-rising 23-year-old Nigerian, Victor Boniface, who so far has scored 11 goals and has made 8 assists in 18 matches.

But for an injured adductor in January which also ruled him out of the Africa Cup of Nations, many football enthusiasts believe that Boniface would have scored more goals.

Born in Akure, the capital of Ondo State, Boniface lived with his grandfather who was a soldier.

Narrating his early life to German television DW sports programme Kick Off, Boniface said his earliest introduction to the round leather game was by a soldier who had tried to make a career in football.

He said the officer used to take him to training and then play with him later in the evenings and that was how he fell in love with the beautiful game.

When Boniface was enrolled at a primary school just outside the military barracks where he lived, an opportunity arose for him to show his talent at an inter-class competition.

He attracted the attention of a youth coach, Johnson Blessing, who honed his skill and told young Boniface that he had the talent, composure, mental strength, and the right attitude to excel in football.

It didn’t take long before Lagos-based football academy, Real Sapphire, spotted Boniface’s talent.

When scouts from Norway came to Sapphire to discover and recruit young talents, Boniface excelled and was flown to Norway for trials.

According to Boniface, he was rejected by the first club he was offered to before being taken to Bodø/Glimt where he played a match and scored two goals in the first half.

“When I was substituted after the first half, I thought maybe Glimt would reject me as well. I asked my agent and he said I was substituted so that bigger clubs wouldn’t hijack me,” he told DW.

After suffering a ligament injury only two weeks after signing for Glimt on March 4, 2019, Boniface missed out on the 2019 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations.

He only returned to action in September 2019 and played a part in Glimt’s winning the Norwegian league for the first time in 2020 before repeating the feat in 2021.

In 2022, Boniface signed a four-year contract with Belgian Pro League side Union Saint-Gilloise.

It was at Union that he shone, guiding the club to the quarter-finals of the 2022–23 Europa League, and scoring six goals in the process.

He finished as joint top scorer in the competition along with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford.

Perhaps, it was during the tournament, where Union were eliminated by Leverkusen, that Alonso spotted Boniface’s immense potential and decided to bring him to the BayArena, as he signed for the club in 2023.

Boniface settled into his new club quickly, scoring his first Bundesliga goals by netting a brace at Borussia Park in a 3–0 away derby win against Borussia Mönchengladbach.

In 2023, Alonso described Boniface as a complete striker and a poacher.

“He does everything well. Not only with his game, he helps the team. He has good relations with Grimaldo, with Florian Wirtz, and with Jonas Hofmann.

“Boniface wants to enjoy the game. But not just for himself. He’s not just a classic striker, not just a regular poacher.

“It is complete and we are happy with him, he has scored four goals so far, but we expect more,” he said.

The Meisterschale may not be the only trophy Boniface will lift with Leverkusen this season, as they are in contention for the Europa League and German Cup trophies.

The blazing rise of the barracks boy from Akure reminds football enthusiasts of another talented Nigerian footballer who, against all odds, spearheaded the title run of his Italian club last season.

Victor Osimhen scored 26 goals to help Napoli to a surprise triumph in Serie A last season and was the leading goal scorer in Italy’s top division.

Boniface’s rise to stardom is a testament to the determination, courage, and hard work of many young Nigerians, which saw him persevere and keep pushing, even in the face of adversity.

Football fans believe that with the right attitude, leadership, and investment, Nigeria can produce more Victor Bonifaces who will light up stadiums in Europe and elsewhere. (NANFeatures)

By Kayode Adebiyi, 

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