News

Nigeria uncovered a gem: Yusuf’s emergence galvanises the future

28 Apr. 2023

Nigeria uncovered a gem: Yusuf’s emergence galvanises the future

The IHF Men's Emerging Nations Championship acts like a springboard for young talent to jump on the radar, as previously displayed in the three editions of the competition, which took place in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

This time around, at Bulgaria 2023, a 19-year-old right back is making the rounds, having already established his name in world handball. Nigeria stalwart Faruk Yusuf might still be a teenager, but he looks, acts and delivers like a well-versed player, impressing with his maturity and his skill over the last two years.

He is Nigeria's best bet to become a staple in handball, as the African side's best performance was a fourth place at the CAHB African Men's Handball Championship in 1998. Back then, Yusuf was not even born, but now he is the true leader of this side, even at his age.

At Bulgaria 2023, the right back has impressed with his scoring skills, ranking second in the top goal scorer standings with 19 goals in two matches, second after the group phase, only behind Andorra's Unai Ruiz. Yusuf has also assisted four goals, having a direct hand in 23 of Nigeria's 54 goals in the competition.

"It is an honour to represent Nigeria, my father's country, in this competition. It is also a duty, which I intend to fulfil with all that I can, with all my power and my strength," said Yusuf after his team's win, 35:17 against Azerbaijan, the highest win in the group phase at the 2023 IHF Men's Emerging Nations Championship.

When he was only eight years old, Yusuf was already playing handball in his local town, Sokoto, and travelled to Sweden for an international tournament. Six years later, aged 14, he was already training with the Nigerian senior national team, being well ahead of his time.

His debut came at the age of 16 and put him on the radar for European teams as an extremely talented player with excellent physical qualities and a great handball nous. Three years later, Yusuf is undoubtedly the Nigeria team's biggest talent and a player who wants to lead by example, ticking all the right boxes in this respect.

In some ways, the young right back, who Barlinek Industria Kielce loans to Spanish side Fraikin BM. Granollers, is a true model for Nigerian handball and can be the catalyst for the progression of a nation of 200 million people that lives and breathes the sport.

But is he a role model?

"The responsibility is big, indeed, but I love being in this position. We can achieve great results, albeit we are an emerging country in handball, there are better teams, with plenty of tradition in Africa ahead of us. But we are growing step by step, and I hope that we can be better," says Nigeria's star.

"I want to be a model; I want to show everybody that dreams can become true, and handball has been my way since I was a little kid. As I said, there is the responsibility, but I know we can become better."

After making his debut in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League for Kielce when he was only 18 years old, scoring a goal against SG Flensburg-Handewitt, Yusuf continued to improve but lacked playing time due to competition with Alex Dujshebaev and Nedim Remili, so Kielce loaned him to Granollers.

 

Faruk Yusuf

 


A team with a penchant for developing young talent, Granollers started relying heavily on Yusuf, one of the most improved players in the Spanish league and the EHF European League Men, the second-tier European competition.

Far from becoming only a role player, he took up the mantle of one of the top contributors of the team, scoring 65 goals in the EHF European League Men, including nine goals in the second leg of the quarter-finals against Flensburg, which saw Granollers deliver a huge shock to qualify for the EHF Finals Men.

"It is absolutely clear I have developed in Europe, I have improved my skills, and I am becoming a better and better player," says Yusuf with a large smile on his face after being the go-to player for pictures, asked by the young fans which flocked to the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna, Bulgaria, at the 2023 IHF Men's Emerging Nations Championship.

It is not only his outgoing personality, but also his demeanour on the court, which looks calm and composed, as Yusuf feels like a fish in the water there, irrespective of where he plays, either on the right wing or the right back positions.

He had the same work ethic on both, despite Nigeria losing against Bulgaria in the first match of the competition (19:23). However, the African side can still improve on their seventh place at Georgia 2019, provided they win against Great Britain in the Placement Matches 5-8 on Saturday.

But for Yusuf and Nigeria, the IHF Men's Emerging Nations Championship could serve only as a springboard for the IHF Men's World Championship in the future. The right back is still far away from his prime, and if he stays healthy, he has at least one decade ahead of him. And with him in the squad, Nigeria will always be a tough team to beat.

"Can we go to the World Championship? That is a tough question, and the answer is even tougher. We can do it, of course, in the future. It would be a dream. But it is still a long way ahead, and there is a lot of work. But, of course, we think about it, and it would be amazing to get there," concludes Yusuf.

The first step is here, at Bulgaria 2023. Then, at the next CAHB African Men's Handball Championship in 2024, Nigeria must break a streak of finishing in double digits, which started in 2014. But Yusuf shows that the future is bright. And with such a big talent pool behind it, Nigeria might have something on their hands.