Sanni Issa: a successful trajectory in Oceanian football

It is not uncommon to see foreign players in Oceania. There are some well known players like Argentinian forward Emiliano Tade, Portuguese forward João Moreira and Spanish defender Ángel Berlanga. These players came from South America and Europe to make history in Oceania – specially for Auckland City FC. However there is an African player that deserves to be highlighted: Sanni Issa.

Issa is a 29-year-old forward that currently plays for Manukau United in Lotto NRFL Premier League – the top-tier of winter football season in the northern region of New Zealand. Nevertheless his story as a footballer is bigger than winter leagues. The Nigerian forward arrived in Oceania in 2010 to play 2010-11 OFC Champions League for Lautoka from Fiji and he could not imagine that it was just the beginning of a long career in Oceanian football.

The African forward also played for Rewa and Suva before joining Ba FC to write his name in OFC Champions League history. He scored nine goals in eight matches to help the Men in Black to reach 2012-13 OFC Champions League semi-finals. Issa was the top scorer of the tournament and he was also elected the best player in the tournament – “It was very special to me. It really opened the doors for me in Oceanian football,” – he said.

Issa (right) receiving his 2012-13 OFC Champions League awards.

Issa moved to Vanuatu to represent Amicale FC in 2013-14 OFC Champions League. The Nigerian player almost felt the taste of being continental champion but Amicale lost to Auckland City in the final after two tight matches – “Auckland City have a big story in the competition. It is always difficult to play against them,” he pointed.

Sanni’s quality called the attention of Auckland City that signed him for 2014-15 season. He played only eight official matches for the Navy Blues but it was enough to write his name in the history of Oceanian football one more time. Issa played an important role at Auckland City’s historical campaign in 2014 FIFA Club World Cup helping the team to finish the tournament in the third position.

The third place match was contested by Auckland City and Cruz Azul from Mexico and it was decided in the penalties after a 1-1 draw in the regular time. Issa had the very difficult mission to shoot the last penalty of his team – “It was scary moment for me but I was confident,” he revealed.

The game would end if he scored the penalty. But if he lost Cruz Azul he would still have another opportunity to tie the series – “I had a lot of confidence on taking it but at the same time I was praying when I was going towards to take the penalty,” he added. For the happiness of Issa and his teammates, he scored and the Navy Blues took the bronze medal to New Zealand.

Issa celebrating his goal against Cruz Azul

It has been ten years since the Nigerian player arrived in Oceania and he could notice the evolution of the game in the region throughout the last decade – “I think football in Oceania changed a bit […] You can really see some teams from the Pacific Islands being a challenge to Auckland City and Team Wellington. It is tougher now,” pointed Issa.

When asked about playing outside the OFC region, he answered clearly: “I had the opportunity but injuries and family commitments did not allow me to go”. He is living in New Zealand since 2014 and he only left the country to represent Ba in 2017 OFC Champions League. Currently playing for Manukau United, the 29-year-old striker is already making plans for the future – “I am looking into the possibility of becoming a football coach,” he revealed.

The Nigerian forward built a solid career in Oceania and he is a very respected striker in the continent. He is very happy in New Zealand and pretty sure that he made the right choice when he moved to Oceania in 2010.

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