SHOLA Ameobi long polarised opinion on Tyneside.
Now the striker is seemingly polarising Nigeria’s footballing public.
But few Newcastle United fans would begrudge the club’s longest-serving player a shot at the World Cup.
It’s said the best things come to those who wait.
And Ameobi has had to wait to play on the biggest stage of all.
Not that he thought he had a chance of playing in a World Cup when he turned 30.
Yet today the striker, facing up to life away from Newcastle at the age of 32, stands on the brink of being named in Nigeria’s squad for next month’s finals in Brazil.
Ameobi – who played for England at Under-21 level – only made his senior international debut in late 2012.
And his Nigeria career looked over no sooner had it started after he was prevented from playing in last year’s African Cup of Nations.
But Ameobi remained in coach Stephen Keshi’s thoughts, despite the fallout in the country of his birth from his non-availability for the tournament, which was won by the Super Eagles.
Still, Ameobi – whose 14-year first-team career at St James’s Park will formally end next month when his contract expires – isn’t taking anything for granted as he and his team-mates wait for the squad to be revealed on June 2.
“I never thought this would ever happen,” Ameobi said.
“It’s something very special that could happen.
“If it did, I’ll be very fortunate. I’ve come into it at a late stage of my career.
“It doesn’t really happen to many people.
“It’s something I’m not taking for granted.
“It’s about keeping myself fit and playing well. Hopefully, I can do that.” Ameobi – who has long polarised opinion on Tyneside – didn’t take the chances that came his way at Craven Cottage on Wednesday night.
He started Nigeria’s friendly against Scotland, but he left the field after an hour presumably rueing those opportunities. The game ended 2-2.
His performance was dissected on Twitter by Nigeria fans, and there were some who questioned the wisdom of his selection.
Yet Ameobi has found favour with every Newcastle manager bar Kevin Keegan since the late, great Sir Bobby Robson handed him his debut in September 2000. And it seems Keshi – whose side have been drawn against Argentina, Iran and Bosnia and Herzegovina – is also an admirer, not only of his footballing ability but also his leadership and experience.
Ameobi, of course, netted on his last two home appearances for Newcastle, but was dismissed against Liverpool at Anfield on the last day of the season.
Until the last few weeks of the campaign, he had been a peripheral figure.
And his late run in the team was timely given the need for games and goals to keep him in the frame.
“It was frustrating being out of the side, as I’ve always wanted to play,” said Ameobi, who told of his ambition to represent England’s senior team in the 2006 World Cup nine years ago.
“People asked me about the World Cup, but there’s no certainty.
“I know that. Playing for your club is the only way of getting into your manager’s mind for the World Cup.
“If you do well for your club, ultimately you have a better chance of getting on that plane to Brazil.
“That’s what I’ve always tried to do – work hard on the training ground to show the manager I’m ready for a spot.
“Fortunately, I was given that chance.”