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 By Colin Udoh

Lillestrom SK striker Fred Friday could have a bright future for Nigeria

Fred Friday
Fred Friday has made a real name for himself in Norway.

Eight goals in nine appearances takes some doing, especially when those strikes come in consecutive games. Even more impressive, however, is when they come from a 20-year-old striker who averages almost a goal every two games in his career to date.

Relatively unknown Nigerian youngster Fred Imoh Friday is the player who has got tongues wagging in Norway for Lillestrom SK with a strikerate which rivals some of Europe's leading marksmen.

It is not so long ago that Friday was playing his football on the patchy grounds of Nigerian football's lower leagues, with Gabros and Unicem Rovers. When he left Nigeria in 2013, he did so under the radar (like hundreds of footballers in the country), with very few people knowing who he was.

Little changed in his first two seasons in Norway as he tried to adapt to life in a new and strange country. At the age of 17, he spent three weeks on trial at Lillestrom before he was signed on a permanent basis, but then-coach Magnus Haglund did not appear to have too much confidence in the striker, handing him just three appearances all season as the club flirted with relegation.

Friday, though, says he understood the coach's decision.

"There were a lot of high profile players there who were earning big money and the coach could not just bench them," he told ESPN FC. "I had to watch and learn the new league."

By his second season, Friday had learned enough and things improved, with Haglund trusting him with 16 league appearances, although he only started two of those. A return of three goals was not exactly earthshaking, but it was a start.

Runar Kristinsson replaced Haglund in the 2015 season, and it was under his guidance that Friday's career really took off. Despite a three-month injury layoff he made 18 starts from 26 appearances, scoring 11 goals. "It was a great feeling for me, but I knew I could have done more if not for the injury," he added.

This term, he has certainly done more. His eight goals from 10 appearances has included a run of scoring in seven consecutive games which have helped his side up to seventh in the Tippeligaen, but the forward insists he is doing nothing special.

"This is my job," he said. "My position is very different from others on the pitch. As a striker, if you don't score after a few games, people start talking. So I go into every game knowing I need to do my job for my team."

Friday's job this season has come at a price, as he is the subject of close attention from defences but, at only 6-foot-1 and just under 200 pounds, he is not easily bullied.

"Now, I'm getting kicked more than before," he added. "The last few games, defenders hit me even when I don't have the ball. The last game, I was tackled and kicked from behind within 20 minutes.

"Opponents tell their players to look out for me, but that is their problem. For me, I just want to go there and play my game and help my team win.

"As a striker, if you don't score goals, there are others waiting to take over from you, so every game I play, I want to do my best to score."

Friday appears to have it all. He plays with pace and skill, scores right foot volleys, left foot stunners and headers which can be powerful thumpers, or gently cushioned. But he is more than just about goals; his four assists so far stand out as much as his goals, while his link up play is eye-catching too.

That single-minded determination to find the net attracted Russian club Spartak Moscow last season, according to his agent Atta Aneke.

"They were very serious about signing him last season, but we decided that it was best for him to stay an extra season in Norway and continue with his development," Aneke told ESPN FC. "There is interest in him from Holland, Belgium and Italy. There have also been offers from the MLS and China, but we want him to have a good European foundation."

That foundation might be with an eye to playing international football in the near future. The 20-year-old was called up by Samson Siasia for his preliminary squad at the All Africa Games, but failed to make the final cut and insists his time will come.

"It's no big deal for me," he said. "All the journalists in Norway keep asking me when I will get called to play for Nigeria, and I tell them that football is about time. When it is my time, I will play.

"For now, I just want to represent my club and do the best I can. I don't know what the future holds, and I can't worry about it."

Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.

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