On the back of a historic goal for MŠK Žilina Taofiq Jibril is preparing for an important season and the club’s inaugural UEFA Conference League game.
In the floodlit gleam of Štadión pod Dubňom the ball fizzed across the box to Taofiq Jibril.
From the dirt-pitches of Kaduna to the yellow grass turfs of Portugal, Jibril had received balls like that ever since he was a child.
He knew what to do. Keep your cool. Face the target and hit the ball with venom.
But never in his life was the pressure to score greater.
The game between MŠK Žilina and Zlaté Moravce had ebbed onto extra time. A UEFA Europa Conference League place was on the line and with the game poised at 2-2 penalties beckoned.
Jibril changed all of that.
The best forwards strike when you need them the most, and he put the ball into the back of the net with ease.
“The goal meant a lot to me. Knowing where I’m coming from and also working very hard to play at this top level it means so much to me,” Taofig Jibril tells First Time Finish about the moment he secured qualification to the UEFA Europa Conference League for MŠK Žilina.
Not an ordinary club
Žilina are one of the youngest teams in Europe.
They are not an ordinary side. Only FC Nordsjælland can rival them on the continent. The Slovakian outfit’s average squad age is 21.7 years old.
At 23-years-old Taofiq Jibril is one of the oldest members of the squad.
The club’s cohort is made up of youngsters who have either come through Zilina’s academy system, scouted at a young age or discovered in the club’s satellite team in Africa – MSK Zilina Africa FC.
Jibril falls into the middle. The Nigerian forward started out in Kaduna back in his home country.
As a youngster he was labelled the ‘Nigerian Benzema’ and played alongside players like Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze in Nigeria’s youth international teams.
From Kaduna, Jibril was spotted by SC Braga and invited for a trial in Europe.
The trial was unsuccessful, but Jibril stayed in Portugal and ended up at Sport Clube Vila Real in the fourth tier. He caught the eye scoring 25 goals in 33 matches and quickly earned a move to the top tier in, Portimonense, before being loaned out again to Valadares Gaia FC.
“Moving to Europe [early] has helped me to be mentally strong and I’ve also learnt to be patient in life,” Jibril says.
“It was difficult to adapt with everything, not just football, learning a new language, meeting new teammates, trying to work on my technique etc…so it was really difficult.”
During four years in Portugal Jibril made just two appearances in the country’s top flight but he gained valuable experience and showed enough to intrigue Zilina who offered him a trial at the club.
Jibril impressed and dazzled in the team’s reserve team tearing Slovakia’s second tier apart in the process. Eight goals and three assists in nine appearances was enough to secure him promotion to the first team squad.
“It’s a very good feeling to be here in Zilina. I’m liking it here everyday and the club is also helping me in so many ways,” Jibril says fondly.
A historic moment
MŠK Žilina have always been a team who valued youth development. The Slovakian outfit have produced a plethora of the country’s best stars including Inter Milan centre-back Milan Škriniar.
But it was the pandemic which forced their hands to embrace their youth strategy even more. In order to save expenses, the club decided to say farewell to their senior players amidst the crisis and promote their academy players into the first team squad.
Jibril relishes the opportunity to be a part of such an exciting team.
“It’s really a great thing to be among this group of young players because they push themselves to work even harder and it helps me even more to show what I have and help the team.”
The 2020/21 campaign was the first full campaign under the club’s new policy, and the second consecutive year in which the team’s youngsters helped Zilina qualify for a European spot.
On the 8th July the club’s first challenge awaits in the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League against Georgian club FC Dila Gori, and Jibril is looking forward to the experience.
“It is time to work towards what we want. I’m getting ready to see what the UEFA Conference League will be like. We are preparing hard for that.”
Zilina have a history of doing well in Europe. In the past the club have made it to the Europa League and the Champions League group-stages. Their last major European campaign was back in 2010/11 where the team welcomed Chelsea, Marseille and Spartak Moscow in the Champions League.
If this young team were to make it to the Europa Conference League group-stages the achievement could be on par with those results considering the youthful make-up of the squad.
A bright future
Jibril’s goal has ingrained himself in the history books of the club. But the Nigerian does not want to dwell on the past – he is looking ahead into the future.
“I’m really aiming high and and I pray and hope it comes through. “
He scored four goals in 19 appearances for the club last season – mostly coming off the bench. The next step will be to start games.
His short term goal is to have his name is on the team-sheet come the club’s first game against Dila Gori and continue his momentum.
As for those who label him the ‘Nigerian Benzema’ he has a message:
“I don’t know how to explain that, but I think it is how they see me. For me I think I’m just trying to improve and not to be someone else but just myself.”
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