It was 12 months ago that Ola Aina was first presented with a career-defining decision. Although England, the country of his birth, had provided international honours at every youth level between under-16s and under-20s, Nigeria had swung the door wide open for the defender to switch allegiances.
The emotional pull was eventually towards the homeland of his parents and vindication is now expected to come on a grand scale. Not only might Aina be part of a Nigeria squad that faces England in a Wembley friendly on June 2, he is also in line to spend his summer in Russia for the World Cup finals.
This is pinch-yourself stuff, even for a youngster who already boasts a Premier League winners medal with Chelsea.
“A World Cup at 21, that would be a big achievement,” said Aina, who now has just four games remaining of his season-long loan at Hull City.
“To be in the squad would be a blessing. I’ve just got to work hard here to secure a place and leave a good impression every time. It would be a honour.
“I get the same pride representing Nigeria, probably a little bit more, just because it’s closer to my origins. It’s deeper if you know what I mean.
“I was honoured to play for England but as of now I’m super honoured to play for Nigeria. It’s a big nation and a privilege to play for them.”
Aina is not the first player to have made such a decision. Chelsea team-mate Victor Moses and Arsenal playmaker Alex Iwobi both opted for international careers with Nigeria following age-group football with England and should be on the same flight out to Russia as Aina this summer.
“I played for England when I was younger and by the time I was 19 and 20 it had started to plateau a little bit,” said City’s right-back, who turned out for England 36 times at various age groups.
“I wasn’t getting selected as much and Nigeria have always been knocking on the door from an early age. That’s my ethic origin and at the time I just thought I need to play for Nigeria. England wasn’t there so I just had to pick Nigeria. And it felt right, you know?
“I think it’s the right decision for me. I enjoy it every time I go away. It’s a good bunch of lads and coaching staff. It’s always a good experience for me.”
Aina won the latest of his three international caps last month in a friendly with Serbia. That fixture was played out at Barnet’s Hive Stadium but the next cap won could be a few miles away at Wembley when Nigeria provide the penultimate opposition for England ahead of the World Cup.
“It’s come across my mind obviously,” he said. “It would be weird, a funny feeling. I’ve got some friends in that England squad so it would be a good day. Exciting. When the time comes I’ll be looking forward to it.”
Ola Aina lines up with his Nigeria team-mates for the game with Algeria
Aina made a point of stressing his only focus is on the final four games of City’s Championship season, the stage where he has been able to promote his claims for an international summer.
The 21-year-old had only made six appearances in senior football before arriving at the KCOM Stadium, all for his boyhood club Chelsea on their way to last season’s Premier League title.
A 44th appearance of this breakthrough campaign is expected to come when the Tigers host Sheffield Wednesday and that is a figure that no City team-mate can surpass in all competitions.
“I’m thankful for Nigel and Leonid Slutsky for believing in me,” he said. “To have always played me was their decision and that’s been good for me. I came here to get some games under my belt and thankfully that’s what’s happened. It’s turned me into more of a man. I’ve learned a lot.”
Nigel Adkins has already declared an interest in Aina returning next season once the defender spends pre-season with Chelsea but the long-term ambitions is still unashamedly rooted in West London.
“Who knows where I’ll be next season? Football is a funny game. There’s lots of examples. Someone like (Marcus) Rashford, one game, bang and now he’s in there as a regular.
“As for me, I don’t know what’ll happen. Chelsea is a big club. It’s not just me that they can focus on. I haven’t heard much yet but I dream and work towards that dream of playing for Chelsea.
“They’ve always been my club, even before I was scouted for them. I don’t give up on much. I don’t see the negatives in it and I’ll never give up on anything I’d like to do.”
Ola Aina (left) and Fikayo Tomori of Hull City celebrate following the Sky Bet Championship victory away to Burton Albion on Tuesday
Although Aina came to East Yorkshire with the aim of helping City back into the Premier League, targets revised at the halfway mark of the season ought to be realised this afternoon.
Beating Sheffield Wednesday will guarantee the Tigers stay afloat in the Championship for another season and the opposition, the last of Slutksy’s reign, can provide a yardstick for how far City have come under Adkins.
“It was a club trying,” said Aina, reflecting on the 2-2 draw at Hillsborough that would cost Slutksy his job in December. “We were all trying desperately and working our hardest but it just wasn’t happening. It was a bad time for us.
“When you get the results we were getting it puts a downer and everything. It’s baffling how we’re in the position we’re in but we’re working hard to secure safety. I fancy a win in each of the next four games to be honest because you can feel the confidence growing in the team.”