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Friday, February 28, 2020

Nigerian international Orji Okonkwo ‘feels lucky’ to play under Thierry Henry

Nigeria youth international Orji Okonkwo feels lucky to return for a second loan spell with Major League Soccer (MLS) side Montreal Impact under manager Thierry Henry.

Okonkwo, 22, joins from Italian side Bologna, after his eight goals in the 2019 season earned him Impact’s Most Valuable Player award.

Despite reported interest from European clubs, he returns for his second spell with the club, managed by France and Arsenal legend Henry.

“I’m looking forward to making a bigger impact when I wear the shirt again,” Okonkwo, who has the option to join on a permanent deal, told BBC Sport.

“I feel lucky to get a chance to work under a legend like [Thierry] Henry. I can learn important tips on how to be a better player from someone who has won the World Cup and achieved so much at club level as well.

“You don’t get an opportunity like this all the time, I really plan to make the most of it.

“I know a lot of the players and I am really excited about our prospects this season after missing out on the play-offs last season.”

The 2015 Under-17 World Cup winner extended his deal with Bologna until June 2024 before returning to North America.

Montreal failed to make the 2019 play-offs and parted company with coach Wilmer Cabrera when his contract ran out at the end of the campaign.

But Okonkwo’s agent Femi Olaniran believes the forward can achieve more success on his return to the club and grow under a new manager.

“Henry played a big role in his decision to return to Impact Montreal and this is a legend of the game,” Olaniran told BBC Sport.

“As a winger he managed eight goals last season but he can achieve more under the tutelage of this great forward.

“Orji is young, eager to learn and could have gone elsewhere, but he is aware that he can continue to grow under one of the best strikers in world football.”

Okonkwo previously played in Italy between 2016 and 2019, scoring three goals in 27 Serie A matches with Bologna, including four starts.

He joined the Italian club in 2016 from FC Abuja Academy in his native Nigeria spent the second half of the 2017-18 season on loan at Serie B side Brescia.

At international level, Okonkwo started three games for Nigeria at the 2019 Africa Under-23 Cup of Nations, scoring a goal against Zambia.

He starred as the West African nation clinched a fifth U-17 world title in Chile, appearing in five games throughout the tournament. He scored in a 4-2 win against Mexico in the semi-final game.

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