Aware of the threat posed by one of Europe’s top attackers, Gift Orban, West Ham will take on Gent of Belgium in the Europa Conference League quarterfinal tonight at 19:45.
Gift Orban was completely unknown to most fans around Europe less than two months ago, but his climb to the top of the game has the top teams in Europe keenly watching his goal-scoring progress.
The 20-year-old from Nigeria has scored nine goals in only eight Belgian League games and five goals in four Europa League outings while playing for Stabaek in the Norwegian Second Division as recently as October.
Gent advanced to the round of eight thanks to his second-leg hat trick against Basaksehir, and he will be looking to build on his rapidly expanding reputation against the Hammers tonight at home.
Orban’s journey began in November 2021, when Torgeir Bjarmann, the sports director of Stabaek, travelled to Nigeria for his yearly amateur football tournament and returned knowing exactly who his team should attract to sign.
“It was a really physically hard competition, and Gift stood out for his ability to score and his team’s ability to combine playing styles. I decided to invite him to join our preseason training camp,” said Bjarmann.
However, the coaches were not very impressed with Orban at first, and he returned to Nigeria in February when his visa ran out.
Bjarmann said, “The initial plan was for Gift to play for our reserve squad in the fourth division, but I had to be more convincing to get him to come on a loan. We gave him a chance in a cup game in June since he scored in every game played there. He scored twice, stayed on the team, and never went back.”
Orban’s goals helped Stabaek, who were unexpectedly relegated the previous season, secure an immediate return to Norway’s top division.
Despite just joining amid the season, he ended up leading the league in scoring with 16 goals in 19 games while also contributing seven assists.
Orban’s dreams of the Bundesliga or Premier League
Orban was going to be kept by Stabaek for their top-flight campaign, but as significant bids started to come in from other clubs, they were forced to reconsider.
The Nigerian signed for Gent on the final day of the January transfer window for 3.5 million euros (£3.06 million), which the Belgian press saw as a significant risk for someone who had only spent a short time competing in the Norwegian Second Division.
Gift swept the league by storm and appeared out of nowhere. Although Belgian football is competitive and forwards are not allowed as much room, he just flourished. Could he be prepared to move forward this summer, perhaps to England?
His aspirations include playing in the Premier League or Bundesliga, and he could succeed in doing so. For him, the two games vs. West Ham are his chances to show that he’s worthy of playing in England or Germany’s top-flight. So, maybe the Hammers have been warned he’s coming for them.