Home in Nigeria, Nansel Selbol is known to those closest to him as Starboy. So, he got a tattoo of a star on his left hand to remind him of what his friends think of him and to motivate him to be his best self. The tattoo is on his hand, but he wants to show his stardom with his feet.
Nansel remembers his soccer story beginning at age five in his hometown of Jos, Nigeria, which he describes as a great place to be with the best weather in Nigeria. His elder brother played soccer, and once his father noticed Nansel taking a liking to the game, he bought his son a ball. Nansel’s friends always played, and he would always go with them to the fields. Even if he wasn’t playing, he was watching. He developed an intense craving for the game.
“I believe I have all it takes to play in the highest level, so I just need to work hard because I feel football is what I can do best,” he says from preseason training camp in Tucson, Arizona. “My favorite part about football is playing at the highest level, and I like scoring goals. Any time I score, I’m happy. Sometimes, I backflip.”
Nansel signed with the Swope Park Rangers in January after making quite an impression within Sporting Kansas City’s Academy. Before that, he was playing with the Under-17 Nigerian National Team and Nigerian clubs C.O.D. United FC, Plateau United FC and Pawas Soccer Academy. His agent had a friend in the United States and made some calls, which eventually led him to Sporting Kansas City. Nansel was originally among three players coming over from Nigeria on trial, but he was the only one to stick in Kansas City. Seven days after his debut with the SKC Academy in September 2015, he scored a hat trick against the Colorado Rapids.
Rangers head coach Marc Dos Santos had a strong first impression of Nansel, describing him as a “pleasant surprise” and noting that Sporting’s Academy has done tremendous work in building Nansel’s foundation.
“I would say Nansel is a small player that plays like a big player,” Dos Santos elaborates. “He’s very dynamic. He’s always in movement. It’s very difficult to knock him down – he has a low center of gravity. Technically, he’s very sound. He’s a player that can balance a midfield or balance defenders in certain moments. He knows it's not going to be easy right away to get a major starting position, but if he works well and he has that mentality, I think he has all the tools to win a spot and make an impact in this club.”
Nansel found it difficult to transition from the Nigerian game to Sporting. Everything is different here than at home: buildings, people, streets and the speed of soccer games. But he has learned so much from Sporting already in the Academy and looks forward to applying that knowledge to keep improving his game with the Rangers.
“At first, it was hard for me because I was kind of slow,” he admits, “but I have to step up because I’ve played a couple of games and my game wasn’t good enough so I have to step up. But I think right now, I’m catching up to the standards.”
Nansel is forming closer friendships with his new teammates every day, but he does miss home. He misses his friends. He misses his mother, who works as a cleaner, and his father, who is a retired member of the Nigerian Air Force. Before each game, he prays. He tells his family he has a game, and they wish him luck.
“My dad always tells me to work hard each time I talk to him,” Nansel says. “He says I’m a man. I have to be like a man because if I don’t work hard today then it will affect me tomorrow. My mom always prays for me because I told her I just want to play football so her prayers are just for me to play at the highest level and capture my dreams.
“They believe I will go places. They give me the support I need. They know I have something in me. They know I will get somewhere, someday.”
Nansel’s ultimate dream is to play the game he loves at the highest level, and that starts with the Rangers’ inaugural USL season beginning March 26. The Rangers finished the Desert Diamond Cup undefeated. Dos Santos believes that a strong and united group will always benefit individual players, especially a player with as much potential as Nansel, who he describes as “a very good player to coach.”
Like the club he belongs to, Nansel is just getting started.
“We’re not talking about a team who has been here for 60 years,” Dos Santos says. “You know, it’s a team that’s just starting. It’s three weeks old. But my first impression, like if I were to try to give characteristics to what I saw in the three weeks and in the three games, it looks like a group that doesn’t like to give up. It looks like a group with a strong mentality, a group that wants to succeed, a group that works very hard for each other, is able to suffer in a good way in certain moments of a game.”
“My goal for this upcoming season, I just want to be humble, work hard and I want to give my best,” Nansel adds. “It’s a new team and I like to win all the time. I hate to lose. I want to have a successful season because it’s my first professional season here. I just want myself and the team to be successful and work hard together, and I believe if we do so, we will achieve what we want.”