COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
The concerns around the Super Eagles since the appointment of Gernot Rohr have largely centred on defence. His side has evinced rude health in attack, scoring averaging two a game, but has kept one clean sheet in three games: against modest Tanzania. Getting on the board is not something the German has had to worry about.
That may be set to change though.
Brown Ideye is the latest Nigeria international to make the move eastward, joining Tianjin TEDA from Greek champions Olympiakos. If the club name sounds familiar, that is because Super Eagles captain Mikel John Obi earns a living at the club as well, having joined in January. Odion Ighalo completes a triple-whammy Nigerian invasion into China—all have featured in at least two of the three internationals under Rohr.
What is clear is that we can no longer turn our noses up at China’s rampant expansionism. Less clear though is how prominent these three will be in the national team going forward.
Mikel, as team captain, is pretty much nailed on to remain relevant in the short term, but in Ighalo and Ideye, the national team may find itself short two attacking options: neither has been particularly prolific for the national team anyway.
What then is the plan going forward? Where is the second wave of forwards set to take up the gauntlet?
Almost by default, Kelechi Iheanacho seems in pole position: the 20-year-old was actually selected ahead of both Ideye and Ighalo in October’s qualifier against Algeria. However, his underwhelming display hardly set the pulse racing; in any case, his stock has greatly plummeted in that time: he has been severely ostracized at Manchester City following the arrival of Gabriel Jesus.
It is clear he may have to seek a move in the summer, either permanently or on loan.
Beyond him, the pickings are slim. The likes of Fanendo Adi and Emmanuel Emenike are untested (and really though, is Major League Soccer to be considered any more rigorous than China?) and unavailable respectively. Rohr has extended an invitation to youth international Victor Osimhen again, and there are indeed high hopes for the Wolfsburg. However, injuries and fitness struggles have prevented his senior career, signalled by a deal signed in January, from really taking flight.
At 18, he would represent a real wildcard option anyway, and the pressure of such responsibility could very well break his lean, dainty limbs.
Taiwo Awoniyi is another who displayed some promise, but his development has ground to a halt over two loan spells in Germany and the Netherlands. Presently with NEC Nijmegen, the 19-year-old is yet to find the net in 12 appearances.
It may perhaps be time to extend a welcome to Olarenwaju Kayode at Austria Vienna. Aged 23, and being a former youth international, it is somewhat peculiar he has not been called up to this point. In any case, his numbers are solid: 14 goals and six assists in 34 appearances ought to at least earn him an audition in these lean times.
One might consider the NPFL, but there is little to inspire confidence: Godwin Obaje finished as top scorer last season with Wikki Tourists, but has struggled to get going in this following a move to nouveau riche FC Ifeanyi Ubah, while Chisom Egbuchulam is mired in his own transfer impasse at reigning champions Enugu Rangers, ostensibly cut off from the team in his bid for a transfer to Europe.
Maybe there isn’t much to worry about anyway. There is, after all, a bit of paradox in the fact none of the six goals scored under Rohr have come from the team’s nominal centre-forward. Part of that has been the result of his tinkering from game to game, unable to settle upon a preferred option.
Going from an embarrassment of riches to a veritable famine between matches can hardly be what the German had in mind though.
Multiple goal outlets are great, but the centre-forward has to carry some threat, else he ceases to be a worry for opposing defences altogether. If Rohr fails to find a dependable solution, his side’s incontinence in defence will become a bit more than an adorable quirk.