Sone Aluko: A black cloud for Hull but a silver lining for Nigeria

The Super Eagle’s latest Achilles setback may come as a blow to player and club, but could Stephen Keshi benefit from his latest misfortune?

By Ed Dove 

Ahead of the clash with Sunderland last Saturday, Sone Aluko pulled up with a torn Achilles.

The injury is another setback for the Nigerian forward and spells bad news for both the national side and his club, Hull City. Unfortunately, this is only the latest in a long line of afflictions which have severely dented the forward’s momentum. The Tigers suffered defeat without the Super Eagle this weekend, and might be in for a struggle in his sustained absence.

Back at the end of September I wrote of the optimism that was surrounding the former Birmingham City man. The international made an excellent start to life in the Premier League with newly-promoted Hull and looked to be a natural fit for the top division.

Despite being tipped by many to make an instant return to the second tier, the Yorkshire side have adapted well to life among the big boys; they have been proactive against much more established opposition and have secured a number of terrific results.

Sone Aluko has enjoyed a terrific start to life in the Premier League

One such performance was against Newcastle United against St James Park. While the whole Hull side played excellently that day and were bullishly determined in their desire to win, Aluko was the game’s outstanding individual. I described Aluko’s star turn against the Magpies as ‘glowing’ and he was a difference-maker as the Tigers claimed a valuable three points.

He scored the winner, 15 minutes from time, with a delicious volleyed shot, having already assisted Robbie Brady’s goal mid-way through the first half. Throughout the clash, Aluko demonstrated his sublime technique and his admirable inventiveness.

During the early portion of the season, he led the way as Hull began to establish themselves in mid-table. The team’s proactive approach, the solidity and creativity of Jake Livermore and Tommy Huddlestone in midfield, the excellent defensive work of Curtis Davies—a stopper with a point to prove, and the fluid attacking line, have made Hull a menacing threat offensively, and also, particularly difficult to beat.

The 3-2 victory over Newcastle, for example, was a case of the Tigers outgunning their opponents. The 1-0 victory against fellow North-East team Sunderland, however, was a demonstration of the club’s ability to remain tight and grind out results.

Ahead of this latest injury, Aluko became very familiar with the treatment room. Last season, he was one of the Championship’s outstanding performances over the first five months of the campaign. However, his year was derailed following an Achilles injury suffered in the middle of January.

The ensuing surgery ended any hopes he had of returning to play a role in Hull’s assault on the top of the Championship and he watched on as his teammates clinched second place and promotion to the Premier League.

Aluko: Has had to wait to make an impact in the EPL

Naturally, then, Aluko was chomping at the bit to return to action and take his place in the top tier this season. It has been a long wait to return to the EPL for the Hounslow-born star; he was on the books of Birmingham while the Midlands side were among the elite, but never made an appearance for the side.

After moving north of the border and playing with Aberdeen and Rangers, then achieving promotion with Hull, Aluko finally has the opportunity to test his mettle among the finest competitors the English game has to offer. He certainly began the season in electric form, clearly keen to make up for lost time.

But now, injury strikes again—a concerning situation for all parties involved.

Hull were demolished 4-1 at the weekend. Admittedly, they were facing an on-song Southampton side, but the Tigers looked fairly toothless upfront. Aluko’s injury adds to Steve Bruce’s growing problems, the manager has had to contend with a number of absentees, not least goalkeeper Allan McGregor, midfielders Brady and Robert Koren, and centre-back James Chester.

Injuries such as this can really alter the mood at a club, particularly one without lashings of star power. Bruce will be hoping that his men can regroup during the international break and return strongly in two weeks when they take on Crystal Palace at the KC Stadium.

For the player himself, the injury will come as another cruel blow. For a young man who has already had to contend with a number of breakdowns, the latest setback will be hugely concerning. The fact that once again it is the Achilles that has been damaged is particularly worrying and it indicates that there is an issue that Aluko will need to manage assiduously. Once again, his momentum will be affected by these frailties and Aluko will need to endure another period of rehabilitation before he can unleash himself on the Premier League…by that time, Hull may be in a very different situation.

Finally, however, Stephen Keshi might not be so concerned about Aluko’s latest period on the sidelines.

Immediately, it’s important to say that Aluko has largely been ignored by Nigeria in recent seasons. There is no guarantee that he would part of the Super Eagles’ plans over the next six months even if he had been firing on all cylinders. However, Stephen Keshi has often referred to Aluko as someone who is on the peripheries of his plans, and the forward was called up to the pre-Afcon 2013 squad before injury prevented his participation.

Might Aluko arrive fresh in  Brazil next summer?

Had he continued in such fine form for Hull, then I believe Keshi would have struggled to resist Aluko’s claims for a spot in the party heading to Brazil next summer.

Ostensibly, this injury could be considered as bad news for the Nigerian selectors. Instead, it may actually be a blessing in disguise. Time on the sidelines will spare Aluko the famously gruelling Winter schedule in English football; he will escape the cold terraces, the hard earth, the depressing travelling and may well emerge, as the Spring is beginning to hatch its plans, fresh and primed for a big 2014.

It may be that Autumn’s misfortune serves a sprightly and vibrant Aluko next summer.

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