By Ed Dove
With the Goal.com Nigeria offices inundated with responses to our Obafemi Martins Quiz Spectacular, the editorial team have begun to garner a fair idea of the wants and wishes of Super Eagles fans. With many astute opinions, and several thorough suggestions from potential Naija managers, trends have been spotted and consensuses have been forged.
A common bone of contention among Goal Nigeria readers was Nigeria’s defence, or rather lack of it. Uninspired by the recent form of Joseph Yobo, unconvinced by the nascent careers of Godfrey Oboabona or Azubuike Egwuekwe, uncomfortable with the prospect of Taye Taiwo making a return to the national fold, one name has returned in your suggestions time and time again.
But even though defensive issues are often cited, and even though Onuoha would appear to be a ready-made problem solver, the defender has split opinions and proved to be a divisive topic among you essay writers.
The comments received have fallen into one of three categories.
Primarily, there are those that see Onuoha as ‘the answer’, those that are aware of the defensive frailties in the Nigeria camp, and see the Q.P.R. man as the perfect solution to any wobbles that the Super Eagles may have. Advocates of Onuoha range from those who merely support the player’s candidacy, those aware of his qualities, and his experience, to those who would implore, or even beg the former City man to commit to the Super Eagles! Nyong Asido even went as far as to suggest that Onuoha was a ‘magnificent player’ and a ‘goalscorer’. Wishful thinking, perhaps?
The other two categories profess slightly different pathways.
There are those who see no merit in the versatile defender, and thus no place for him among Nigeria’s elite of 23. There are those who argue that the player is overhyped. Indeed, it has been a long time since Onuoha has played a settled 90 minutes in an assured defensive performance. After failing to muscle his way into Manchester City’s moneyed XI, he made his way to London, and Q.P.R., where a generous £46,000-a-week contract is yet to look like value for money.
Perhaps Onuoha simply isn’t good enough to feature for Naija – after 16 starts for Q.P.R. last season, where he often featured on the opposite flank to fellow would-be Super Eagle Taye Taiwo, his progress has been somewhat stunted this season. Certainly Asido’s suggestion that the player might contribute to Nigeria as a goalscorer doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, certainly not this term – one shot and one cross are the sum total of his key attacking contributions.
One wonder goal against Chelsea in November 2010 does not a goalscorer make.
This season, Onuoha’s Q.P.R. contribution has been undistinguished, a combination of injury and upheaval have seen him displaced from the side, and with only one clean sheet in nine appearances, the likes of Jose Bosingwa, Ryan Nelsen, Stephane M’Bia, and even Clint Hill and Shaun Derry have usurped him in the proverbial pecking order. He hasn’t featured for the Rs since the beginning of November, and it’s hard to imagine him not lacking some match sharpness.
However, whilst Onuoha is perhaps not a £46,000-a-week player, it’s hard to argue that he’s not a seasoned Premier League-quality star. In just under a hundred games for City, in 30 on loan at Sunderland, and 25 with Q.P.R. to date, the Warri-born defender has proved himself to be a steady performer and a consummate professional. At City they still refer to his excellent comportment and his admirable work ethic, whilst his credentials as a sportsman - his impressive physique, flawless fitness, and athletic abilities - are easily spotted. Onuoha has also been identified as a leader; composed with the ball at his feet, and an excellent reader of the game, he was cited as a major contributor to Q.P.R.’s survival last season – their improved defensive record at home ultimately a major factor in their retained Premier League status.
There are certainly qualities there, and attributes that would be valuable in the heart of a Nigeria defence that shipped two away in Liberia in September – that’s the same Liberia team that are currently ranked 114th in the FIFA World Rankings.
But there are caveats to the Nedum debate, and those Goal Nigeria readers that fall into the third category are aware of these exterior circumstances.
This category features those more reasoned observers, those that accept and acknowledge Nedum’s qualities and virtues, but who are hesitant to welcome him into the Super Eagles fold with open arms – and who certainly draw the line at begging the 26-year old to slip into that famous dark green of Nigeria.
There is some history to this cautious stance. Onuoha was first called up to play for the Super Eagles back in 2007, and since then he has endured an on-off relationship with the land of his ancestors. Initially, one can perhaps forgive his hesitancy, having been a stalwart of the U21s, and emerging into an exciting City team, the appeal of England was too great, and the defender preferred to bide his time and await any possible opportunity with the Three Lions, rather than throw his hat into the ring with Nigeria prematurely.
Now though, five years down the line, the dynamic of the situation has changed, and Onuoha surely must be aware that any potential career with England has passed. With the likes of Ryan Shawcross and Stephen Caulker being capped for the national side in recent times, it’s clear that Nedum has a lot of ground to make up on his progressive peers.
Musa Amadu, the General Secretary of the NFF recently suggested that for Onuoha to even be considered for Super Eagle selection, he would have to show a categorical desire to represent the national side. Without this, Amadu claimed, it would be unlikely that Keshi and the other senior figures in the federation would compromise their own integrity in chasing the player.
Indeed, would Nigeria accept being sloppy seconds for a player who is struggling to even break into the Q.P.R. team rooted to the foot of the Premier League? Would there be hostility towards the player, or would things unfold as they did with Shola Ameobi, who was eventually welcomed into the camp after expressing his explicit desire to play for the land of his forefathers and having his change in nationality ratified?
Ultimately, would Onuoha even be a benefit to Nigeria’s defence?
I cast my mind back to Sekou Oliseh troubling our centre-backs in Monrovia, and I’m inclined to think he would.