By Ed Dove
Once again the Ukrainian Premier League has proved favourable to those Nigerian stars that ply their trade within it. African stars are thriving in Eastern Europe, and the presence of many of these players in Ukraine is testament to the rich seam of talent finding their futures outside the glare of Western Europe.
Dynamo Kyiv trio Ideye Brown, Lukman Haruna and Taye Taiwo may have fallen short in their attempts to wrest the title away from Shakhtar Donetsk, but each enjoyed fairly productive years on an individual level.
The majority of the plaudits have to go to Brown, who, over the last 12 months, has proved himself to be an assured and often deadly performer. With 16 league goals he was only beaten to the Golden Boot by Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s magnificent haul of 24. Then again, it is important to remember that Brown was absent for a month as Nigeria romped to the Afcon title.
This tournament was another glorious episode for the forward, and while he didn’t steal the show quite like Emmanuel Emenike, he proved himself to be an energetic and powerful addition to the Super Eagles’ forward line.
Haruna and Taiwo failed to make the national team squad, and appear to be well and truly frozen out of Keshi’s plans.
Still, both have demonstrated that they retain their talents; Haruna has weighed in with some important goals, and has gently developed into a more-advanced, creative player, while Taiwo has impressed from a full-back position. It remains to be seen whether the attacking left-sided player will remain in Ukraine beyond the expiry of his loan deal—Milan may choose to cash in elsewhere, and Lille and Rubin Kazan have both been mooted as potential destinations.
The three have ensured Dynamo’s qualification for next season’s Europa League.
It has also been a productive season for Kryvbas winger Michael Babatunde. The midfielder has impressed since arriving in Ukraine in 2011, but this term he has far-surpassed expectations. Having been identified as a wonderkid earlier in his career, Babatunde has had his fair share of hardship, but has matured gently and is proving to be an adept attacking threat.
Another to have been linked with Rubin Kazan in the past, Babatunde’s recent delightful form has seen him receive a call-up for Stephen Keshi’s Confederations Cup squad this summer. He can now hope that any dark days are well and truly behind him.
Despite signing for Zorya Lugansk back in 2012, forward Lucky Idahor has struggled to find the net regularly, despite being given considerable game time. At 32, the striker continues to be an imposing figure, but this season’s form suggests that he may well be in decline.
Down in Ukraine’s second tier, former Swift Eagles man Michael Alozie continues his Eastern European adventure with PFK Sevastopol, while young Georgian-Nigerian striker Abayomi Owonikoko progresses with his education at Volyn.
Defender Michael Odibe has made such progress at Arsenal Kyiv, since moving from Siena back in 2011, that his name has been linked with embattled Bundesliga side Werder Bremen. The player himself has been open about the interest in him, and a return to one of Western Europe’s major leagues may be on the horizon this summer.
A player who has raised concerns, however, is Dynamo Kyiv B-team player Frank Temile. The Lagos-born striker learned his craft in Nigeria with Shooting Stars, before heading to the Maltese league and capital side Valletta. Early promise has given way to mediocrity, and this season has been marred by an obscene training ground fracas with youth teamer Dmitry Korkishko
Temile has a long way to go to replicate the devastating impact of compatriot, Ideye Brown.
Over in the Russian Premier League, our players have made similar strides, and are genuinely influencing competition at the very elite levels of the sport.
CSKA Moscow’s Ahmed Musa may have struggled to hold down a first team berth in the Super Eagles’ setup, but with his club side, he is a bona fide superstar. 11 goals this season placed him 4th in the league’s scoring charts—ahead of the likes of Kevin Kuranyi and Samuel Eto’o.
Remarkably, still only 20, he can be incredibly proud of a campaign that has seen him crowned both the champion of Africa and of Russia. The Champions League awaits next term!
Across the capital, Spartak Moscow have a Super Eagle of their own in Emmanuel Emenike. The Afcon top scorer was unfortunate enough to miss out on the tournament final, and has endured an injury-plagued campaign ever since. Knee surgery performed in early May has ruled him out of the season’s finale as well as Nigeria’s vital summer, but both club and country will be anticipating the return of a fresh, invigorated Emenike for the next campaign.
Despite long being linked to Russian billionaires Anzhi Makhachkala, it was Russian side Kuban Krasnodar that eventually snared defender Dele Adeleye from Tavriya Simferopol. With the early stages of his stay already mired in controversy, it is too soon to say whether he—and compatriot Abdulwaheed Afolabi--will find success at their new club.
Initial controversies suggest it may well be a rocky road.
Two more Nigeria internationals are also enjoying fruitful existences in the Russian top flight. 35 year old Isaac Okoronkwo may have experience, but his age has perhaps begun to show this term; he has only featured 6 times as FC Rostov have found themselves among the relegation play-off places.
With only two goals for Lokomotiv Moscow, it’s not been a sterling campaign for Victor Obinna. Despite the lack of strikes, the player has, on occasion, demonstrated his class, not least in a supporting role for fellow forwards Roman Pavlyuchenko, Felipe Caicedo and Dame N’Doye.