We continue our annual reports on Super Eagles stars overseas by focusing on those players plying their trade in Turkey
By Ed Dove
This season, Nigerian stars have flourished in the Turkish leagues like never before. While players starring in the Super Lig and beyond have perhaps not received the international recognition that their advances deserve, they have demonstrated that Stephen Keshi has another layer of performers to call upon if he so desires.
Veteran defender Joseph Yobo is the highest profile of these players, but by all accounts it has been a mixed year for the former Everton man. The Cup of Nations was the centrepiece occasion of his year, if not his career, but despite breaking the national record for appearances during the competition, few could have foreseen the nature of Yobo’s contribution.
As Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo gently developed a sterling partnership together, Yobo was pushed to the peripheries. Initially, he impressed with the grace with which he approached Keshi’s decision to drop him, and indeed, Yobo’s brief cameos as a substitute often gave the side stability, and his maturity was a calming influence on the young Super Eagles defence.
However, since the tournament, his relationship with Keshi has soured, and it appears the defender has finally lost patience at being overlooked so regularly. His omission from the Confederations Cup squad suggests that the Big Boss is poised to move on, and will come as a blow to the defender—who surely must have imagined he would be allowed to end his international career in a blaze of glory at next summer’s World Cup.
With club side Fenerbahce, it’s been a disappointing year; the team were beaten to the Super Lig title by arch-rivals Galatasaray, and surrendered a first leg lead to lose the Europa League semifinal to Benfica. The final vestige of salvation could come in the mid-week Turkish Cup final against Trabzonspor—certainly Yobo will be hoping that a grey season can have a very silver lining.
The star African attraction in the Turkish league has surely been Kasimpasa frontman Kalu Uche. With an incredible return of 19 goals, the striker finished second in the Turkish scoring charts, beaten only by Gala frontman Burak Yilmaz. Uche’s goals have been a major reason why the newly-promoted team have ended the year nestled in an impressive 6th place.
The striker’s terrific season earned him a recall to the Nigeria squad for the team’s all-important summer, but with the forward likely to miss out through injury, it remains to be seen whether he can once more muscle his way into the squad.
At the other end of the Super Lig table, there was misfortune for a number of Super Eagles stars—all three of the relegated teams featured Nigerian players. Raheem Lawal earned the wrath of Naija fans after being excluded from the Afcon squad and subsequently stating his desire to see the national side fail. His side Mersin finished bottom of the table, although the midfielder has indicated that he was no intention of sticking around and helping them return to the top flight.
Raheem Lawal (L)
Former Strasbourg man Simon Zenke looks to have backed the wrong horse after returning to Turkey from France to sign for capital side Istanbul B.B. The powerful striker may have contributed a couple of goals and assists since arriving at the club in 2013, but it hasn’t been enough to stave off relegation to the second tier.
Finally, thingswent from bad to worse for Ayila Yussuf. A move to Orduspor on loan (from parent club Dynamo Kyiv) hasn’t paid off, and the midfielder’s year has been hijacked by injury and a loss of form. His experience and class couldn’t help the Black Sea city avoid the drop, and the international now faces an uncertain summer.
A major success story has been Michael Eneramo. With 11 goals in 30 games, he was a central figure in Sivasspor’s mid-table finish and looked particularly impressive when bagging a hat-trick against Istanbul B.B. Indeed, it had looked like Emenike’s recent injury may have given the forward a route back into the international set-up, but Keshi has instead plumped for Werder Bremen’s Joseph Akpala.
If the bulky striker’s recent form continues into next season, however, it might be near-impossible for the Big Boss to avoid the former Esperance man.
One player who has expressed shock at Eneramo’s continued absence from the national side is Antalyaspor’s Nigerian forward Promise Isaac. The Zaria-born attacker has, himself, been long-overlooked since breaking into the national setup, but eight goals and six assists this season indicate that Keshi could do a lot worse than give him a chance to shine once more.
It has also been a breakthrough year for Nigeria international Uche Kalu; the 26 year old took his first few steps into European competition with a loan deal to TFF First League side Caykur Rizespor. Kalu was a revelation, and his contribution of nine goals and two assists helped the club seal promotion to the top flight.
He now looks primed to make a move to Europe, with Rizespor looking like the favourites to secure a permanent deal.
Another player to have fallen away from the international set-up in recent times is Ekigho Ehiosun. His first season at new club Genclerbirligi, has been modest, with 10 of his 11 appearances coming from the bench. Injuries have played their part, but the player looks, unfortunately, to have regressed in recent times.
Lower down the leagues, Akeem Agbetu continues to dazzle with new club Tavsanli Linyitspor, and his flamboyant Turkish adventure shows little sign of ending anytime soon.