Following his consistent performances in La Liga this season and with the World Cup on the horizon, do the Eagles' hopes in Brazil rest on the shoulders of the Villarreal man?
By Shina Oludare
Apart from the barrage of criticism that greeted the unveiling of the jerseys which the Super Eagles will wear for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, another issue that has generated heated arguments in Nigerian football circles is whether coach Stephen Keshi should uphold or rescind his verdict that Ikechukwu Uche will not make the Super Eagles squad for Brazil.
Though Uche may not be among the top-three highest goal-scorers in Super Eagles history, he has carved a niche for himself as the Nigerian Miroslav Klose. Quick on the ball, nimble footed, powerful and industrious on the field of play – words cannot express how best to describe the Super Eagles ‘Rescue Marshal’ whose appearances resemble those of a pocket dynamite.
As the FIFA World Cup inches nearer, I strongly believe that the Villarreal forward represents a good option for the Keshi-led technical crew who dream of a brilliant showing in Brazil – especially at a time when the country is yet to recover from the shocking news of Bright Dike’s unavailability due to injury.
Uche |Will he get a second chance?
To the ‘Big Boss’, Ikechukwu's many sins include the former Getafe player’s boisterous behaviour at the 2013 African Cup of Nations in South Africa, plus wanting to dictate the way the Super Eagles should play. Of course, talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates but should Keshi now throw out the baby with the bath water?
I begin to wonder if the Super Eagles had the likes of Mario Balotelli, Joey Barton and Eric Catona, would Keshi have shown them the exit door too?
What if the FIFA Confederations Cup situation comes to play where the Super Eagles, with less than few days to the commencement of the tournoi lost the services of Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses – who are Keshi’s preferred marksmen, who do we look up to?
Do we then resort to re-invite spent forces or start another Gambo Mohammed, with due respect, to face the strong-willed backline of the Argentines and other oppositions in the tournament?
Slightly away from his grand form this season, having scored 12 goals in 13 La Liga stats for the Yellow Submarine, his blistering pace and ball control which gives him an edge over defenders during matches is an asset the Super Eagles must not miss in Brazil. His brilliant footwork always wreck havoc against opposing defenders.
It is noteworthy that Uche, in the last four years, has won more set pieces for Nigeria than any other Super Eagles player.
Keshi | Not likely to rescind his verdict
Taking a tactical approach to this, he can play in any attacking formation the Eagles will employ and will still make his impact felt. The 4-3-3 formation relies on an out-and-out striker to play in the center of the front three, capable of holding the ball up and bringing the two players on either side of him into the play. Ikechukwu is up to the task as he will deliver the goals like he is doing for Marcelino Toral’s side in similar role.
In this set up, he can function as a wide attacker using his pace to get at full-backs and cross the ball in for the central striker and advancing midfielders. All he needs to do is cut inside and run at the central defenders, regularly playing quick passing exchanges with teammates before getting into the penalty area and releasing a shot.
Should the Super Eagles decide to use a 4-5-1 formation, the Villarreal man will not be found wanting as he can also play up top alone shouldering the burden of a lone striker. To this, he is blessed with pace needed to run on to balls from the midfield, coupled with good control and aerial prowess that will make him flourish in this position.
Coming to the common system typically used by the Eagles, the 4-4-2, Uche would still function well due to his dexterity holding the ball up and laying it off to his partner. In this formation, he will be a constant threat with his physical strength to hold off defenders and bring his teammates into play.
If Keshi chooses not to use him as the main striker; he is capable of playing in the 'hole' (the area behind the main striker) and using his creative skills to set up those around him, primarily his strike partner. Whichever front two combinations the Big Boss chooses to field, he will still deliver the goals as he will sniff out and score chances in and around the penalty area.
Whichever way one takes a look at this, Ikechukwu Uche would be a key figure for the Super Eagles if we really have the intention of surpassing the second-round finishes at the USA 1994 and France 1998 World Cup.
Need I remind the Big Boss on how Samson Siasia’s stringent disciplinary measures cost him his job as Super Eagles coach after failing to qualify the country for the 2012 AFCON staged in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. If an impotent Nigeria side fail to score at the World Cup and advance from the group stage, then might Keshi's tough stance with Uche come back to haunt him?