COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
The unveiling of Sunday Oliseh as Super Eagles manager was full of interesting soundbites. His assertion that only players strutting their stuff in the topmost divisions would be considered elicited a lot of reactions; as such, something else just as important may have flown under the radar.
His statements on his planned playing style were vague enough to be open to interpretation. However, he was unequivocal when stating his basic criteria for selection in the forward line.
“You cannot play in our attacking line-up if speed is not one of your stronger points,” he stated.
This is perhaps the clearest indication of the sort of personnel choices to expect under the former Super Eagles captain. Pace is a purely physical attribute; you can hone technique and running style, but it is a biological trait rather than a skill. This may seem discriminatory to some; still, it cannot be denied that in modern football, pace is more important than it has ever been.
With this in mind, here are three forwards who are likely to be very influential during Oliseh’s reign.
It has been an eventful 12 months for the 20-year-old Simon, who swapped Slovakian side AS Trencin for Gent in the January transfer window. He had already begun to turn heads, starring in Trencin’s brief Europa League run in the first half of the season.
His impact in Belgium was immediate and decisive. Seven goals and four assists in 19 appearances fired Gent to their first ever domestic title, and earned him his first caps for the Super Eagles in March.
His calling card is his searing pace and acceleration, strengths Gent boss Hein Vanhaezebrouck has used maximally. Often viewed as a winger with Nigeria’s youth teams, he is utilised upfront for the Buffaloes—he seeks to collect the ball in wide positions and run at his direct opponent. His quick feet often make him favourite to dominate in these situations.
Perhaps this is a pointer to how Oliseh might seek to utilise him. Played on the flank, his major flaw is more easily exposed: his decision-making is not yet where it should be, especially if the defending full-back forces him away from goal. However, if played centrally, his options are greatly multiplied.
If Oliseh seeks to use pace and trickery as his weapon of choice, then Simon could become a key component in his Super Eagles attack.
That Carpi will be debuting in Serie A this season owes much to Mbakogu’s goals. The 22-year-old scored 15 times in Serie B to lead the modest Modena outfit to promotion, and has reportedly been catching the eye of giants Napoli in recent months.
The striker is eligible for Italy, having moved there at a young age. He has however indicated his desire to represent the country of his birth, but is yet to be capped at international level.
Oliseh would do well to rectify this oversight as soon as possible. While Mbakogu is the slowest of the three presented here, he is no slouch. At over 6 feet tall, he is an impressive specimen in full flight, an aggressive and powerful runner who displays admirable calm in front of goal.
He has the physicality to lead the line on his own should Oliseh opt for a one-striker system, and also links up well enough to play with a partner. If there is a weakness to his game, it is that he does not always maintain control of the ball as he accelerates; as such, he is a lot more efficient when he can finish within one touch.
He will be strutting his stuff with the big boys in Serie A this term, so there is no danger of him falling short of Oliseh’s eligibility criteria. Call him up!
The reaction to Imoh’s decision to move to Qatari side Al Arabi following a groundbreaking season with Standard Liege was incredulous. Playing football in the Gulf is still somewhat associated with the twilight of a player’s career—hardly a choice destination for a 21-year-old making a name for himself.
Almost inevitably, he found his way back to Standard on loan and was impressive in the second half of the season. He particularly shone in the six-team Championship play-off, scoring four times and laying on two others in eight games.
His destination in the new season remains unclear presently, as rumours continue to link him to Belgian giants Anderlecht. However, if nothing materialises, he will find himself once again at Al Arabi.
Imoh thrives playing on the shoulder of the last defender, drifting into the channel before sprinting in behind. Lightning quick, his footwork is also strong, and he surprisingly scores quite a few headers, despite being only 5’ 6’’. Aside a good leap, he finds space well in the box.
Expectedly, his slight frame makes him a target for brawny centre-backs. While he is unlikely to compete in this situation, his speed on the turn makes him a nightmare to mark tightly.
Imoh possesses just the right set of attributes for a forward role, and he could star for the Super Eagles under Oliseh’s leadership.