By Ed Dove
Any approaching major international tournament brings with it a sharpened spotlight on international players, particularly those not necessarily considered regulars for their national side. Whilst the likes of Joseph Yobo, John Obi Mikel, and Ikechukwu Uche are guaranteed to make the plane to South Africa in January, what of the fringe players who aren’t sure of their place among the Super Eagles elite?
In conjunction with Goal Nigeria’s recent essay writing competition, the editorial team are working on a series of articles examining the claims and credentials of those players fighting furiously for their place in Stephen Keshi’s squad.
Featuring the likes of Sone Aluko, Lukman Haruna, and Nedum Onuoha, this series intends to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the players Keshi may well turn to to fill his roster spots for the Afcon, as well as exploring why they’re not considered regulars in the first place. And who knows, if one or two players drop out through suspension or injury, then these men may be the ones left flying the flag at the continental high table.
The first article considers the claims of Taye Taiwo, a player who has emerged as a point of friction among Super Eagle fans. Whilst half of Nigeria’s supporters claim that the team are mad to ignore the prospect of a player who has featured for Marseille and Milan, another portion of our fanbase suggest that Keshi is right to continue opting for the likes of Elderson Echiejile ahead of the former-QPR man.
The last time I remember seeing Taiwo feature for the national side was against Argentina on 6 September 2011, as the final embers of the pre-Keshi era died a death in Dhaka. It was the Albiceleste who stole the headlines that day, avenging their 4-1 defeat in Abuja three months earlier by stunning the Super Eagles with a fluid and feverish attacking display.
As the squad left Bangladesh, thoughts will have been with Gonzalo Higuain’s opener, Angel Di Maria’s second two minutes later, and Elderson’s own goal on 65 minutes – few will have been speculating that their days in the green of Nigeria were numbered.
Taiwo | Is there still a place for the Dynamo man in Keshi's squad?
But for several of that squad, that’s how it has been. As Keshi moved in, and the wheels of his stewardship began rolling inexorably on, the likes of Victor Anichebe, Chinedu Obasi, and Taye Taiwo found themselves overlooked in favour of domestic talent, Keshi’s new blood.
Taiwo played in Keshi’s opener in Kigali, a turgid 0-0 draw against the minnows of Rwanda – a team recently beaten by Zanzibar. Struggling to control the midfield, and blunt up front, Vincent Enyeama was called upon to bail out his team on numerous occasions. It was a game that saw Moses make his debut, and also saw the introduction of domestic-based talents Godfrey Oboabona, Azubuike Egwuekwe, and Ejike Uzoenyi – it was clear that the winds of change were swirling around the Nigerian team.
Taiwo was dropped for the matches in the Spring, against Egypt and Peru, and hasn’t been seen since. With no revival on the horizon, he now finds himself in danger of overseeing the Afcon as a bystander, a culpable complacent from a previous regime, the last generation’s failure, he and the others: scapegoats forgotten as the Eagles emerge into a new dawn.
Should it be this way?
It’s hard to suggest that Taye Taiwo has been in sparkling form in the year that has passed since that friendly, but whilst Keshi’s domestic-based recruitment policy has seen several capable talents emerge, not least the aforementioned Uzoenyi, recent times have seen him resort back to Europe to bolster his squad. Onyekachi Apam was recalled for the Venezuela friendly, while Shola Ameobi made his international debut after ratifying his Nigerian identity with Fifa.
Last season provided a happy ending for Taiwo. On loan at QPR from Milan, it looked for long stretches of the campaign that the Rs would fail to retain their Premier League status, but on the last day of the season relegation was avoided – even though a QPR side featuring Taiwo lost, so memorably, to Man City.
Despite initially hoping that his loan move to London would be made permanent, it wasn’t to be, and wage demands proved a stumbling block. Taiwo was sent back to Milan but after enduring an isolated pre-season, moved on loan again, this time to Ukraine, and Dynamo Kyiv, where a clutch of Nigerian compatriots awaited him.
Whilst Taiwo failed to escape ‘La maledizione di Maldini,’ the Curse of Maldini, at Milan, where the club have been unable to assign a regular left back to replace their erstwhile, legendary captain, the Nigerian does seem to have settled in Kyiv. Despite being a regular in the side’s Champions League campaign however, the Ukrainian side have been unable to escape their tough group – struggling to overcome the might of PSG or Porto. The Europa League awaits though, and Taiwo will further have the chance to enjoy some continent-wide exposure as the season continues.
Taiwo’s explosive pace remains, and his experience, as well as his knack of contributing timely, and often spectacular, goals, could still be major commending factors for his international future. At Marseille, the full back also displayed a solid defensive awareness, and it is this asset, perhaps above any other, that Keshi should recognise – as highlighted by Babajide Alaka recently, it is in defence that Nigeria have the biggest concerns.
It is still too late to rule Taye Taiwo out of the Afcon reckoning, but it is fair to say that it would be a surprise to see Keshi finally turn to the side’s former left back at this late stage in the proceedings.