COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
In a year that saw the Super Eagles catch the eye at the World Cup in more ways than one, it is remarkable that Nigeria's most interesting bit of transfer business involves a player who did not make the squad to Russia. Samuel Kalu, it would seem, bucks the trend in more ways than one.
Aged 20, the winger has traded in the Belgian top flight for the French, joining Ligue 1 side Bordeaux from Gent somewhat out of left-field. It was Gent team-mate Moses Simon who had long been linked with a transfer away, while Kalu was expected to continue his upward curve with the Buffaloes.
However, the sale of star Malcom to Barcelona necessitated a replacement, and the fact Les Girondins turned to the powerful winger attests to the high regard in which he is held.
It was, by the account of club president Stephane Martin, a well researched transfer.
"[He] is a player that the recruitment team followed for a while," he revealed to French newspaper Sud Ouest. "His choice was validated by [manager] Gustavo Poyet."
Quite apart from the unexpected nature of it, this move would seem to run counter to the received wisdom that wingers, and especially Nigerian wingers, had suffered some kind of extinction. However, while it was never anything so extreme, his emergence is important for the continued production of wide players in the country.
Youngsters are always more likely to model their games on their heroes', as well as on the profile perceived to be in demand in Europe. As such, Kalu's Bordeaux move not only places him front and centre in the public consciousness, it could potentially make the line-hugging, cross-whipping wideman fashionable again.
It has also made him a plausible target for the top tier of European sides. The Malcom transfer has, as it were, created a template for career progression, as well as a potential fishing ground for bigger clubs. Kalu, now sporting the No. 10 jersey, will hope to toe that same path. The pressure of stepping into the shoes of the club's former talisman will either be a ball and chain around his ankles or a pair of wings which propel him.
He will have to deal with that while adapting to a different, higher level league. However, his career so far has shown he is well capable of handling disruption: a mere two years ago, he was inking his first contract in Europe with Slovakian side AS Trencin.
Since then, he has grown steadily, going from 0.34 goal contributions (goals + assists) per 90 at Trencin to 0.47 at Gent. That latter ratio outstrips Malcom's in his time in France, the Brazilian maxing out at 0.41 goal contributions per 90. Kalu is by no means the goal threat that Barcelona's new man was, but he assists significantly more.
If the trend holds, Gustavo Poyet will be very pleased indeed.
So will, one would imagine, a certain former Bordeaux manager. This move brings the GBS Academy graduate very much into the reckoning for a Super Eagles place under Gernot Rohr, but perhaps it is worth asking just why, with those numbers at Gent, the GBS Academy graduate did not get a look-in for the World Cup.
It is doubly puzzling considering the injury which robbed the national team of the services of Simon on the eve of the Mundial, as well as the fact that Kalu was an even more natural fit as a wide player capable of stretching play on the right. Instead, Rohr opted to completely re-shape the team, a move which backfired in the heartbreaking fashion following defeat to Argentina.
Kalu's whipped crosses will offer a different creative outlet to the national team, and he would benefit the predatory instincts of a forward like Kelechi Iheanacho, who thrives on early deliveries but seems neutered within a more contemplative pace. The unfortunate injury to Tyronne Ebuehi, which could well rule him out for the rest of the season, makes a proper wide player even more imperative.
In that sense, the new Bordeaux man has arrived on the scene at a very opportune moment. At his unveiling, he described his new side as the "next step in my career", the implied meaning being that he is there for a good time, not a long time.
If he delivers like Malcom did though, the club faithful certainly would not begrudge him.