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Gabriel Agbonlahor: The Super Eagle who never was

04:52 GMT+4 04/04/2019
Gabriel Agbonlahor Aston Villa
How different could things have been if the Aston Villa stalwart had turned out for Nigeria?
It could all have been so different for Gabriel Agbonlahor.

His decision to retire at the age of 32 a week ago came as a surprise, but this is a player who, all things considered, never quite fulfilled on his initial promise.

Those first shoots of potential meant he had the pick of three countries when it came time to pledge his international allegiance: Scotland (from his mother who left him at the age of two), Nigeria (from his father) and England (the country of his birth) all had a claim.

In the end, he picked the latter; it is a decision for which Nigerians have never quite forgiven him.

He was not, however, unique in this decision. The likes of Nedum Onuoha and Carlton Cole toed similar paths, but they have earned a semblance of pardon by their later admittance of regret.

Agbonlahor has remained largely defiant: as recently as 2013, he claimed he was never approached by the Nigerian authorities, even though he had chosen not to honour an invitation in 2006 to play for the Nigerian under-20 side, telling BBC Sport that he had “always wanted to play for England seniors.”

There is a belief, rooted slightly in sour grapes, that those who turn down a chance to play for Nigeria never amount to much.

It is evidently nonsense, but assuming for a second that Agbonlahor had, in fact, heeded the call to turn out for the Super Eagles, how might things have panned out?

Objectively, it was in 2008 that he really hit his peak performance levels—who could forget his ‘perfect’ hat-trick on the opening day of the 2008/2009 season—and he formed a quite intimidating partnership with Norway’s John Carew upfront for Aston Villa.

However, given his versatility, as well as the tactical preferences of erstwhile Nigeria coach Berti Vogts, he would likely have featured in a wide role.

This would have had a negative effect on certain individuals within the squad, not least of all Osaze Odemwingie, a broadly similar sort of player in terms of style and goalscoring ability.

It is, however, difficult to see just how much more he could have elevated the Super Eagles in that period, especially once the thigh injuries began to mount, and considering just how brief his peak was.

One thing that is safe to assume is he would definitely have earned more than the three caps he did manage with the Three Lions, and would almost certainly have been a part of Nigeria’s squad to the 2010 World Cup.

Could his lightning pace have turned the tide against a tiring Ghana defence in Luanda in the semi-final at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier that year?

He scored 13 goals in 36 Premier League outings during the 2009-10 season, his best campaign, and would have found himself in good company as part of an offensive unit containing Odemwingie, Nwankwo Kanu, Kalu Uche, Yakubu, Chinedu Obasi, Victor Obinna and Obafemi Martins.

Incidentally, of those aforementioned seven players, only Yakubu (on three occasions) and Odemwingie (twice) ever scored more than 13 goals in a single season in a major European league.

Not bad for a player often dismissed as little more than a speed merchant.