Despite the unpredictability of the 2020/21 season, amid a global pandemic, it’s been a fascinating year for Nigeria forwards, with several frontmen enjoying successful individual campaigns.
Paul Onuachu has bounced back from a disappointing maiden year at Genk to score bucket-loads in Belgium, Terem Moffi has thrived in his first campaign in one of Europe’s top five leagues with Lorient while Sadiq Umar may still win the golden boot in Spain’s second division (he’s three goals behind Raul de Tomas and Uros Durdevic with two games to play).
While Victor Osimhen initially looked to be set for an underwhelming year, the Napoli frontman’s upswing since March suggests 2021/22 could be a huge success…although looming turbulence in Naples could put a question mark on next season.
Having said that, it did feel like last weekend was the crowning point for the nation’s forwards with Asisat Oshoala winning the Women’s Champions League with Barcelona Femeni, Kelechi Iheanacho enjoying Leicester City’s first FA Cup title after beating huge favourites Chelsea and Simy scoring his 20th Serie A goal of the campaign, equalling his personal best from last season.
Admittedly, the latter may not have won a trophy with that leveller against Benevento; still, scoring 20 times in Serie A deserves a lot of recognition.
Having never reached double figures in top flight football — he netted three in 16/17 and seven the following year — the towering frontman surely wasn’t backed to score so many times on his return to Italy’s top division.
Even though the steady progress in Serie B, which saw him hit 14 and 20 goals in 18/19 and last term respectively, may have intimated otherwise, the possible challenges Crotone faced before a ball was kicked highlighted the uphill task the frontman faced.
However, almost a year later, he’s surpassed Obafemi Martins as Nigeria’s highest scorer in Serie A history. The gigantic forward’s goals account for nearly half of the Pythagoreans’ 45 strikes, outdoing Cristiano Ronaldo (39.7 percent of Juventus’ goals), Romelu Lukaku (27 percent) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (20.2 percent) in the process.
Another goal against Fiorentina this weekend would prompt even more adulation for Simy, whose goals for a struggling, relegated side deserves commendation.
Moving on, it’s a tad difficult to not root for Oshoala, the current golden girl of African football and arguably the nation’s finest (look away now, Perpetua Nkwocha!)
After a sobering 4-1 defeat by Olympique Lyon Feminin in the Champions League final two years, the Nigeria star’s Barcelona corrected those wrongs by thrashing a hugely talented Chelsea outfit 4-0 to claim their maiden crown on the continent.
Lluis Cortes’ relentless side are also unblemished domestically, so far racking up 27 wins from 27, scoring a staggering 136 and letting in a paltry five.
While the Super Falcon’s recent layoff may have contributed to her lessened game time in the CL semis and decider which may count against her in compariasons with Simy and Iheanacho, 21 goals in all competitions evidently demonstrate she’s been no bystander in Barca’s incredible campaign.
Four of those strikes came on the continent with an important opener in the 3-0 demolition of Manchester City in the quarter-final first leg, before equalising in the reverse fixture to make sure City had no chance of mounting a comeback.
She’d also won the penalty that sent the Spanish side 2-0 up in their ‘home’ game in Monza, Italy.
The highly decorated forward is a four-time African Footballer of the Year and it’s hard to look beyond her for a fifth crown, which may ultimately swing observers who still place Nkwocha on a higher pedestal.
And, of course, there’s Iheanacho.
The Leicester City man’s scoring run may have ended against Chelsea in last week’s final but his role in taking Leicester to their first semi-final in 39 years and a first final in over a half-century can’t be undervalued.
Before the Foxes even dared to dream against Thomas Tuchel’s Blues, the frontman’s 94th-minute winner against Brighton & Hove Albion in the Fifth Round which sealed a 1-0 victory ensured their hopes weren’t dashed before it even began.
Throw in four goal contributions from the 3-1 win over Manchester United and 1-0 triumph vs Southampton — he scored three times and assisted another in those games — and there’s no doubt that the ex-Man City youngster was definitely Brendan Rodgers’ leading man in the sport’s oldest cup competition.
Given the subjectivity of the debate, there’s an inclination to be torn among all three: Simy finally shedding the notion he wasn’t cut out for Serie A football, Oshoala’s phenomenal domestic and European journey and Iheanacho going from near persona non grata to key player under Rodgers to make an entire fanbase dream for the first time in 52 years.
While there’s an argument to be presented that FA Cup success is quite incomparable to a European trophy — especially for a side like Leicester whose 2016 Premier League success may never be matched and require Champions League football next season for effective squad building — the post-match delirium of supporters, players and owner at Wembley suggest otherwise
The Foxes did claim £1.8 million in prize money, too, for beating Chelsea at Wembley as opposed to the Spanish outfit’s €460,000 (about £396,000) for defeating Emma Hayes’ troops in Gothenburg.
Be that as it may, rather than fall into the trap of comparing these really incredible successes, why can’t we just extol each player for their magnificent feats? It’s an amazing time for Nigerian football and Simy, Oshoala and Iheanacho have been instrumental in the ongoing success.