Paul Onuachu just can’t stop scoring, can he?
Some may remember him as the target man who, last season, demonstrated a reinvention of the role of big powerful strikers in modern football. 18 league goals in 36 games (with 29 being starts) was the foremost statistic; which was a more than decent return for a 23-year-old in his breakthrough year.
His goal return represented 26% of Midtjylland’s strikes last season as they finished the regular season in sixth place and made the Championship Round, before going on to win the European play-off final against Randers FC.
If anyone thought he’d slow down this campaign or perhaps felt he was another flash in the pan, they had another thing coming.
The powerful forward has picked up right where he left off in the previous season, netting eight league goals in 11 appearances as the Wolves have stormed to the top of the league after 13 games.
A slow start to the campaign saw him miss a few league games at the onset as Jess Thorup prioritized Europa League qualification above all else.
They ultimately fell short in making Europe, but that hasn’t in any way deterred the big guy. The season isn’t at its halfway stage yet, but the forward is showing no signs of slowing down and with Ulvene on course (presently) to win a first league title in three years, can he force his way into the Super Eagles squad before next summer’s World Cup in Russia?
In a little over a year in charge of Nigeria, Gernot Rohr has shown that he’s not one to rotate his side erratically, rather choosing to have a consistent core of players in the first team while tweaking when necessary.
However, you still get the sense that the striker’s position is there for the taking.
There’s been some chopping and changing upfront since the German tactician assumed the reins of the West African giants, where Odion Ighalo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Brown Ideye, Victor Osimhen and Imoh Ezekiel were the primary forwards called up for Rohr’s first game against Tanzania.
Contrast that to the last round of qualifiers where only Ighalo and Iheanacho remain mainstays (with Anthony Nwakaeme the new addition). That’s not failing to remember Olarenwaju Kayode who was also included in the squad a couple of times.
Of course, form and injuries play a part in the gaffer’s selections, yet the constant changes in invited personnel gives Onuachu hope he’ll get his invite soon enough, provided he keeps up his current level of performance.
Considering the latest international selection, the Midtjylland forward is up against the direct Ighalo, the instinctive Iheanacho and all-rounder Nwakaeme if he’s to force his way into the side and subsequently to the World Cup in Russia next year. Barring an alarming drop in form, or unfortunate injury, the in-form Ighalo looks a shoo-in to make the 23.
It’s a bit more complicated for Iheanacho, though, as the forward’s struggles at club level fail to justify his continued selection in the side.
However, managerial changes are often met with positive responses from players, so it’ll be intriguing to see how Claude Puel utilizes the young forward at Leicester City.
When you consider all the attributes of a modern-day complete forward, Nwakaeme ticks most boxes.
He’s a handful physically which helps him play effectively with his back to goal, is quick across short distances, a capable finisher and interestingly, able to play out wide. Having failed to make an appearance off the bench in the last two qualifiers, however, it’ll be interesting to see how he’ll fare when he eventually makes his debut.
For Onuachu, he’s anything but a one-trick-pony, and offers more than just his strength.
He looks a bit awkward on the ball due to his tall frame, but notwithstanding, is good on the ball for a big guy.
While Onuachu is a scorer of mostly one-touch finishes (which is an indication of his movement off the ball), he's not restricted in how he does his damage, as he scores a variety of goals (left foot, right foot, header, and the odd screamer).
Despite his qualities, with Russia fast approaching, the towering forward certainly has his work cut out if he’s to force his way into the reckoning. If he could maintain his current level of consistency, however, that will be a start, and he could force the manager's hand.
Rohr has demonstrated that he's a pragmatist during his reign as Nigeria boss so far, and with some of his striking options yet to truly convince, you can't bet against the German coach taking a punt on one of the nation's most in-form hitmen as the World Cup draws nearer.