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Chidozie Awaziem redeeming battered reputation at Nantes

16:33 EAT 24/10/2017
Chidozie Awaziem of FC Nantes
The youngster is slowly making a name for himself in France, but needs to shake off a stigma back home in order to be accepted

COMMENT    By Solace Chukwu      Follow on Twitter  

So, first impressions, eh? Stubborn things, apt to linger past their usefulness. Granted, in terms of human evaluation, the indelibility of the first encounter is a useful fail-safe. It can also , however, prove an active hindrance: look no further than the curious case of the unfortunate Chidozie Awaziem.

Well, he's not unfortunate anymore – Nantes, with whom he is on loan for the current season, sit pretty in third in the French top flight, after all. In the minds of a nation though, he seems doomed to be remembered for a truly inauspicious international debut.

That he is now building his confidence and skillset as part of Claudio Ranieri's solid side is a fact that may be lost on the majority. Ligue 1, after all, enjoys a miniscule following in Nigeria , a nation that remains in thrall to the Premier League; Nantes are also, by any measure, a modest team, present punching above their weight notwithstanding.

So you may forgive the mental association of the 20-year-old with the oft-peddled term 'calamity', a regrettable legacy of the night Awaziem met Tokelo Rantie.

That, of course, was hardly his fault.

In a perverse way, his only 'offence'' may have been impressing in training, enough to outshine the more experienced Kenneth Omeruo. Whether that should have been enough for an international debut in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier is a whole other matter, and that decision is on Gernot Rohr.

As it turns out, and somewhat predictably, the youngster looked completely disoriented at times, stunned in the headlights as the freight train that is Rantie came pounding through time and again. It didn't help that he was, at the time, turning out for the Porto B team, a fact which was the accelerant for the lynch mob that gathered.

If Omeruo, who endured a similar chastening at the hands of the same man (albeit while barely fit) on the same turf three years ago, had any pointers, he apparently did not share them.

Rohr has wisely continued to include him, albeit in a less prominent brief on the bench. However, a crushing reminder of the mortality of the Super Eagles central defence came in the facial injury suffered by stalwart Leon Balogun at the weekend. Sooner or later, we will see Awaziem again.

How he handles that second chance will be instructive.

He is already, as it were, in the red in the trust register, and will be aware there is a huge amount of pressure on his shoulders to prove that his initial gripes were merely teething problems.

Then again, he might relish the opportunity of a do-over, but the peculiarity of his situation is that even that would not be sufficiently conclusive.

After all, if a bad day was a one-off, a good one may be just so as well. Incongruously, the only outcome that would be definitive is a negative one.

His antecedent would suggest that he is capable of returning strongly from setbacks though.

He was sent off in August for a bad tackle against Troyes, and had to wait a further month for another appearance. He has however not retreated into himself, or gotten into a funk, but has gone about his defensive duties without fuss, and netted his first goal of the season, a towering header, at the weekend against Guingamp.

His continued improvement, playing under the manager who made Wes Morgan and Robert Huth look like Alessandro Nesta and Jaap Stam, is definitely good news for the national team, especially in a World Cup year. Naturally, transplanting the system wholesale might be difficult, even ill-advised.

Still, under Rohr the Super Eagles have grown into a disciplined, ruthless counter-attacking side, evidence by their showing in Yaounde against Cameroon. It is a change that will suit the on-loan Porto youngster right to the ground.

He will need to earn the trust of a nation afresh, and if he manages it when afforded another opportunity, it will perhaps serve as a lesson in the rapid forming of opinions. There is, after all, no crime in being young.