When Ademola Lookman’s allegiance switch to Nigeria was ratified in February, it is safe to assume the supporters were pleased.
Not only were they getting a player just about to enter his prime years, but the profile of the wide attacker added to supporters’ excitement.
In a sense, though, many will argue that the on-loan Leicester City attacker only adds another layer of attacking quality to a side already filled with decent-to-good prospects in those areas.
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Indeed, it will not be out of place to posit they are roughly of similar profiles: inverted wingers with a penchant for dribbles and aggressive ball carries.
Lookman’s switch had been a long time coming since ex-Nigeria boss Gernot Rohr reportedly approached the then-Everton man in 2017. It has taken around five years, and Rohr is no longer at the helm, but the RB Leipzig loanee is set to make his competitive debut for the Super Eagles in their double-header with Ghana.
However, it is not that straightforward.
The 2017 U20 World Cup winner’s preference for a left-wing berth means Augustine Eguavoen has a huge decision to make in his XI.
Following years of continued criticism of Moses Simon for the West African giants, it all came together for the Nantes attacker at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. Frankly, that was Simon essentially replicating his Ligue 1 performances, this time for the three-time African champions.
He was direct. He was creative. He was a menace.
It was not just about the goals or assists (he had two altogether), but a willingness to not only try things but also see them come off.
The Canaries star attributed his strong performances at Afcon to the greater licence afforded by Eguavoen, believing the manacles were off in Cameroon.
“The game against Egypt was one of my best games over the past two years and you know we changed the coach and we changed tactics,” Simon told the media during the competition.
“Every coach has his mentality and how he impacts the players. Under the previous one [Rohr], I played strictly to his instructions.
“With the current coach [Eguavoen], he gave me the freedom and allowed us to bring our style of play at club side. That has helped me a lot.”
Had Nigeria progressed deep into the competition and not looked one-dimensional in their Round of 16 exit at the hands of Tunisia, perhaps Simon would have had a shout to be in the team of the tournament, ahead of Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah.
Some might even suggest he could have battled the continent’s finest for the Man of the Competition award, claimed by the Senegal star. However, we will never know.
Fast forward two months and the Nantes man continues to be as creative for the Ligue 1 side, even if not quite as decisive. It should be noted that this is no fault of his as scoring chances are being fashioned out, but his teammates have not converted.
He remains a threat and his form has largely been maintained, with his post-Afcon highlight a strong first-half showing in Nantes’ 3-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain in late February.
His and Lookman’s preference for a left-wing spot, though, suggests Eguavoen can only go with one against the Black Stars, with the other settling for a place on the bench.
While some will replace Simon with the Leicester man without batting an eye, performances for Nantes and with Nigeria at Afcon must be rewarded.
Of course, an alternative for Eguavoen — and a large section of Super Eagles supporters hoping for a Lookman start — could be to deploy the 24-year-old on the right flank in place of Samuel Chukwueze, who has neither pulled up trees for the Eagles nor Villarreal consistently since returning from injury earlier this season.
The eye test already shows Lookman can thrive on the opposite flank, but raw statistics reveal he features on the right flank quite often.
According to transfermarkt, the Leipzig loanee has played 80 times on the left flank since breaking out in the 2015/16 season while 54 appearances have been on the right. Interestingly, Lookman has made more Premier League appearances on the right (12) than the other side (five) this term, although three of his four league goals have come on his preferred flank.
Indeed, it will be interesting to see how Eguavoen and Emmanuel Amuneke approach the first of two clashes with the Black Stars.
Of course, the easy call will be deploying both on either flank. However, if only one could start, Simon must be retained even if popular opinion will be to grant Lookman a debut start over the in-form Nantes attacker.