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Can Queens Park Rangers wonderkid Eberechi Eze be Nigeria's next big thing?

11:20 AM GMT+8 22/03/2020
Eberechi Eze - Queens Park Rangers 2019-20
The playmaker has been the Hoops’ best player this term, and it would represent a coup if Gernot Rohr can get him to play for the Super Eagles

Some of Queens Park Rangers best players during their time in the Championship over the last decade have been African stars.

Adel Taarabt's sublime campaign in the 2010-11 season, when he scored 19 and contributed 16 assists to inspire the Hoops to the top flight, was unforgettable, as the Morocco playmaker was involved in almost half of their 71 goals.

Nine years on, albeit on a lesser scale, another prodigious talent, Eberechi Eze, is proving to be a critical figure for the West London outfit, largely carrying the can for a group certainly not as cohesive as the 10/11 title-winning team.

The Anglo-Nigerian has scored 12 times and registered eight assists in 37 appearances, which had accounted for 34 percent of Mark Warburton side’s goals by the time the league was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the London club in mid-table, the 21-year-old’s influence hasn’t quite translated to a high league standing, but it doesn’t reduce the impact he’s had on the team’s campaign.

This is evidenced by the fact the wonderkid tops nearly all the shiny attacking metrics for the Hoops: Eze is ahead of the scoring charts, assists log, big chances created key passes per game as well as successful dribbles per match.

The youngster’s also won two penalties this season and has converted all four of the spot-kicks he’s taken this term, highlighting his composure from 12 yards. Furthermore, Eze leads the way for total shots per game too, a statistic that underlines his dual role of both creating and scoring in the side.

Indeed, it’s no surprise that the QPR star, like Taarabt nearly a decade ago, is in the running for the league’s best player award, which would be just reward for his glowing performances in 19/20.

When compared with others in the competition, the Greenwich-born player isn’t faring too badly, as he’s currently the only player from his team in the top 15 top scorers, while being joint-fifth on the assists charts.

In addition, the dreadlocked playmaker sits third for successful dribbles per game – three, behind Said Benrahma (3.1) and Ovie Ejaria (3.2), and his dribble-success rate of 63 percent underscores his ball-carrying ability.

Usually players of his age and skillset tend to overindulge with their take-ons while lacking the end product, but the 21-year-old Anglo-Nigerian also makes the impact in the final third to match his unquestionable ability.

He’s yet to make a decision over his international future but it would represent a major coup if Gernot Rohr convinces him to choose Nigeria rather than England.

The QPR man has a high ceiling in the game if injuries don’t trump his development, and the Super Eagles could be beneficiaries of the playmaker’s ability and final third delivery for years if they pull it off.

In the last decade, the now-retired Victor Moses, Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi came onto the scene, but none of them have the natural ability of Eze, who’s been stylistically likened to Jay-Jay Okocha, arguably Nigeria’s most-talented player of all time.

QPR’s best player isn’t expected to stay much longer in the Championship, with Premier League sides constantly monitoring his progress, and he appears likely to make a move when the transfer window eventually opens.

Truthfully, he looks to have outgrown second-tier football but it remains to be seen just how well he thrives against better opposition, especially when the side isn’t built around him.

While Taarabt didn’t quite fulfil his glowing promise, his story ought to be a cautionary tale for Eze, who can go right to the very top. Will Nigeria be the beneficiaries of the prodigy’s ability?