COMMENT By Oluwaseye Omidiora Follow on Twitter
Henry Onyekuru was reportedly due to sign for Arsenal before eventually moving to Everton in one of the biggest Nigeria transfer stories of the window last month. However, will the Gunners ever really rue missing out on the Super Eagles wideman, or is the youngster destined to be another hot prospect who never quite makes the grade?
For all the fanfare that followed his signing, he’s only got one good season under his belt, and his purchase could be seen as a risk of sorts.
Perhaps the powers at Arsenal were unconvinced and were unwilling to take a risk on a player who could yet be a flash in the pan.
Make no mistake; this isn’t a dig at the wonderkid, whose performances for Eupen last season were impressive.
The modern football fan fixates on statistics and goals-to-game ratios, and on this front, Onyekuru is not open to criticism. The left winger found the back of the net 24 times in 41 appearances, or a goal in just under two games, last term. They’re impressive numbers for a player who plied his trade for a side that struggled to survive relegation.
His loan move to Anderlecht will give him another year to hone his craft and show more of what he’s all about. He should feature for the Belgian champions in the Champions League too, so it’ll be interesting to see how he acclimatizes to the bigger stage before fully making the switch to the rough-and-tumble of the English game.
Nothing is set in stone, though, and Onyekuru knows he’s got to give everything for the Toffees on his return to Finch Farm.
Doubts will persist about how well another import will adapt to the physicality of the English game, and with the winger’s relative young age, his performances are bound to frustrate every so often.
The early evidence of Ademola Lookman’s time at Goodison Park could be an early indication of how ruthless life at Everton can be for a youngster at the club.
January signing had been predicted to play more than a bit-part role following his move from League One side Charlton Athletic, but struggled to push on after his impressive debut.
Failing to adapt to top-tier football after making the move from the third tier, the wideman’s opportunities were at a premium.
Despite Aiden McGeady and Gerard Deulofeu being away on loan, despite Aaron Lennon’s absence, and despite Yannick Bolasie’s injury, Lookman only played 45 minutes of Premier League action after the end of February, and anonymous performances against Middlesbrough and Sunderland.
Of course, Onyekuru currently plays at a higher level than Lookman did, but Everton are a club on the up, and it remains to be seen how long they will allow their new recruits to adapt to life in England.
Everton have displayed significant ambition with a plethora of big signings this summer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s hard to see how their big spending doesn’t impact Onyekuru’s chances of making an impact. Despite losing Romelu Lukaku, they've invested heavily to recruit Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaassen, Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, Sandro Ramirez and Jose Baxter.
Many things can change in a year, although even away from Merseyside, the pressure is on Onyekuru to demonstrate that he can grow and progress at the same pace as Farhad Moshiri’s ambitions.
If he can’t step up, don’t expect this new and more ruthless Everton to be patient with the Super Eagles wonderkid.