Moses Simon, Nantes LyonGoal/Getty

Pared-back, functional Moses Simon deserves more respect

There are, broadly speaking, three kinds of winger in modern football.

There is the playmaker who starts out wide – as the space between the lines of defence and midfield has shrunk, there is now a tendency for creators to assume wide starting positions before picking their moments to drift infield.

There is the pure winger, starting on his natural side and putting crosses into the box – this is a dying breed of player.

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Then there is the inside forward, who often (but not always) plays on the 'wrong' side and is primarily concerned with scoring goals, either by cutting inside to shoot or by ghosting into goalscoring positions.

Nantes winger Moses Simon does not fit neatly into any of these categories, however.

While what he is not – a wide playmaker – is clear enough, he defies the other two classifications in some ways, while affirming them in others. In terms of his output, he is more a winger than an inside forward, but stylistically he is more an inside forward than a winger. Unlike the pure winger, he starts on the wrong side; unlike an inside forward, he is not as focused on either taking up goalscoring positions or creating shots for himself.

Moses SimonGetty

That can make him difficult to appreciate, as his style itself belies expectation.

At international level, the former Genk man has certainly struggled to garner the recognition he arguably deserves, being neither a wide playmaker like Alex Iwobi nor an inside forward like Samuel Chukwueze...and yet, when the Super Eagles file out for their September 3 World Cup qualifier against Liberia in Lagos, Simon will almost certainly start.

It will not be simply because Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr likes him either.

There was certainly a suspicion, early on in the German’s reign, that he was partial to the 26-year-old on account of his work rate and defensive application. In the early days of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Simon was a virtual ever-present, only really losing his place in the team due to injury on the eve of the tournament proper.

Since then, a combination of factors – the form of Ahmed Musa coming out of the Mundial in Russia, and the rise of the mercurial Samuel Kalu – has confined him to the substitutes’ bench, with occasional starts in times of need and in the absence of other options being his lot.

Samuel Kalu - Nigeria

However, since the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, Musa’s form and career standing have fallen off a cliff, and Kalu has had a number of health and injury concerns, most recently collapsing during Bordeaux’s Ligue 1 match against Marseille.

Add in the absence of Chukwueze through injury, and Simon is more or less a shoo-in.

It would be a mistake to view him starting as a matter of default though. Going purely on output so far this season, Simon has more than earned his luck.

No one in Ligue 1 has as many assists (three), and only Paul Pogba (five) and Andrej Kramaric (four) boast better tallies in Europe’s top five leagues.

In a club that, by its manager’s admission, does not even employ scouts – such is the degree of dysfunction – the Nigeria international has been a ray of light, and is quickly becoming the Nantes’ most important attacking player: last weekend’s defeat on the road at Rennes came as Simon watched on from the bench, having been taken off at half-time due to an injury concern with the scores tied.

Moses SimonGetty

Thankfully from the club’s perspective, Simon has quickly returned to fitness, and will once more spearhead their attacking intentions on Friday night against struggling Olympique Lyonnais.

Peter Bosz’s side are reeling from their 3-3 draw against newly-promoted Clermont last weekend, where they threw away a 3-1 half-time lead inside the final 10 minutes.

Two of those concessions came via set-pieces; as it happens, dead-ball deliveries are a bit of a speciality for Simon, who has already created a number of excellent chances from those situations this season, including setting up Cameroon defender Jean-Charles Castelletto on the opening day with a pin-point corner-kick.

It is this, more than anything else, that encapsulates Simon as a player. His ability to create danger, both in broken and open play (his splendid pair of crossed assists against Metz) underscore his versatility and functionality. These traits, while prized by managers, are not typically embraced by fans, who crave and value excitement and flamboyance.

Simon will probably not get many jumping out of their seats with his pared-back, result-oriented play. Rather than doing one thing to a staggeringly high level, it is his ability to do many little things well that feeds his relevance, and that, ironically enough, makes him less likely to be appreciated.

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