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Spanish Invasion: La Liga relegation battle holds key for Super Eagles' World Cup hopefuls

6:45 AM EST 2/1/18
Isaac Success of Watford
Transfer deadline day saw a sudden influx of Nigerian attackers into the Spanish relegation dogfight, but can they impress enough to get to Russia?

COMMENT    By Solace Chukwu     Follow on Twitter 

It would appear that the strategy of choice for staving off relegation in Spain this year is to double up on Nigerian attackers. Both Las Palmas and Malaga are deep in trouble (19th and 20th respectively), and both have turned to a pair of Super Eagles players in a bid to halt their descent into the Segunda Division.

If the colloquial aphorism "Warri no dey carry last" (literally: Warri (people) never come in last) hold true, then the Canary Islanders have arguably got the better deal with Delta State native Oghenekaro Etebo, who signed from Feirense. He is joined by Emmanuel Emenike, who last featured for Nigeria in 2015, before exiting the international scene in an inglorious blaze.

Malaga's net has brought in Brown Ideye and Success Isaac, both of whom have a rather more recent association with the Super Eagles.

Whether there was indeed some method to this sudden influx of Nigerian players is up for discussion, but either by chance or design, all four have a point to prove in a World Cup year, and will come highly motivated to aid their sides' survival prospects.

Emenike has unsurprisingly faded from the public consciousness, and as such it is easy to forget there was a time when he seemed the logical heir to the Super Eagles' forward position. In 2013, the then-Fenerbahce forward was a force of nature, a juggernaut barreling through opposing defences as Nigeria claimed a third Africa Cup of Nations trophy.

His stock plummeted afterward, a slide which culminated in a decision to retire from national team duties prematurely two years on. Through Al-Ain, West Ham United and Olympiacos; the player has arguably failed to find the stability required to leverage his physical peak, and underwhelmed so thoroughly at the Greek champions that he was banished to the reserves.

As such, this represents a veritable upgrade in circumstances for the 30-year-old. While his deeper lying motivations are impossible to decipher, it is hard not to draw the inference that, with the World Cup to come in the summer, this is a late play for a World Cup place. There was significant interest from the Turkish Super Lig, an environment in which he had previously impressed, and which would like have offered him greater financial reward.

The player has, of course, not rescinded his retirement, but would no doubt be amenable to a recall: for one thing, the Super Eagles are a more exciting attacking side under Gernot Rohr, and the German is simply running a much tighter ship in the national team, a far cry from the fractious state of affairs when Emenike left.

Also, Rohr has made no secret of his willingness to add some experience to his youthful squad, as is clear from his pursuit of the similarly retired Vincent Enyeama.

While Emenike's situation is the most complex of the quartet, his new team-mate's is the simplest. Etebo has been an ever-present in Super Eagles squads since Rohr took over, and is arguably a shoo-in for a place in Russia. In his favour: his boundless energy, work ethic and positional versatility. However, the last of these is perhaps what works against him, and may paradoxically make him the easiest to expend.

For all that he can play any role in midfield, and even wide in attack, it is clear that his role within the squad is as backup. His limitations in terms of distribution mean he is not quite good enough to start, and Rohr may view the resurgent Joel Obi as a more elegant option: capable not only of offering a different dimension off the bench, but also of being able to instigate a different approach from the start.

Add to that the fact that Shehu Abdullahi is also capable of playing in midfield, and the situation becomes a lot less clear-cut for Etebo, especially if both Ola Aina and Tyronne Ebuehi make the cut.

For both Success and Ideye at Malaga, the path seems easier: they are both unique in terms of skillset, and crucially have been involved under Rohr previously.

Ideye started upfront in the very first World Cup Qualifier overseen by the 64-year-old, before a combination of injury and a move to China pushed him to the periphery.

Success, for his part, reportedly made a favorable impression on Rohr in a friendly against Senegal in March, but has spent far too much time sidelines with thigh and knee injuries to be involved further.

However, his power, pace and dribbling ability are not readily replicated within the squad, in much the same way that Ideye's hold-up play and selfless movement is not either.

Still only 21, Success clearly needed a reboot of sorts: his unprofessionalism, highlighted in an unseemly incident at a Hertfordshire hotel, apparently wore thin on the Watford brass, with former manager Marco Silva publicly expressing his dissatisfaction on a number of occasions.

Perhaps a return to Spain, where with Granada he began to look like the promising youngster who had been so highly rated at under-17 level, will do him a world of good.

In many ways, his slow slide into irrelevance seems to mirror Malaga's; there would be no more fitting salvation than to complete both his redemption and theirs.