Erratic & unplayable: Former wonderkid Umar Sadiq is powering Almeria's promotion push

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Away from the glamour of a top flight dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona, Almeria are fighting a very different battle.

Third on the table in the Segunda Division, a point behind second-place Mallorca but with a game in hand, Jose Manuel Gomes’ side look well-placed for a return to La Liga for the first time since 2015. Powering their ambition is striker Umar Sadiq, whose nine goals and three assists in 18 appearances this season have put Almeria in the mouth of success.

If the name sounds familiar, it is because, back in 2016, 6ft 3in Sadiq was the spearhead of Nigeria’s quest for gold in the men’s football event at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The giant centre-forward stuck out for more than just his size, however.

He scored four times as Samson Siasia’s team captured bronze, and did so while (or perhaps despite) looking like a newborn fawn; he lacked coordination, but was oddly effective at unsettling opposing defenders with his frame, and with legs that seemed to go on for an eternity.

Sadiq Umar Honduras vs Nigeria

Nevertheless, his talent was clear enough even then.

A year prior, Italian side Roma had acquired his services on loan following a number of eye-catching performances for the Spezia youth setup in the Campionato Primavera. He affirmed the decision, and his potential, by scoring for the Giallorossi both on his debut and in his first start, aged just 18.

So impressed were Roma that, on the eve of the Olympics, they exercised an option in the contract to make his move permanent.

What followed, however, was a spate of loans away from Trigoria, taking in (other parts of) Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland and Serbia.

While he enjoyed some success in the Eredivisie with NAC Breda and with Partizan Belgrade, what quickly became clear was that, for all his physical gifts, the Kaduna native was as mercurial as they come.

Umar Sadiq Roma

At Rangers, he barely presented at a proper standard.

Steven Gerrard despaired of him, and eventually gave up trying to coax acceptable performances from an asset he had personally pushed to acquire.

In response, Sadiq blasted the Liverpool legend and accused the club of maltreatment, but his continued antics did little for his credibility; in August 2019, after being substituted at half-time for a particularly poor outing at Partizan, he was pictured sitting up in stands, sitting on a fence and talking on the phone while the game went on.

It seemed that, ultimately, his erratic temperament would continue to undermine him and his talent.

Still though, this is the same player who, when the moment takes him, can be utterly unplayable. His brace against Astana in the Europa League Group Stage in October 2019 was Sadiq at his best: one a superb bit of movement and a finish on the stretch, the other a crashing finish at the near post that is becoming something of a signature.

He contributed to a goal every 84 minutes (17 goals and 17 assists in all competitions) over the course of 2019/20 as Partizan finished in second place in the Super Liga, and then picked right up where he left off in 2020/21, with six goals in his first 10 league appearances.

Steven Gerrard Umar Sadiq Rangers 2018-19

That arduous path has now brought him to Spain, where he is once more proving his talent. Almeria took a chance on him, and after a slow start, it has proven an inspired punt.

After only two goals in his first nine appearances, Sadiq has roared into life, scoring nine in the last 10 and five in his last two. His latest performance, in the Copa Del Rey against La Liga challengers Alaves, saw him hit two in a 5-0 rout, and will no doubt make many sit up and take notice.

There are suggestions there already has been interest in his services from the top flight, with some sources reporting interest from no less a suitor than Sevilla. It seems outlandish, but it is worth considering that, with transfer guru Monchi, Sevilla have always had an eye on undervalued potential and ‘diamond in the rough’ types. Sadiq very much fits the category and profile, if nothing else.

It is also obvious, not just in his goals but in the manner of them, that Almeria have on their hands a player who is too good for Segunda.

From the tendency to play with his food from time to time (see his third goal in the recent victory over Ponferradina, where he attempts a dribble in front of an open goal), to needlessly elaborate finishes when simpler ones would suffice, one can infer Sadiq is the type to switch off when he perceives a challenge as too easy.

While it suggests his aptitude for a higher level, it also displays some of the old lack of professionalism that has so threatened to douse his flame down the years. As such, the final stage of his development will need to be a mental one; if he could get a handle on that, there is no telling quite what Umar Sadiq could ultimately become.