UD Almeria haven’t been in Spain’s top division since the 2014/15 season, but the club from the sourthern city of the same name are serious contenders for promotion in 2020/21.
Umar Sadiq, their towering 24-year-old Nigerian forward, is perhaps the most important factor in their push, and with 11 Segunda goals this season has propelled the club into third place in the LaLiga SmartBank.
Sadiq’s presence in Almeria is down to the sporting project laid out by Turki Al-Sheikh, who took over the club in 2019.
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The club are committed to signing some of the best talent around, no matter whether from Spain or abroad. They currently boast the second youngest squad in the division, yet also one of the most valuable. Having just turned 24, Sadiq is oddly enough one of the oldest in the squad.
He’s also one of the club’s most expensive ever signings, after his multi-million Euro transfer from Partizan Belgrade last summer. There was a lot of pressure on his shoulders this season, with a lot expected of him, but he is thriving.
Born in Kaduna, Nigeria, Sadiq came through the Future of Africa Football Academy and the Football College Abuja on his way to the top. He made the move to Europe first to Italy, joining the Spezia youth academy and then on to Roma, who he debuted for and scored for at the age of 18.
A series of loans followed as he went in search of first team minutes to fellow Italian sides Bologna and Torino, Dutch side NAC Breda, Scotland’s Rangers, Perugia back in Italy, and Partizan Belgrade in Serbia.
With so much upheaval at such a young age, it was tough for Sadiq to truly settle, but he finally found stability in Belgrade and produced an incredibly impressive 23 goals and 19 assists for the Serbian club in just 52 matches.
His talent was obvious to see, and he was quickly snapped up by Almeria to bring him to LaLiga – a league which has embraced African talent to the full over the decades. At Almería, he is experiencing a different footballing culture and continues to thrive.
As well as being the side’s top scorer, Sadiq is currently the third-top scorer in the whole division and was named the LaLiga SmartBank Player of the Month for January just a few days ago.
He’s also shone against bigger opposition, scoring a brace as Almeria dismantled top tier side Deportivo Alaves – who had already beaten Real Madrid this season – 5- 0 in the Copa del Rey.
“We have a lot of confidence in him,” says Almeria coach Jose Manuel Gomes of Sadiq. “He’s a striker who disrupts opposition centre-backs, who has quality, who is very strong and who can score goals.”
His performances have not gone unnoticed. Ever since he shone at the 2016 Olympic Games, scoring four goals as Nigeria won the Bronze medal, Europe’s top scouts have been monitoring his progress.
Sadiq has been linked with some LaLiga Santander clubs of late, but he may end up playing in Spain’s top division in 2021/22 anyway if Almeria keep up their progress.
Since the start of November, they’ve lost just twice – against just RCD Mallorca and Espanyol, the two teams above them in the table – and the future looks bright.
Sadiq’s case is simply the latest Spanish football success story involving emerging African talent this season.
Sevilla’s Morocco forward Youssef En-Nesyri won the LaLiga Santander January Player of the Month award for January, meaning that both the reigning Players of the Months for Spain’s top two divisions are African – something unprecedented.
En-Nesyri’s Moroccan teammate Bono has been excellent in goal for the Andalusians too.
Ivorian international Idrissa Doumbia has become key in SD Huesca’s midfield; Pape Diop from Senegal remains a pillar at SD Eibar; Cameroon’s Allan Nyom brings energy to Getafe CF’s play from the back...and then, of course, there’s Nigeria international winger Samuel Chukwueze, who’s been a star at Villarreal CF for a couple of seasons
now and recently became the youngest player to ever make 100 appearances for the club.
Even at LaLiga SmartBank level, Almeria’s promotion rivals RCD Mallorca have an African player joint top of their scoring charts in Senegalese winger Amath Ndiaye.
Ndiaye and RCD Mallorca and Sadiq and Almeria will be battling for promotion over the final months of the LaLiga SmartBank season and it should make for fascinating viewing...stay tuned!