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Six players who Stephen Keshi should call up to solve some of the Super Eagles' current problems.
Following Nigeria’s disappointing Cup of Nations Qualifying results, it’s clear that something needs to change for the Super Eagles. A change of coach, a change of leadership and a change of tactics are all popular ideas, but what about the players?
Nigeria are not short of talent, yet the Big Boss has been guilty of persisting with consistent underperformers over the last 18 months.
The Super Eagles have not achieved stability in the right-back spot for some time. Chidi Odiah held down the fort admirably, but since his exit from the national team set-up, the void has been filled gamely by Efe Ambrose.
However, the Celtic man is very much a centre-back playing out of position and often struggles by the touchline going forward, often preferring to cut into the centre of the field where there’s more space. The rise of Godswill Elohor is set to change all that.
The youngster, who left the shores of the country at a young age, is highly rated in the Barcelona youth ranks. Physically imposing and mature beyond his years, he captained the Blaugrana’s U-19 team to victory in the UEFA Youth League last season.
His integration into the Super Eagles would address an immediate need, and give the team attacking balance on the right.
Just like Elohor, a call-up for 21-year-old Chuks Aneke would solve a headache that Stephen Keshi has failed to in his reign: the right person to complete the midfield three. In recent qualifiers, especially against Congo in Calabar, the Super Eagles struggled with staticity in the middle with a trio of Ramon Azeez, Ogenyi Onazi and John Obi Mikel.
If the Big Boss intends to persevere with his 4-3-3/4-2-1-3 hybrid, then Aneke is perfect for the farthest forward position of the three. Standing at 6’3, his physical attributes dovetail nicely with supreme technique. The former Arsenal youth player has been compared with IYaya Toure by Arsene Wenger, and while the ability is not quite the same yet, the style sure is.
His range of passing, forward-playing inclinations from midfield and scoring touch (he notched 14 for Crewe Alexandra on loan last season from midfield) would give the Eagles a different, and more dangerous dimension.
Moses Odubajo & Abiola Dauda
It was March this year when I had the good fortune to watch Moses Odubajo play in the flesh. Here was a player, they had told me, who was destined for great things.
They weren’t wrong, the winger fired home an 82nd minute goal to secure a victory for his side, Leyton Orient, against Colchester United.
At the time, the Os looked good for promotion, heading into the game in top spot in League One. The London side faltered, however, and missed out on the Championship.
Odubajo was clearly good enough for the third tier and after a bidding war between various sides, was eventually snapped up by Brentford.
The Nigerian has taken to life on a grander stage like a duck to water; already he has scored twice, contributed one assist and been named Man of the Match on one occasion. Only 21, there is a lot more to come—there’s no reason why he couldn’t be an exciting back-up option on the right with a view to the future.
Following Nigeria’s defeat to the Republic of Congo and their goalless draw with South Africa, calls have returned for La Liga hotshot Ike Uche to be returned to the national team.
It’s understandable to see where the clamouring comes from. Uche is a fine poacher and bagged 14 goals in 19 starts last term. He’s already averaged a goal-a-game in Spain so far this season.
However, despite his qualities, it’s fair to say that, at 30, the striker is a short-term option at best. Similarly, even if he does patch things up with Stephen Keshi, he remains a loose cannon and a potentially divisive influence.
Might Abiola Dauda be an altogether safer option?
The 26-year-old managed 11 goals in 24 appearances with Red Star Belgrade last term and was in ferocious form this weekend for new club Vitesse Arnhem.
The Eredivisie can be a propitious division for a player with a turn of pace and an eye for goal, and if Dauda’s fine form continues, he would be an ideal candidate for a phone call from the Glass House.
Carl Ikeme & Chuba Akpom
With Vincent Enyeama excused from international duty against Congo, things fell apart. Austin Ejide’s inability to challenge the Number One has resulted in the over-reliance of the Lille shot-stopper.
Could Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper Carl Ikeme be the answer?
The keeper, who signed a three-year deal in June with Wolves, broke the 90-year club record for most clean sheets in a season as they stormed back to the Championship last term.
Standing at 6’3’’ (1.91m), the 28-year-old has the repertoire to give Enyeama a run for his money—in good spirit, if I might add.
18-year-old Akpom, who like Ikeme was born in England, has continued to impress with Arsenal, and with the way he’s been banging in goals (the latest being a brace for the U-21s against Aston Villa), a first-team reward is not far off.
With Emmanuel Emenike struggling, latterly, to supply the goals for Nigeria, it is of great importance that Keshi uncovers new, diverse offensive options.
Having been schooled under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger since the age of six, rising steadily through the youth system at Arsenal, and then branching out on loan to Brentford and Coventry City for further experience, Akpom’s young shoulders have been drilled astutely.
The young, energetic, composed forward truly deserves examination by the national team handlers, certainly before England come calling!
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