There was a time, from 1989 to 1994, when Nigeria’s national team had an abundance of good strikers, and ex-Super Eagles coach Clemens Westerhof had nothing but quality options to pick from when choosing the player to lead the line for his team.
There was hardly a national team in Africa that could boast striking options as good as Nigeria’s, striking options which included Rashidi Yekini painting the Portuguese Premier League with goals at Vitoria Setubal, and Samson Siasia, who was also at the peak of his powers, taking the French Ligue 1 by storm alongside Japhet Ngoram at Nantes.
Daniel Amokachi, too gave a fine demonstration of his capabilities, with his fearless and physical approach. Have your forgotten the aerial presence that Efan Ekoku brought to the attacking set up of the Super Eagles?
A certain Richard Owubokiri painted Europe with goals, yet he did not really get the chance to impress. Upcoming lads Kanu Nwankwo and Victor Nosa Ikpeba were seen as the Next Generation stars, who didn’t disappoint during their time.
After the era of Westerhoef, Ben Akwuegwu, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Julius Aghahowa, Obafemi Martins, Kalu Uche, Peter Odemwingie and Emmanuel Emenike all came to show the quality they possess.
But unfortunately for current Super Eagles boss Gernot Rohr, those days are far, far gone.
Each of the aforementioned strikers have either retired or declined significantly, to the point where none of them are worthy of making the Nigeria national team squad any longer, let alone starting for the team.
Now, Rohr has been forced to look at Nigeria’s other options up front, and thus far, his search has been very frustrating at some stage.
Many hoped the likes of Brown Ideye, Odion Jude Ighalo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Ahmed Musa, Henry Onyekuru, Anthony Nwakaeme, Victor Osimhen or even Kayode Olarenwaju would prove good enough to succeed their predecessors.
Unfortunately, while some have proven themselves to be better international goal-getters than others, none have been able to really excel against the big teams of international football.
Ighalo has not really proved himself under Rohr, despite arguably possessing one of the most impressive resume among the group of strikers available to Rohr. But he showed his qualities in the double header with Cameroun this month.
Again, success has varied. Some strikers like Stephen Odey and Anthony Okpotu, both prolific goal-scorers in the Nigeria Professional Football League, have proven themselves to simply not be good enough on the international stage.
In the case of Iheanacho, his goals, with the exception of one scored recently in the World Cup Qualifiers against the Indomitable Lions, have been scored in extra-meaningless friendly against the weakest countries.
The case for Ideye is a little different. Though he’s never been quite as amazing as he was in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, where he introduced himself to the world.
Many have labelled him a “second-striker” a Del Piero might even be a bit generous, since he does enjoy dropping very far back. As such, while he’s an excellent option for the team, he’s not the answer they need up front.
Which brings us to the final group of players, the “unknowns” as I like to call them. These are players who are still early in their careers.
Players who fall into this group are Osihmen, Kayode, Stephen Odey, Junior Ajayi, Sadiq Umar and Onyekuru. Ideally, this group should be a bit bigger.
As for Osihmen, who emerged as the top scorer of the 2015 FIFA U17 World Cup, he is just coming into his own as a striker. He looks a very promising prospect, possibly the most promising prospect among Nigeria’s current options up front, but it may prove better to wait for him to get into a rhythm with VFL Wolfsburg before giving him enormous responsibility in the senior national side.
Odey is a promising prospect who could well develop if he eventually completes his move to FC Zurich. With his consistent show for MFM FC in the Nigerian top flight, he is destined for the top.
Why forget the physical trident that Kayode is ready to offer to the team? He did his reputation a whole lot of good with a big move to Manchester City and his subsequent loan switch to Girona. You can trust Larry to deliver if given the chance.
Some have been asking this innocent question, who is Junior Ajayi? Ajayi is a player who delivered for First Bank FC and Shooting Stars before his move to Sfaxien of Tunisia. His stellar display made him a hot property and he
earned a switch to Al Ahly of Egypt.
Lanky striker Umar, was outstanding at the 2016 Olympic Games held in Brazil but he hasn’t really been stable at Roma with loan moves in the Serie A.
Right now, Rohr is doing all he can to keep the search for Nigeria’s next great striker alive, he’ll be able to take a wider and better look at the most in-form front-men.
It’s not been easy having to constantly search and search for a reliable player to put up front for the national team, and there’s no denying that Rohr’s work in this department is far from done.
If the former Niger Republic tactician can make the right moves and narrow his pool down to the players with legitimate potential, there is great hope that the answer to Nigeria’s striker problem will be found sooner rather than later.