Five Stars to make Nigeria debuts in 2014
Africa Football Shop’s Editor-in-Chief Ed Dove profiles five players who could be recruited to aid Nigeria’s World Cup bid this summer.
As the World Cup approaches, international managers will begin to scrabble around in search for the kind of new options that could give them an extra edge at the summer’s main event.
Coaches may well return to recruit players previously jettisoned, they may scour the local leagues to discover a bright new thing, or they may turn to their country’s diaspora to unveil fresh talent.
Ahead of the last World Cup, it was Algeria boss Rabah Saadane who undertook a last-minute search for new recruits
Almost half of the Desert Lions’ squad that travelled to South Africa had six or fewer caps. The likes of Carl Medjani, Djamel Abdoun and Habib Bellaid were all former France youth players who only made their debuts for the North African team in that World Cup year—Medjani hadn’t even featured for his adopted nation before the tournament began.
Nigeria boss Stephen Keshi has cultivated a unified, multi-talented Nigeria, but can he resist the temptation to blood some new names ahead of the summer examination?
This article presents five names that may interest the Big Boss over the coming months.
I recently listed Kenny Otigba among my 20 African players to watch in 2014.
The centre-back may only be in the nascent stages of his career, but he has already shown talent enough to alert some of Europe’s major clubs.
Like a few other players named in this feature, he has a big decision to make concerning his international future. Having already played for Hungary U-21s, he may feel some loyalty to represent the Magyars’ senior side.
However, if Stephen Keshi can wave the prospect of a World Cup before him, then it might be a different story altogether.
Currently at Dutch club Heerenveen, Otigba has been targeted by Liverpool in the past. The Merseyside giants had a bid accepted for the player, only for Otigba to reject it in order to continue his apprenticeship in Holland.
Here is a player will a level head upon his young shoulders—could he be the future of Nigeria’s defence?
While the likes of Sidney Sam, Dennis Aogo and Patrick Omowoyela rejected the chance to play for Nigeria in order to represent Germany, Leon Balogun is a player who has declared his loyalty in the opposite direction.
The versatile stopper has announced his intention of one day representing the Super Eagles.
Keshi is yet to make the call, but if he ever does, he will discover a very able back-up for one of the defensive spots. Balogun arguably has the quality to be a starter for Nigeria, but one suspects the Big Boss would be loath to disrupt a unit that has served him so well.
Few young professionals have experienced the range of emotions that Hope Akpan has over the last few seasons.
The midfielder was released by his boyhood club Everton and dropped down to the fourth tier of English football to play for Crawley Town. One promotion later, and having taken quickly to life in League One (the third tier) and was recruited by then-Premier League side Reading.
The Royals’ relegation in the summer meant that, in little over a year, Akpan had tested himself in all four English divisions.
An ankle injury has derailed his progress somewhat, while the form of Jem Karacan has kept him on the bench for stretches of the current season. Now back in the first team, however, and having already committed to the Nigerian cause, Akpan might give Keshi some food for thought.
While the introduction of Onuoha, like that of Balogun, could potentially disrupt Nigeria’s backline, I believe the defender has the qualities to justify the risk.
He is a better all-round player than Azubuike Egwuekwe (although certainly he won’t share the fine understanding the Warri Wolves man has cultivated with Godfrey Oboabona) and, in the continued absence of 95-cap Joseph Yobo, could provide some of the experience that is a potential weakness in the current squad.
Now 27, the versatile defender must realise that if he ever wants to play in a World Cup, this might be his only opportunity.
Onuoha’s name has regularly been thrown out in connection with the Nigeria squad, but according to Kick Off, the NFF Secretary-General Musa Ahmadu has indicated that he will not be considered for selection until he publicly announces his intention of committing to the Super Eagles.
Will Nedum make the requisite declaration before Keshi confirms his World Cup 23?
Imoh Ezekiel may be a raw, young talent, but he has the ability to suggest that one day, perhaps before too long, he will be Nigeria’s key man up front.
In the 2012-13 season he scored 16 goals, and was the top marksman as Standard Liege qualified for the Europa League. At only 20, Ezekiel’s consistency will improve, however, his scoring rate is incredibly impressive for one so young—he has managed 25 in 69 appearances for Standard to date.
If Keshi does see promise in the young striker, he ought to move quickly. Belgium also have designs on his international future, and Ezekiel could quite feasibly be tempted by the prospect of playing alongside such a star-studded collection of players with the Red Devils.