New Telegraph

2020/2021 season review: Iheanacho, Onuachu, Nwankwo lead Eagles charge in Europe

2020/2021 is one of the most remarkable years for Nigerian players with many of them ending the term with silverware. Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Joe Aribo, Paul Onuachu, Leon Balogun and Samuel Chukwueze are some of the players who won one trophy or the other with their European sides. AJIBADE OLUSESAN in this piece highlights the performances of some of these players

Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Okoye has had a remarkable career leap since he moved from Germany’s third division side Düsseldorf II to the first division outfit in the Netherlands Sparta Rotterdam last summer transfer window. He was largely considered as a back-up goalkeeper but the young goal minder seized the gauntlet as he hits the ground running and has now become not only the first choice for the Dutch club but for the Super Eagles. You can’t fault a national team coach who reposes confidence in a goalkeeper who is commanding a regular shirt in the Dutch top division league. Okoye played 28 times in the Eredivisie, racking up 2, 520 minutes of football. He conceded just 35 goals and still kept 10 clean sheets.

Francis Uzoho (APOEL Nicosia, Cyprus)

Injury has greatly hampered the former Golden Eaglets goalkeeper’s career and he had the lengthiest one this concluded season that limited his league appearances to just seven. He was out for about one year. He conceded seven goals in those games and had a two clean sheets. He also bagged two yellow cards.

Chidozie Awaziem (FC Boavista, Portugal)

Awaziem got a deserving reward for his hard work at his Portuguese side when Boavista splashed a record five million Euros to make his loan from Porto permanent. The Super Eagles defender’s loan spell at Boavista last season was a successful one and it was a brainer they handed him a permanent stay after helping them stave off relegation. The 24-year-old central defender played 27 games for the Portuguese club this past season, captaining them for many games and helping them to avoid relegation.

William Troost- Ekong (Watford FC, England)

Many pundits found it difficult to get the reason a player not quite struggling in Serie A would quit that strong league for a spell in England’s lower division when Troost-Ekong switched from Udinese to Watford at the close of the transfer window last summer. However, after a sublime showing that culminated into promotion for the Hornets the Super Eagles vice-captain has now justified his decision After a shaky start to life at the Vicarage, the central defender grew in confidence to be one of the leaders in the dressing room. He played 32 league matches for the side, scoring one goal. He bagged just two yellow cards and no single red during the campaign. It is instructive to note that the defender has now become a subject of intense transfer speculation with big sides including Arsenal jostling to land him.

Olaoluwa Aina (Fulham FC, England)

Although Fulham got relegated, Aina did not have a bad season from a personal point of view. Joining from Serie A side Torino on loan and since making his bow for the team in the Carabao Cup encounter against Brentford, the former Chelsea star became a regular figure in coach Scot Parker’s team while accentuating his relevance with impressive displays. He played 31 Premier League matches, scoring two times. He also bagged three yellow cards during the campaign. He is expected to return to Torino following the expiration of the loan spell

Zaidu Sanusi,

FC Porto, Portugal It was a huge career move for the defender when he joined FC Porto from far less-fancied Santa Clara last summer, and after an impressive showing, he is now regarded as one of the revelations of the season. Sanusi is not only a mainstay for the former Champions League winners, he is now the Super Eagles undisputed first choice in the left-back position. Although Porto could not win the league title, Sanusi already had a Super Cup in the kitty with his new side. He puts himself into the consciousness of pundits across Europe with his sublime showing as Porto bowed out in the quarterfinal of the UEFA Champions League to finalists Chelsea. Sanusi was one of the busiest players for Porto; he played total of 41 matches, 25 in the league, 10 in the Champions League, four Taça de Portugal, and one in each in Super Cup and Allainz Cup. He scored one goal in the league, racking one assist. He got just one yellow card throughout the campaign.

Leon Balogun (Rangers FC, Scotland)

When Balogun joined Rangers from Wigan last summer, many pundits believed the 32-year-old was going to be a back-up to the central defenders for the Gers but the Nigeria international proved critics wrong when he played a pivotal role as coach Steven Gerrard stormed to the Scottish League title. Balogun played a key role for Rangers that season, appearing 28 times across three competitions, 19 0f them in the league. He bagged three assists even as a defender.

Being part of the squad that has achieved the historic 55th league title, he now has the opportunity to showcase his ability further as he was rewarded with a one-year contract extension. An elated Balogun said: “I am proud to be a part of this amazing club and I felt that pretty early on I had fallen in love with the club and the working environment, the way the players and the management staff work and the way the club is a big family, I am happy and proud that I can call myself a Rangers player.”

Tyronne Ebuehi (FC Twente, The Netherlands)

Ebuehi spent the 2020/2021 campaign on loan at Twente from Benfica. The Nigerian rediscovered his form with The Reds after suffering a knee injury that kept him out for almost two years. He made 33 appearances in the Eredivisie for Twente, scoring one goal and providing the same number of assists from his full-back position.

Oghenekaro Etebo (Galatasaray FC, Turkey)

The former Warri Wolves midfielder also moved from England to other parts of Europe l a s t summer after he completed a trans- f e r from Stoke City to Galatasaray of Turkey. It wasn’t a disappointing first season in Turkey for the former Getafe of Spain midfielder; Etebo played 14 times for Gala, 10 of them as a starter. Although he didn’t score any goal or provide assists from his defensive midfield position, he still managed to win a man of the match award in one of the games. He bagged three yellow cards and recorded one red card.

Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England);

He has been the spine of the Foxes s q u a d since he joined up some f o u r y e a r s ago and the story was not different l a s t season for Ndidi despite suffering a serious injury that kept him out of action for three months. Brendan Rodgers side suffered during the time Ndidi was away and it was not a coincidence that the team maintained their good run of form as soon as the midfielder returned to the pitch. Although Ndidi will be disappointed to miss Champions League football for the second consecutive year as the Foxes finished fifth in the league, he would be happy to play a big role as the club won their first ever FA Cup title. Ndidi was even named the Man of the match in the 1-0 win over Chelsea in the final. It is also instructive to note that only three players made more successful tackles than Ndidi in the Premier League this season despite being away or three months.

Joe Aribo, (Ranger FC, Scotland)

Although he was injured and out of action for six weeks, the Super Eagles midfielder still managed to have a ‘fantastic’ season with Rangers. He played a big role as the Gers cruised to the Scottish league title unbeaten. The former Charlton Athletic of England midfielder played 26 times and scored six goals as his contribution to the all-conquering side. It was a vast improvement on his debut season in Scotland; although he played 27 games penultimate season, he only managed to get on the score sheet three times.

Terem Moffi (Lorient, France)

Lorient only managed to avoid relegation from Ligue 1 on the final day, and Moffi deserves many praises for that. Les Merlus went into the final game with a chance of survival thanks to Moffi’s performances this year. Although he did not score against Strasbourg on Sunday night, Moffi bailed Lorient out on several occasions this season. The 21-year-old finished with 14 league goals- the fifth highest in France’s top division this season and the most a Nigerian has scored in a single Ligue 1 campaign since Victor Ikpeba scored 16 for Monaco in the 1997/1998 season. W h a t made Moffi’s exploits more remarkable is that he’s just in his first season in France.

Simy Nwankwo (Crotone, Italy)

Two Nigerian strikers have been head and shoulders above every other Super Eagles star this season, and one of them is Simy Nwankwo. The 29-year-old suffered the disappointment of relegation with Crotone again, but personally, it’s the best season of his career. He broke and set different records with his 20 goals in the Italian Serie A. Although he managed the same number last season, it was in the Italian second division. Simy is the second African player after Samuel Eto’o to reach the 20 goal mark in a single campaign of the Italian top-flight. He also etched his name into Crotone’s history as he is now the club’s all-time top scorer. Simy is also now Nigeria’s highest goalscorer in a single campaign in Europe’s top five leagues. It has indeed been a record-breaking season for the Nigerian star. The former Gil Vicente forward is now expected to leave Crotone with several Serie A clubs interested in his services.

Victor Osimhen (Napoli FC, Italy);

It was an eventful season for Victor Osimhen, having made the move from Lille to Napoli to become the Naples club’s most expensive signing and indeed Nigeria’s costliest. While the excitement looked to fizzle out after his bright start, the turnaround in performances since March has been marked. The forward deserves credit for the reversal in fortunes after a troubled time in which a dislocated shoulder sustained on Super Eagles duty in November and contracting coronavirus in the New Year threatened to dismiss his first year as disappointing. But he rallied late in the campaign and recorded a respectable 10 goals to end the season.

Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal, Spain)

The former Golden Eaglets star keeps improving every year at Villarreal and the just ended season is unarguably his best since arriving in Spain four years ago. He won his first piece of silverware with the Yellow Submarine as they defeated Manchester united in the final two Wednesdays ago. Although injury prevented the Nigerian from taking part in the battle Poland, he had done enough to be regarded as one of the reasons they won the tournament. In the Europa League this season, the 22-year-old scored once and assisted four more during the Yellow Submarine’s run to the final in Gdansk. The winger also had more playing time in the league compared to previous seasons as he racked up impressive 28 caps, scoring four times and providing three assists.

Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England)

At a time in the season, it looked like Iheanacho’s time was up at Leicester following a goal drought that spanned almost nine months but the former Manchester City forward remarkably turned around his season to become one of the best players in the Premier League. No doubt, this was the best season for the striker since he arrived in England in 2014 after he scored 19 goals and seven assists in all competitions for the Foxes. The former Golden Eaglets striker turned heads since he kick-started his incredible form around February. In fact, he scored 12 league goals within three months and his around play fetched him Player of the Month award for the month of March. He also played a vital role in Leicester’s FA Cup triumph, scoring against Brighton, Manchester United and Southampton.

Paul Onuachu

Another Nigeria striker who can look back on a fine campaign, Onuachu has taken his game to a whole new level in 2020-21. Last term, he registered nine goals in 22 games — finding the net approximately once every 170 minutes — but has improved his output dramatically this season. The 6’7 frontman has registered 33 goals in 38 outings for Genk, scoring once every 89 minutes and maintaining the kind of scoring rate that none of the continent’s strikers can rival. He’s helped Genk secure Champions League qualification, but don’t expect Onuachu — who’s in the running for the Jupiler League Player of the Season — to be at the club next term. He would also be disappointed with the way they missed out on the top four, but he can take consolation from the fact that he has now become one of the club’s important players.

Umar Sadiq (Almeria and Partizan Belgrade)

Sadiq is one of the hottest Nigerian players in Europe this season; despite plying his trade in Spain’s second division, his all-round play for Almeria has attracted interest from big sides across Europe. He had scored six goals and three assists for Partizan Belgrade before he was snapped up by Almeria mid-season; and the former Nigeria’s U-23 team striker continued from where he left off in Austria after scoring whopping 18 league goals as Almeria pushed for promotion. Sadiq who won a bronze medal with the Nigerian team to Rio Olympic Games is still on goal hunt for his side as Almeria attempt to secure promotion to La Liga through the playoff having lost out in the race for the automatic ticket

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