The return of Ighalo and the big shadow of doubt

The return of Ighalo and the big shadow of doubt

The return of Ighalo and the big shadow of doubt

By Ajide Abayomi Paul 

Through the ages, the Nigerian senior national team have always formed the habit of oozing great players in abundance. The country’s first AFCON triumph in 1980 saw players like Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu, Muda Lawal, Felix Owolabi, and so on made sure the fans had something to cheer for and a trophy to boast about. Since that time till date, the amount of great players that have been in and out of the team has been almost countless.

1994 was the team’s second Afcon triumph, with Rashidi Yekini, Finidi George, Emmanuel Amuneke, Daniel Amokachi, Austin Jay Jay Okocha, and a whole lot of others. The third triumph on the continent in 2013 signaled the dawn of a new era and brought an end to the continental bareness of almost two decades, and that didn’t come easy, the team have missed out from the previous two editions of the continental championship after failing to qualify. Veteran Joseph Yobo was the captain, Emmanuel Emenike, John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses, and current super eagle’s skipper were all pivotal to the 2013 cup win. One thing was paramount in all three continental victories; the team never lacked proven goal scorers.

The ticket to the 2021 African cup of nations has been secured already and the team’s focus is now on securing a place in next year’s FIFA world cup in Qatar. The Super Eagles have two more games before they go through to the final qualifying stage, one against Liberia, the other against hot chasers Cape Verde. But there has been a new twist in the team selection which has become a big talking point among the fans, pundits, and football lovers. Former Udinese, Granada, and Watford striker Odion Jude Ighalo was the highest goal scorer at the last edition of the African cup of nations. He exited the team afterward, this owed largely to the fact that abuses and insults have been directed to the striker and his family.

Just a year before the 2019 AFCON, Nigeria crashed out of the FIFA world cup after failing to beat Argentina in their final group game, Odion Ighalo missed a sitter in that game and he wasn’t spared after. Barrages of abuse on social media made him rethink his stance on the team, but he braved the odds and continued. However, the aftermath of the 2019 Afcon made him announce his retirement from the national team. Since that time, he has been featured for Manchester United on loan from Shanghai Shenhua, and has moved to Saudi side Al Shabab where he has been able to stack up 14 league goals in 19 appearances with the help of veteran Argentine midfielder Eva Banega and Senegalese Alfred N’diaye.

After the Super Eagles squad that would take on Liberia and Cape Verde was announced, the recent outcry by football lovers in Nigeria has been all about Odion Ighalo’s return to the Super Eagles and the exclusion of in form Union Berlin striker Taiwo Awoniyi who was a second-half substitute in the Super Eagles’ home loss to Central African Republic on the 7th of October. Many have questioned the competitive nature of the Saudi league and compared Ighalo’s form to Awoniyi’s.

Awoniyi has 7 goals in the German Bundesliga, 2 in the Europa Conference League, and 1 in the German cup, making him one of Europe’s in-form strikers this season, just behind the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Karim Benzema, Erling Haaland, and Mohamed Salah. So good that his manager mentioned in a press conference over the weekend that he is one of Union Berlin’s most priced assets.

The squad announcement has really put doubts in the minds of Nigerian football lovers about how capable and good coach Gernot Rohr is to take the team to glory and furthermore making the fans ask the big question “who’s in charge of the squad selection? The coach or some other members of the Nigerian football federation?.”

Just months ago, captain of the side Ahmed Musa was without a football club, but he kept making appearances for the national team. The exclusion of Glasgow Rangers left-back Calvin Bassey also raised doubts as the young defender was not given a minute of action despite the 10 subs available for coach Gernot Rohr in the last round of the world cup qualifiers. About the inclusion of Ighalo, one can point to Baghdad Bounedjah of Qatar Star League side Al Sadd who is also the number one striker of the current champions of Africa, the dessert warriors of Algeria as an example of playing outside Europe but still being in top form and shape, but the exclusion of Awoniyi has left a sour taste as a lot of fans are not happy that Nigeria’s most in-form striker at the moment isn’t part of the national team set up.

other articles written by this Paul;

The one club man: Loyalty or indebtedness?

Sir Alex Ferguson: A Legend Of The Times

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