On Sunday, October 13, when the Super Eagles file out to face the Samba Boys in a much anticipated friendly at the Singapore National Stadium, one player will be missing on the pitch and on the bench: Henry Onyekuru.
After a breakthrough season with Galatasaray last season, where his goals and assists played a crucial role in propelling the Turkish giants to the Super League title, many expected Onyekuru to build on his growing reputation as a dangerous, goalscoring winger but the reality has fallen far short of that expectation.
His woes started when Everton, his parent English club then, and Galatasaray – where he had meritoriously spent a year on loan – could not come to a financial agreement to make his loan deal permanent. The Toffees wanted more. The Turks offered less. And when Monaco wrote Everton a bigger cheque, the Blues gladly flogged Onyekuru, reportedly against his wish, to France.
Henry’s views were clear and understandable. In Turkey, he was loved and adored, having earned his place on the team and immersed himself in the club’s culture. However, in Monaco he has had to start all over again: to win the manager’s trust, earn his teammates’ respect and fight for another’s spot in the team.
While goals and assists have helped Victor Osimhen settle quickly in the Ligue 1 despite only recently making the switch to France from Belgium, Onyekuru – who just got married weeks ago – have not enjoyed the same run of luck. The former Eupen forward is yet to find the back of the net for his French club and have only claimed just one assist in the three matches he’s featured in.
This has seen coach Jardim push Henry to the substitute’s bench where he has watched Monaco pulled off back-to-back wins for the first time in 2019. It is little wonder then that Onyekuru has not made Gernot Rohr’s Super Eagles squad since the conclusion of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Egypt.
Coach Rohr’s policy has always been clear on that front: play regularly for your club and you’ll feature for your country. Kelechi Iheanacho ran foul of that at Leicester City last season and because of that, he missed out on a bronze-winning campaign at AFCON 2019.
At a glorious time, when Nigeria talents are springing up in all the four corners of Europe and beyond, present Super Eagles stars cannot afford to rely on their past heroics to earn a call up to the national team.
Jostling to snatch Onyekuru’s Super Eagles spot from him are the duo of Slavia Prague’s Peter Olayinka and Club Brugge’s Emmanuel Dennis. Both players are young, hungry and will land in Australia in a rich vein of form.
Olayinka scored for the Czech champions over the weekend but actually shot to prominence a fortnight ago when he smashed a goal in at the San Siro in the Champions League.
As remarkable as that feat was, it was bettered by Dennis Bonaventure last week when the 20-year-old grabbed a stunning brace at the grandest of stages – the Santiago Bernabeu
Dennis then followed it up by scoring at the weekend in Club Brugge’s 4-0 demolition of Gent. Both Olayinka’s and Dennis’ addition would add some considerable firepower to a Super Eagles attack still reeling from being snubbed by that Chelsea lad.
A front six of Villarreal’s Chukwueze, Lille’s Osimhen, Genk’s Onuachu, Nante’s Simon, Brugge’s Dennis and Slavia’s Olayinka should retain enough pace and power to trouble Brazil’s defence line in Singapore. And they are all likely going to form the skeleton of the Nigeria team of the next decade.
It’s important therefore that Henry Onyekuru sort out his club issues quickly or he ends up being another Kelechi Iheanacho, to become just a left behind bystander as the ship of the Super Eagles’ Golden Generation sets sail for glorious shores.