The lanky Nigerian striker has remained in Belgium despite calls to move to a bigger league.
In an age where players who are wingers can score mouth-watering number of goals, there’s less attention on the center forward. Indeed, one just needs to look at the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, both men reaching 100 goals in less than five years at Liverpool. Then there’s of course the likes of Raheem Sterling with 100+ career goals in less than 10 years and not forgetting arguably the two greatest players in the world in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo who have scored the bulk of their 700+ career goals as wide men.
This was not the norm in the past for players who operate on the flanks.
Regardless, there are still some center forwards racking in goals more than the aforementioned men. There are the likes of Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane, Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland, Karim Benzema and many more who have steadily put in the goals to remain relevant and constantly in the transfer news.
One striker with a lesser profile but equally prolific is Paul Onuachu.
The 27-year-old currently plies his trade with Genk in the Belgian Jupiler League. He’s been nothing but phenomenal since he arrived from FC Midtjylland in 2019, his 35 goals in 41 appearances last season seeing him earn the Belgian top-flight top scorer and Belgian Professional Footballer of the Year award.
Onuachu has been prolific from his early beginnings with Midtjylland in Denmark where he notched up 74 goals and provided 23 assists. The continued rise of the Owerri-born man and his exploits from last season was an indication that he would be set for a move to a bigger European club and league. However, this summer transfer window passed and Onuachu remained at Genk, signing a contract extension that keeps him at Luminus Arena until 2024.
Some of his fans were not happy about such development but one of them in former Nigeria international Victor Ezeji, who spoke to Pulse in an exclusive interview, rates Onuachu as Nigeria’s best striker among the current crop and believes his time to get a bigger move will come as he is delivering.
“Well first and foremost, for you to move to another club, a club has to come for you,” he said.
“For me, I rate Onuachu as [Nigeria’s] best striker so far because season in season out the man is doing his job, but unfortunately when it gets to the Nigeria national team, I’m pretty sure Mr Gernot Rohr is not using him properly.
“That aside, Onuachu has done so well for himself. Yes, the move just didn’t come now and there’s no way he will stay to see off his contract without securing a move elsewhere. We must not forget he’s an African, not a European. If it was a European that scored those amount of goals, he would have seen clubs falling over just to get his signature, but unfortunately that did not happen for him, but I think the right time will definitely come for him to make that big move because he’s delivering.
“Yes, we could say he’s not in the big five leagues in Europe but then Belgium is not a small league per se and I believe when the right time comes, we would all see him move.”
Some are of the opinion that Onuachu is finding it difficult to get a move because he mainly operates as a target man. Such a role requires him to get service constantly and will mainly operate in the penalty area. Modern football demands forwards to be energetic at pressing and even dropping deep to sometimes recover the ball. Ezeji has a different view, asserting it is down to how the coach wants the player to be utilized. The former Enyimba man also believes Onuachu can adjust his role if he is needed to do so.
“The truth is it depends on the coach. It’s how the coach wants his team to play that’s where a player can fit in,” Ezeji continued.
“Yes, like you said most clubs don’t play with that outright point man but Onuachu plays for Genk and the coaches believe that’s what they want that’s why you see him succeeding. Most times for a point man with that kind of [Onuachu’s] height (201cm/6ft 7), all they need to do is bring the crosses for him to put inside the net and he has been delivering on that.
“So, I think it depends on the coach and the pattern the coach wants to play. Yes, football is diversifying like we all can see, but even at that Onuachu can play a lesser role if been told what to do. He’s skillful, so he can also adjust if need be.”
Onuachu has had a bit of a tough time adjusting to life in the Nigeria national team. Indeed, while netting consistently at club level, he’s failed to do the same with the Super Eagles, leading to a bit of criticism. He’s however gotten some redemption, netting in Nigeria’s final two 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Benin and Lesotho in March. Ezeji explains that a lack of good crossers in the Nigerian team has hindered Onuachu – who has 15 caps to his name, from netting goals as he would have liked when called upon.
“If you watch the Nigerian team, why it has not been favorable to him, we don’t have good crossers of the ball, so that’s why it’s been difficult for him to really fit into the Super Eagles,” Ezeji said.
“If Onuachu had played in the days when we had people like Finidi [Geroge], I’m very sure he would have been so massive in the attack and people would have really recognized what he’s doing but because we don’t have those players crossing balls for him. The players we have these days want to dribble in and shoot.
“Now football is you take a left footer to play from the right side and right footer to play on the left. They want to cut in, nobody is there to really make that pull out. Someone that is using left foot can’t really make good crosses with his right leg.
“That’s the difficulty having Onuachu playing in the national team. I think the best thing for him to do is to just stay where he is, where the coaches value what he is doing and that’s what they want him to do.”
Genk technical director Dimitri de Conde admitted that Onuachu was keen to leave the club this summer but no good offer came. He also suggested that Onuachu would be a valuable asset for Liverpool. No interest was shown from the Reds but it is no denying that Jurgen Klopp’s side are in need of a center-forward with Roberto Firmino not at his best again and Diogo Jota susceptible to injury having spent more than two months on the sidelines last season.
When asked by Pulse if Onuachu would fit into Liverpool’s dynamic tactical system, Ezeji said the towering striker would be able to convert the constant and efficient crosses that come from the full-backs in Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
“I honestly believe so because when the crosses are coming, he will definitely deliver,” Ezeji asserted.
“He’s got good height and he jumps very well. Like you rightly said, Liverpool play so much with their left ad right backs. You see them go forward, bring those crosses, very sumptuous crosses that are mouth-watering, all you need is to do is finish it. I think he can really fit into Liverpool if they go for him.
“Even Liverpool somehow also plays with a point man from Firmino. Yes, he drops very deep but with Onuachu there and somebody playing behind him, all those crosses coming will definitely deliver so Liverpool would have been the perfect place for him to go.”
Onuachu currently has 11 goals in 14 competitive outings this season. There’s no sign of him slowing down with the goals, neither is his form declining. Truly, if he does maintain those high numbers, it will be impossible to overlook him.
Signing a new contract with Genk gives opportunity for Onuachu’s market value to rise. Currently valued at €22 million as per Transfer market, it could be much higher than that come the end of the season.
Whatever Onuachu’s fans and critics think and wherever his future lies, one thing is clear in that he is consistently showing he deserves to be with the best. If 135 goals in 277 career games isn’t enough proof, then what is?
Kunle is an avid writer with interest in topics on sports, politics and health. His articles have featured in Goal.com, Opera News and Vanguard News. He holds a Bachelors and Masters degree in International Relations and is an advocate for people living with Hydrocephalus and other neurological conditions. Follow him on Twitter: @kfayiga
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