Super Eagles up and down the pyramid
In the first of a season-long series of articles, Goal Nigeria’s UK correspondent Ed Dove keeps tabs on the Super Eagles up and down the league ladder. As well as tracking former Internationals and veterans, the series also runs the rule over some potential Nigerian stars, not yet recruited to the national set up.
Episode one previews the season ahead for some English-based Nigerians outside the top division.
The Championship has a reputation for being one of the most competitive divisions in the world. This season is no different, with almost half of the league harbouring realistic hopes of making it to the land of milk and honey – the Premiership.
Four Super Eagles will be hoping to be there or thereabouts come the season’s close: Carl Ikeme has spent the last half a decade on loan at a litany of Championship clubs, but following Wolves’ relegation, he may have a chance to force his way between the sticks. With regular number 1 Wayne Hennessey currently injured, Ikeme started for the Old Gold against Leeds on the opening day. The Nigerian impressed, despite his team’s defeat.
Also hoping for, if not expecting, promotion, will be robust midfielders Dickson Etuhu and Seyi Olofinjana, both of whom have grown accustomed to Premier League football in recent times. Dickson took a step down from Fulham, to join Blackburn following the Lancashire club’s relegation. The imposing player will hope to rekindle his partnership with Danny Murphy, who also departed West London; the pair have more than enough about them to help guide Steve Kean’s troubled Rovers to the highest corners of the league.
Olofinjana returns to Hull City after his exile at Cardiff, having been offered a fresh start by new Tigers’ boss Steve Bruce. Doubts remain as to whether, at 32, ‘Oli’ can still keep with the pace of the division. No such fears surround new signing Sone Aluko, who returns to English football after four years in Scotland. Aluko returns as a Nigerian international, and will be a valuable asset to the Bruce Revolution at the KC.
Millwall and Barnsley are two clubs expected to be scrabbling around the wrong end of the table come May, but Danny Shittu and Kelvin Etuhu will be quietly confident that they can defy the odds. After having enjoyed a short spell in East London two years ago, Shittu makes the trip back across the capital to resign, after having been released by Premier League QPR. Shittu will hope to make his experience count as those at the New Den bed-in ahead of another inevitably tricky season.
Similarly, Barnsley have been written off by experts. For the Tykes to prove the critics wrong, a lot will be demanded of mobile midfielder Kelvin Etuhu, brother of Dickson. Kano-born Etuhu already has Championship experience after spells at Portsmouth and Cardiff, but at Barnsley he will be seen as a key figure. A confident and exciting player, Etuhu may well relish the added expectation.
In the lower divisions, Nigerians can be found at various different clubs. League One teams Crawley and MK Dons, two of the more exciting sides in the competition, both feature a cluster of potential Naija stars primed to climb the English football pyramid.
Milton Keynes Dons have been identified by many as the favourites for the League One title, for this to become a reality, much will be demanded of their two Anglo-Nigerian stars. Jon Otsemobor was a highly rated youngster at Liverpool a decade ago, now in the supposed prime of his career, the right back will be hoping to realise some of his potential at Milton Keynes. It may be too late for a Super Eagles call up, but Otsemobor can still prove himself to be a consistent performer at this level.
Striker Jabo Ibehre is entering his fourth campaign with the Buckinghamshire club. Despite not being a prolific frontman, Ibehre is a popular character at Stadium: mk, impressing fans with his commitment and stamina. There are some doubts, however, as to whether he has the requisite quality to compete at the top end of the division.
After having enjoyed successive promotions, Crawley Town are an unknown quantity in the third tier. Within their ranks, they boast three young Nigerians, all of whom may one day pull on the famous dark green of the Super Eagles. Nicholas Olushola Ajose began his career at the Red Devils, but not the Red Devils of Crawley Town, the Red Devils of Manchester United. Having failed to justify his £300,000 fee at Championship Peterborough, the young striker has dropped down a division with a loan to Crawley. Having once bagged 13 goals in a season for Bury, he has potential at a lower level, although time will tell whether the frontman can re-discover some scoring form in West Sussex.
Hope Akpan has already stated his ambition to play for Nigeria one day. To begin to approach this goal, the young midfielder will need to clean up his act, both on and off the pitch. Having been schooled at Everton, and impressing for Crawley last season, a definite talent lies behind the controversy. Akpan, and young Camberwell-born striker John Akinde, are two to watch for Crawley Town & Super Eagles fans alike.
Bury may be among the favourites for the drop in League One, but Super Eagles past and present will be hoping to preserve the Shakers’ status in the third tier. Ten years ago, Efe Sodje had just spent his summer in the Far East representing Nigeria at the 2002 World Cup. Since then, members of the Sodje dynasty have popped up ubiquitously throughout the lower leagues of English football. With his do-rag and full-blooded displays, Efe has the highest profile of the bunch. Now at his tenth English club, the 39 year old may be facing his toughest task yet.
Almost 20 years his junior, a potential international of the future leads the line at Gigg Lane. Lateef Elford-Alliyu ambled his way through the youth ranks at West Bromwich Albion before making his league debut at Hereford Town in 2010. Now permanently at Bury after a loan spell last season, the Ibadan-born frontman still has time to realise his potential – to date, his finest moment was a wonder strike against Stafford Rangers as a 15 year old!
Other Super Eagles to Watch
League One: Colchester (Magnus Okuonghae), Notts Co. (Enoch Showumni), Preston (David Amoo)
League Two: Northampton Town (Adebayo Akinfenwa), Rochdale (Dele Adebola), Rotherham (Kayode Odejayi)