Name the league in Europe and there is a Nigerian shining amongst the best players. Okay, okay… don’t mention La Liga, the country isn’t well represented there. Of course, that is not to say there aren’t Nigerians thriving in Spain.
In the Segunda division, Umar Sadiq is plundering the goals like they are out of fashion. The 24-year-old has notched up 20 goals this season and is currently the third-highest scorer in the division. His club Almeria has qualified for the promotion play-offs. If things go well, he may soon start challenging in the top division.
At the very top of this chart of Nigerians excelling in Europe, one name stands tall, big and bold. That name is on everyone’s lips, that name is winning awards and that name is motivating young players in the West, and all of Africa to strive to be the absolute best. This Genk player has dominated the whole of Belgium. No player comes close to him in the Jupiler League. Nominally, his goals stand side by side with the very top players in the major leagues in Europe.
Standing against the Jupiler League backdrop, beaming with pleasure and spotting a Christian Dior shirt, a pair of black ripped jeans and white sneakers, Nigerian forward Paul Ebere Onuachu held two plaques, one on each hand. He had just been awarded the Golden Boot and the Most Valuable Player at the Jupiler Pro League awards night. There has been no player more deserving of these accolades than the 6 foot 5 forward. They haven’t come on a platter either- a blend of consistent hard work, resilience and steady improvement has ensured this success.
From that teenager who made the 7,678km trip from Lagos to Denmark, Onuachu has struggled and failed. There have been worse days for the 27-year-old, but he has risen well above them and shone like a true star- a Nigerian star. A very calm personality of very few words- vocally and on social media- evident in his Instagram posts- a lot of them without captions. In the same manner, he has risen to become one of Europe’s most sought-after forwards without a fuss. Your everyday basic guy but with desperate eyes for success.
His first experience in Europe was with Midtjylland as an 18-year-old. He did begin with the U19s and only got one appearance for the senior team that season. Seven seasons he spent in Denmark refining his skills and getting ready for the top, he scored 54 goals. In these times of “false 9s” and “complete strikers”, where forwards are expected to be part of the overall build-up play, Onuachu is still one of the few (not yet extinct) remaining “old-fashioned” strikers. Also, there is the tendency to profile him as one of those bulky, predatory strikers who are uncomfortable with the ball at their feet. Those that wait for the “food” to be cooked, and pounce. The ones with very few touches of the ball over the 90-minute duration. The ones that score more “tap-in” goals than any other kind of goal. He is that plus more. Plenty more, in fact.
The Genk forward can take on players- a little untidily but efficiently. He attempted at least two dribbles per game last term. He has a very strong presence in the air and scored 11 goals with his head last season. Like a rat in a clean household, he is particularly tenacious and can finish excellently with either foot. The Imo-born player scored 15 goals with his right foot and seven with his left foot. His instincts (his biggest asset) inside the box, are as sharp as a penguin’s.
The recently concluded season saw Onuachu score 33 goals in 38 matches for Genk at 0.94 goals per 90 minutes with a shooting accuracy of 51.89% and a positive XG (Expected Goals) of 30.87. He averaged 3 shots per game and his conversion rate per shot stood at 31%. These are world-class statistics, except that these were posted in the Belgian League. In truth, it’s a league still below the standards of the top five in Europe. Still, it doesn’t undermine the quality of players playing in that country. Even then, he has also shown this quality for the National Team, the Super Eagles.
Eventually, if you’re good, then, you’re probably that good. Paul Onuachu is that good! His performances have picked the interests of many top teams, including AC Milan and Lyon. Whenever and wherever he decides to go, the possibilities are immense. He’s paid his dues. It’s time to start enjoying the rewards of his hard work.