Akpom, Tijani, Onyedika: 5 Midfield options for Jose Peseiro to bolster the Super Eagles midfield
Midfield has been one of the weak links in the Super Eagles setup for years
For Super Eagles handler Jose Peseiro, the midfield position is one that must require a great deal of attention, as it did with Gernot Rohr in the past and Austin Eguavoen, briefly. For all of the Nigerian talent available in Europe, very few midfielders have managed to stand out in recent years, constituting a headache for the Super Eagles selectors.
During the last international break against Guinea-Bissau, Peseiro only invited four midfielders to the squad. Of the four, only Alex Iwobi plays regularly for his club and this fact was evident in how they performed over two legs. This, coupled with the fact that Oghenekaro Etebo has fallen off the radar since his loan move to Greece in the summer, constitutes a problem for the squad, leaving it unbalanced. Looking at the foreign and local stages, however, there are a number of Nigerian midfielders who may have earned the right to prove their worth in the green of the Super Eagles. This article will discuss five such midfielders.
#5 Aminu Mohammed
18-year-old Gombe United starlet Aminu Mohammed is one of the biggest midfield talents in the Nigeria Premier Football League. Nicknamed Obi by his club’s fans after erstwhile Super Eagles skipper Mikel Obi, Mohammed has impressed in his time with the Savannah Scorpions.
Tall and slim like Mikel Obi, Aminu Mohammed is a gifted midfielder who is capable of controlling a game from a deeper midfield role and also moving higher up the pitch. The midfielder played a starring role for the Flying Eagles as they finished third in the U20 AFCON in March, registering one assist. The teenage star is a regular in the NPFL with Gombe United and has clearly distinguished himself as a top talent. During an away game in Ilorin in 2022, the then-17-year-old earned a standing ovation from the Kwara United fans for his stellar display in the middle of the park.
For a player as young as Mohammed, the pathway to the squad should be first as a backup where he can train with the seasoned pros and learn from them. Afterwards, he would be able to take over from them once he comes of age. The FIFA U20 World Cup in May will provide a platform for the teenage star, who is in the 39-man squad preparing for the tournament.
#4 Samson Tijani
Former Golden Eaglets captain Samson Tijani is another highly-rated young midfielder ready to respond to the call of his fatherland. The RB Salzburg man is still recovering from a horrific leg fracture which he suffered during preseason, and has yet to appear for the Austrian side this season.
Tijani has already been invited to the national team setup in the past by Franco-German manager Gernot Rohr, making his debut in a friendly against Algeria. He also debuted in the UEFA Champions League when he played against Bayern Munich last season for his Austrian club. The defensive midfielder won the Austrian Bundesliga title with Salzburg last season, after proving himself with FC Liefering, their feeder team.
For a player like Tijani, regular national team invitations should be extended by coach Peseiro. Now 20 years old, the midfielder must be blooded into the Super Eagles gradually to allow him adapt quickly and be effective on the team.
#3 Raphael Onyedika
22-year-old Club Brugge midfielder Raphael Onyedika has enjoyed a brilliant debut season in Belgium with Club Brugge, having only moved there in the summer. The former FC Midtjylland man has played a starring role for the Belgian side this season and has featured regularly.
Onyedika has already played for the Super Eagles but is not a regular with the team despite his impressive performances in the Belgian Pro League and UEFA Champions League. The youngster is a defensive midfielder in the mould of Wilfred Ndidi, and is thought of as the Leicester City man’s long-term replacement.
Raphael Onyedika was coveted by AC Milan and came close to completing a move to the Italian side in the summer. The midfielder is highly-rated and must be incorporated into the national team setup by the coach.
#2 Chuba Akpom
For many years, the Super Eagles have struggled to find a player who thrives in the number 10 role. In Chuba Akpom, there is a natural fit for the position. The Middlesbrough man has received a new lease of life playing in the role for the Championship club, winning the league’s Player of the Season award.
Akpom is naturally a striker, having played there since his days in the Arsenal academy. The 28-year-old started the season training with the U21s at Middlesbrough and was not assigned a shirt number. The appointment of Michael Carrick, however, gave him new life. He has scored 28 goals and registered two assists for the promotion hopefuls this season, attributing his success to a tweak in his position.
Adding Akpom to the Super Eagles squad ahead of the 2024 AFCON should be a priority for the coaching crew as he would add so much quality from an advanced midfield position. A few years ago, he was close to earning a national team cap under Rohr and even played in an unofficial friendly against Senegal. This time, he has proven his worth and deserves a chance to help the Super Eagles solve their midfield problem.
#1 Eberechi Eze
Crystal Palace midfielder Eberechi Eze is highly sought-after in the international circles following his exploits with the English club. The 24-year-old has been impressive for the Eagles and has been close to earning a call-up to the English national team several times.
Eze was invited to the Super Eagles camp in 2017 alongside a number of other UK-born players such as Ola Aina and Akpom. The team held a friendly against Senegal but then-coach Gernot Rohr decided against capping the then-teenager afterwards. The midfielder was approached a number of times but his representatives were said to have been unsatisfied with the manner by which the NFF approached him. He has featured regularly for England’s U21 side since then, and was close to a senior invitation but for a series of injuries.
Eze was recently recommended to the Three Lions by legendary defender Rio Ferdinand. With his quality and technical ability, he will undoubtedly elevate the Super Eagles roster significantly. Coach Peseiro and the NFF must try to contact him once more to consider representing Nigeria.