Odion Ighalo: How can Nigeria replace departed striker?
The Afcon top scorer has retired from international football, and he won’t be easy to replace
Odion Ighalo called time on his international career this weekend, drawing the curtain on a four-year tenure with the Super Eagles in which he scored 16 goals in 35 appearances.
Despite being criticised during his time with Nigeria—notably when he missed a decisive sitter as the West Africans fell to Argentina during the World Cup—Ighalo goes out on a high following the Africa Cup of Nations.
He scored five goals in the continental showpiece in Egypt, earning him the Golden Boot, and now goes out on a high.
However, how can Gernot Rohr replace the striker in whom he’s shown faith throughout his time at the helm?
Here are five options…
The Leicester City striker has struggled to adapt to life at the King Power Stadium since being sold by Manchester City, and has paid with his place in the Nigeria squad.
He was cut from Rohr’s selection after netting just once in 30 Premier League outings last term, but at only 22, he has time on his side.
If Iheanacho can rediscover the form he showed earlier in his career, at Leicester or elsewhere, then he can return to his rightful spot as Nigeria’s leading man.
The towering forward may have—inadvertently—become Nigeria’s leading man following Ighalo’s exit, having been one of only two other strikers on Rohr’s list.
His goalscoring record in Denmark is excellent, while he also took to life as an international instantly with an early goal in a friendly against Egypt.
However, he’d change the style of football Nigeria play—being such a towering target man—while his relatively meagre playing time at the Afcon suggests Rohr isn’t completely convinced.
The only other striker on Nigeria’s squad list for Russia was Osimhen, although he received even less playing time than Onuachu, managing just 45 minutes during the course of the competition.
The attacker is only 20, and while highly rated, can’t yet be considered a viable leading man for the national side.
With more regular playing time at club level, for Sporting Charleroi in Belgium, Osimhen can refine his craft, while Ighalo’s retirement should raise his place in Nigeria’s pecking order.
Unlike the other players on this list, Onyekuru isn’t a natural striker.
He’s made his name as a wideman during his career, while he was also trialled—and excelled—as left wing-back during a loan spell at Anderlecht.
However, what Onyekuru does have in his locker is goals; he scored 14 in the Super Lig for Galatasaray last term, and 27 across three seasons in the Belgian leagues with Eupen and then the Purple & White.
He’s found gametime hard to come by out wide—playing for just 12 minutes at the Nations Cup—and with Samuel Chukwueze and Samuel Kalu only likely to get stronger, a move to a more central role could suit all parties.
Nigeria tried to recruit Abraham before, only to have their fingers burned—in somewhat humiliating fashion—as the Chelsea striker rejected the NFF’s overtures in order to represent England.
However, two years down the line, despite having featured for the Three Lions in friendlies, he’s yet to make a competitive debut and hasn’t been called up since.
Now back at Chelsea after a productive loan spell at Aston Villa, Abraham may find himself back in Gareth Southgate’s sights, but if not, he could be a replacement for—and even an upgrade on—Ighalo.
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