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Africa Sports News of Monday, 21 June 2021


Simy vs Onuachu: Which Nigeria striker is set for the Premier League?

Nigerian strikers Paul Onuachu and Simy Nigerian strikers Paul Onuachu and Simy

We are all probably running out of superlatives to laud the horde of Nigeria forwards who all had outstanding campaigns throughout 2020-21 or at least for a sustained period during the season.

Kelechi Iheanacho overcame a difficult first half of the campaign — and probably his most challenging time since moving to Leicester City — to thrive since the turn of the year. Terem Moffi, despite his streaky nature, ended his debut campaign in one of Europe’s top five leagues with 14 goals for struggling Lorient.

Victor Osimhen ended a mixed maiden year with Napoli on a high, while Umar Sadiq’s impressive 20-goal year at Almeria had led to recent links to Champions League outfit Sevilla.

The returns of Paul Onuachu and Simy particularly fascinated owing to events previously and doubts over their efficiency.

By his standards, Onuachu had a fairly disappointing debut season with Genk (he scored only nine times) having hit double figures in three years on the spin before leaving Midtjylland.

That didn’t deter him from scoring 33 goals in the regular season in Belgium, ultimately seeing him named the division’s best player.

As for Simy, nobody foresaw him flourishing in Serie A because he'd been a let-down in two previous campaigns in the Italian top league. Despite thriving in Serie B, there was a feeling that the marksman’s goals could dry up, but he was having none of that.

He netted 20 league goals for struggling Crotone, whose struggles and eventual relegation shouldn’t diminish the 29-year-old’s haul. If anything, Simy’s reputation is enhanced.

The aforementioned centre-forwards have been tipped with a move away from their respective clubs, and many have suggested transfers to Premier League sides. However, given their profiles, could this ever be on the cards?

There’s always the lazy tendency to categorise every towering forward a target man: a battering ram who fancies tussles, feeds on crosses into the box from wide areas and doesn’t shy from having long balls launched into him downfield.

Onuachu and Simy immediately fit this generalisation, but only the former is really a target man, while the Crotone frontman is, by and large, a poacher.

A breakdown of the Genk striker’s goals show that he netted a staggering 11 goals with his head, while the former Gil Vicente attacker netted only one headed strike.

Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the 33-goal man competed in and won more aerial duels than the Crotone marksman — winning 55 percent of battles in the air, whereas Simy won only 40 percent.

The pair did their damage predominantly within the box, demonstrating their poaching instincts, with only one Simy strike coming outside the 18-yard area from both combined.

In short: while Simy is strictly a poacher, Onuachu is an amalgamation of an instinctive finisher and target man.

Having said that, there’s uncertainty over a move to England’s top flight due to few sides utilising centre-forwards of their profile.

Of the clubs that ended the just-concluded campaign in the top half, only Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin shares similarities with both Nigerian forwards—particularly Onuachu. The striker is an adept header of the ball and thrived on service from the flanks, resulting in seven headed goals. He also won 53 percent of aerial duels.

Be that as it may, it remains to be seen if the Toffees swoop for the Genk star, who may be unwilling to play second fiddle to the England international.

West Ham United are an interesting prospect, owing to their lack of a natural centre-forward.

Michail Antonio generally featured for David Moyes in a central striking role and the Scot paired Jared Bowen and Jesse Lingard whenever the uncapped Jamaican was absent.

While a move for natural strikers like Simy or Onuachu may appeal on paper, letting go of Ivory Coast’s Sebastien Haller in January — a player with similar physical attributes to both Nigerian forwards — somewhat underscores Moyes’ approach to playing without a natural frontman.

In the bottom half, Burnley — given their general style and Sean Dyche’s fondness for Chris Wood — definitely stand out, Crystal Palace — owing to the presence of Christian Benteke — while the relegated West Bromwich Albion could have done with either Simy or Onuachu’s qualities.

However, Palace’s approach post-Roy Hodgson remains uncertain — and Benteke’s renewed his contract with the South London side anyway — meaning a switch to the Eagles may not materialise.

Dyche’s preference for Wood may harm the Nigerian pair’s prospects in leading the line for the Clarets if a transfer takes place this summer.

So, what about Norwich City, Watford and Brentford, the newly-promoted sides?

Teemu Pukki led the line for Norwich when they came up two seasons ago and has remained their top striker under Daniel Farke.

Joao Pedro was the Hornets’ primary central striker last term, but he’s not a natural number nine and tends to drift to the flanks.

Ivan Toney led the line for Brentford last year in a record-breaking campaign. Interestingly, all 31 goals were scored inside the box but his involvement in play led to 10 assists, demonstrating that he isn’t wholly a poacher, is definitely not a target man but rather a rounded frontman.

Unless the new boys tweak their approach and style, accommodating Onuachu or Simy will obviously be complicated. Indeed, the same could be said for even the current sides in the PL who may be unwilling to make drastic shifts in their approach to fit the frontmen into their teams.

While their goals come with a certain appeal, Nigerians shouldn’t raise their hopes of seeing either or both flying the nation’s flag in Europe’s most popular league next season.