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Africa Sports News of Thursday, 18 March 2021


Onyekuru: Can perennial bridesmaid become the bride?

The upshot of Galatasaray’s two-game winless Super Lig run meant Fatih Terim rang the changes for the weekend’s trip to a Kayserispor side that had won two games on the trot.

One of the casualties of the 67-year-old manager’s tactical and personnel tweak was Henry Onyekuru, who’d gone off the boil after a really bright start on yet another return to Istanbul.

The wideman netted three times in his first two starts on his third loan spell at the side to banish memories of last year’s loan deal where he could only score one and register a solitary assist in eight starts (10 appearances in total). However, he’d gone over a month with little end product in the final third, which culminated in games against Ankaragucu and Sivasspor, encounters that ended in a 2-1 defeat and 2-2 draw respectively.

In the former, the Monaco loanee couldn’t mark a decent all-round showing with a goal and was instead guilty of missing a couple of presentable chances in Ankara as 10-man Gala lost their sixth league game of the season.

The following round of games brought about a stalemate on home turf, and Onyekuru was yet again culpable at the Turk Telekom Stadium, missing some really good chances before his 79th-minute substitution.

Despite dominating both games, Terim’s side somehow picked up a sole point from a possible six which saw them replaced by Besiktas at the top of the table. Thus, the five changes made and switch to a two-man frontline against Kayserispor was necessary given the circumstances.

Be that as it may, the game was in the balance until Onyekuru entered the fray to score an eight-minute brace to allay fears of a third successive game without maximum points for the title contenders.

While the first was a simple tap-in after Radamel Falcao’s thunderous strike struck the post, the sight of the Nigeria international running through on goal to score his second was a welcome sight after previous slip-ups.

Five goals in six starts is an impressive return after his torrid year in last year’s loan and at the start of the campaign in Ligue 1, and Terim will hope his favoured forward maintains his consistency in surroundings he’s truly comfortable in to banish the recent dry spell.

“When [Onyekuru] couldn't score or assist in six Super League games, pressure on him increased in media,” reports Goal Turkey’s Idil Erin. “According to some reports, Galatasaray were going to part ways with him if his performances didn’t improve, but after all this, Onyekuru has played against Kayserispor and he scored twice in 23 minutes. This could mean he’s reborn.”

Despite the rumours, there were doubts about the validity of the claims owing to the strong relationship between player and coach over the years, which has led to some dubbing the forward ‘the son of Fatih Terim’.

Still, the consistency needs to be found if he’s to make a lasting impact on his return to Monaco and truly push for a Nigeria place.

It was telling that the ex-Everton man only made Gernot Rohr’s standby list for this month’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers vs Benin and Lesotho and, while Samuel Kalu’s thigh injury has led to strong reports the on-loan Gala forward will be brought in as the Bordeaux winger’s replacement, a player of Onyekuru’s talent shouldn’t be on the fringes for both club and country.

It certainly wasn’t what observers imagined when the springy attacker had that amazing breakout season for Eupen circa five years ago in which he scored a staggering 22 league goals in 2016/17.

This eventually led to a move to one of Europe’s top five leagues, with Everton gambling on the then-20-year-old attacker.

Work permit issues meant he never played a Premier League game for the Toffees and an extended period on the sidelines at Anderlecht didn’t help his cause under Gernot Rohr. He’s fallen below Kalu and Samuel Chukwueze when he seemed primed to be one of the frontrunners to assume more responsibility from the now-retired Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa.

Struggling to break into Nico Kovac’s Monaco side prompted another temporary move to Turkey, a transfer many reckon is one too many for the forward who turns 24 in June and is now in danger of not fulfilling the potential from his teenage years.

Onyekuru was happy with his contribution in Galatasaray’s win over Kayserispor, but there’s a sense the forward will love nothing more than to put down roots at his parent club and also for the Super Eagles especially if he still has ambitions to reach his ceiling.

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