MAILBAG

Umar Sadiq, AFCON Golden Ball, Eguavoen, Aribo as #10

The “curious case of Umar Sadiq” and other topics are explored in this week’s mailbag article.

Sadiq Umar

On Wednesday every week, The Mailbag will answer selected questions on African football(ers). Readers can send in their questions on social media by posting the hashtag #PulseSportsMailbag or by sending an email to sports@pulse.ng.

Let’s dive in.

Sadiq Umar got a lot of stick for his performances at the AFCON. Not even a goal against Sudan could save him from being bashed. Do you think he deserves another chance? What does he bring to the team? How can we solve the curious case of Sadiq seeing that he appears to be a key player for his club Almeria? — Muhammad Tahir Hassan

First things first: Umar Sadiq was pretty disappointing at AFCON. A lot of us who had followed his exploits in Segunda with Almeria expected significantly better than he showed in his cameos, even with the benefit of an improved showing against Tunisia when the tie hung in the balance.

Sadly, this is just what you get with Sadiq. He is a mercurial player with significant upside, but he also will drop the odd stinker. Whenever he steps on a football pitch, the gods flip a coin.

That makes it difficult to assess whether or not he deserves another chance. That’s a loaded word, ‘deserve’. It would have to depend on what you look for as a coach.

Do you see his Bambi on ice routine and get put off instantly? Do you see him running the ball out of play, failing to sort his feet out quickly enough, and think this isn’t your cup of tea? Or do you see a player who, even when he is making mistakes technically and in his decision-making, at least offers presence and never hides?

There was a significant clamour for Peter Olayinka to be picked over him during the Guinea-Bissau match. However, when the Sparta Prague player was tapped to come on first against Tunisia, the difference was clear. With Sadiq, you get a player who is doing the things the role demands tactically, even if there are execution flaws technically.

What was clear to me as well was that his performances were actually getting better as the tournament progressed, even if only slightly each time. I would say he is worth sticking with, and with a coach who believes in him, he has a lot to offer.

What is your take on the Super Eagles having two defensive midfielders (Ndidi and Onyeka) while playing Aribo behind the main striker in our match against Ghana? — Hadji Bayor (@BayorHadji on Twitter)

It’s an idea I quite like, actually.

I think his performances at AFCON have gone a long way toward convincing Nigerians that Joe Aribo has something to him. I’ve never been one to obsess over shirt numbers myself, but for some people, it was apparently a problem before now that he had the n.10 shirt, so his displays in Cameroon will have boosted his stock to no end.

While Aribo is not one to unlock defences in the classic sense of sliding through balls behind, he does carry the ball well, is a good dribbler, and can handle himself in tight spaces. Pushing him up to play behind the striker would be beneficial not just in giving the Super Eagles a player between the lines, but also defensively: it would allow for more stability out of possession.

This was Nigeria’s greatest bane at AFCON, even more so than the basic predictability of their attacking play. Aribo works hard, but aside from the fact he was given licence to roam, he does not have strong defensive instincts in a positional sense, and so when the ball was lost the team suffered.

Frank Onyeka is someone whose talents have yet to be fully explored with the Super Eagles, and he could forge a strong partnership with Wilfred Ndidi and afford Nigeria a much better defensive structure.

Which 3 players do you think should be in the running for POTT at the AFCON 2021? — Uche (@leouzzi on Twitter)

The obvious place to look first of all is the scorers’ chart, atop which Vincent Aboubakar sits. The striker was superb for Cameroon in the Group Stage and has two more matches to equal or surpass the record for the most goals in a single tournament (nine, set by the late great Ndaye Mulamba).

If he does it, it would be hard to argue against him. However, attacking players get too much of the credit already, don’t they? So let us look elsewhere for the other two candidates.

I think Edmond Tapsoba has been superb for Burkina Faso, and should absolutely be in the mix. He missed the Stallions’ opening match and they looked a total rabble, giving away two penalties. His return has brought a sense of composure since, and at times he has looked like a lion tamer, toying with attackers before whipping the ball off them.

So that’s one attacker and one defender. It’s only fair that we do a midfielder next, and I don’t think there have been many better than Andre Zambo Anguissa, who has been a classy ever-present for Cameroon. The Napoli man has been at the heart of the Indomitable Lions strong work in possession and build-up, and would be a deserving Golden Ball winner.

What do you think about the Super Eagles job? Should Eguavoen keep it or should a new man be brought in for the matches against Ghana? — Muyiwa Abifarin

This is a thorny issue, so I will try to explain my stance as clearly as possible.

I think Austin Eguavoen should be allowed to remain in charge for the matches against Ghana. The reason for this is less to do with his competence (of which I am not entirely convinced) and more to do with time and prudence.

As is, there is just over a month to the World Cup playoff. If the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) were to appoint someone new (Jose Peseiro or whoever) to take over, he would not get to train or transmit any ideas to the players until March, when the team reconvenes for a few days before travelling to face Ghana.

What exactly would the point of that be?

Also, say you bring a new person in and the Super Eagles lose to Ghana. Would Nigerians respond well to a coach whose first action in charge is a defeat that damaging? I’d assume they would not. So would the NFF then fire the new coach?

I understand the other side of the argument: it is the World Cup, and Nigeria cannot afford to take any chances by leaving an interim manager in chance.

However, even appointing a new coach now is already taking a chance. There are no guarantees anyway.

What we have to go on is this: Eguavoen won three of four matches at AFCON, and even though his tactical acumen is limited, he was able to get a tune out of these players in a short time. Sure, the opposition was not the strongest – I was one of the few to point this out at the time – but you beat what is in front of you.

Interestingly enough, if the lesson is that Eguavoen will struggle against coherent teams but can beat teams who are not great then, erm… have you seen the state of Ghana lately?

Thank you to everyone who sent in questions for this week’s mailbag!

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