It is not rare to hear coaches mention something along the lines of having “a rather desirable selection headache. Although the football business is never short on competitions, at times you find yourself having to choose between players vying for a place in same position. Although some coaches prefer to work with limited squad depth, others, like Manu Garba (who will have a plethora of attacking options) might want multiple options on the substitution bench even though he can only name seven at a time.
Regardless of the squad depth, Manu Garba is one who sticks strictly with his starting line-up, particularly in attack, which begs the question of who to lead the attack line when the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand kicks off . Should it be Isaac Success, Taiwo Awoniyi, the less fancied Chidera Eze, or Christian Pyagbara (who has been largely anonymous since his invitation)?
What could have been…
Isaac Success was the undisputed No. 9 and consistently delivered the goods with 9 goals in 7 games (excluding qualifiers) until the unfortunate injury that kept him out for the remainder of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Isaac wasn’t part of the triumphant AYC earlier in the year, because his club, Granada FC of Spain, denied him a chance to partake in the tournament. While his stats haven’t been blistering in the past months, he has developed other parts of his game so well.
What could be….
It is an age-long saying that time and chance favour the prepared. In fact, when this happens, most often than not, it is ignorantly or arrogantly mistaken for luck. But how “lucky” can a striker be to have moved from being a second choice at the U-17 to becoming the All-Africa Games ticket earner for the U-23 in the dreaded Lusaka?
Awoniyi’s numbers are decent, his work-rate and understanding of any midfileder to be fielded behind him is exceptional as a result of the time spent together on and off the pitch. Manu Garba may yet trust him to lead the attack and its easy to see why; Samson Siasia believed so much in him and thrusted him into his starting line-up, the result? Two goals that got Nigeria an All Africa Games ticket in his first ever appearance for the U-23.
The unlikely move….
With so much option in attack, Manu Garba may consider playing two of his strikers at the same time, but it remains very unlikely. I reckon Manu will not risk having less midfielders on the field in favour of playing two strikers upfront. With the imminent return of Kelechi Iheanacho, the U-20 has a “second striker”. Don’t mistake him for one, but you will be forgiven for thinking a boy who has scored over 25 goals (including qualifiers and friendly matches) and made 10+ assists is a striker!
Now let’s say, Manu Garba will adopt a 2-man central midfield (which I believe is very unlikely), or he tweaks his formation to accommodate one more striker then Chidera Ezeh, One of the success stories of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) catch-them-young policy. Former star striker of the U-13 and U-15 National Teams, he will fit perfectly. And should Manu opt for Christian Pyagbara, one whose 14 goals in the NPFL last season – enough to win him NPFL Top scorer in 5 of the last 13 years – earned him another invitation to the U-20 camp, then you have another option.
The dilemma is one Manu Garba, just like every other football manager craves, and frankly any of these boys can confidently lead the line. But it is difficult to see any name other than Taiwo Awoniyi leading the line. The option of a 3- man forward only appeals if it means two of Musa Yahaya, Moses Simon and Bernard Bulbwa play from the flanks. That way, we’re back to where we started: only one of these four strikers will start in his preferred role.
By Tolu Olorunmoteni