With just a quarter of an hour left to play at the KCOM Stadium on Saturday, both Hull City and Queens Park Rangers were locked at a goal apiece and it appeared as though the two sets of players were pleased to see the spoils shared. But one Nigerian-born lad had other ideas.
It had been an eventful afternoon up till that point as Jarrod Bowen’s well-taken opener for the hosts had been cancelled just before half time by a Ryan Manning beauty struck from just inside the box.
From there, the away side seized the initiative and completely dominated the second period but Hull remained resolute and it increasingly became apparent that it would take something special, magical, to unlock the home side’s stubbornly determined defence. There was however a magician in the Rangers’ ranks.
QPR’s Ebere Eze had been lively all afternoon but in the 77th minute, he became too hot to handle. After twisting and turning his way past a couple of challenges, the England youth international was tripped inside the box by Eric Lichaj and the referee duly pointed to the spot. The forward picked himself up, dusted his shorts and calmly sent the Hull goalie the wrong way to give the away side the lead for the first time in the tie.
But Eze was not yet done. And ten minutes later, he had repeated the same trick: outsmarting another Hull defender, Kevin Smart, drawing a foul and winning another penalty. One more time, Eze confidently converted the spot-kick to extend QPR’s lead and that second goal became even more crucial as Josh Magennis pulled one back for Hull in the closing stages.
— James Allcott (@jamesallcott) October 22, 2019
However, QPR had done just enough to claim a 3-2 away win, all three points, an impressive six wins in eight Sky Bet Championship matches and a fifth place ranking on the league table, no small thanks to their young, budding talented Anglo Nigerian.
It is worrying though, that while the entire country of the Queen is turning up and taking notice of the raw talents of this highly-rated youngster, the Nigeria Football Federation appear unaware of anyone named Ebere Eze.
In the period since the 2019 AFCON came to a glorious end in Egypt, the Super Eagles have played two international friendly matches – one against Ukraine, the other versus Brazil – and the team’s coach Gernot Rohr has extended first-time invitations to a bunch of new players some of whom had just one brilliant showing in a week or two prior to the squad unveiling, the kind of displays that Eze exhibits on a weekly basis.
What then does this lad need do to earn a call up to the Super Eagles?
He has been the best player in the Championship this season, according to Whoscored.com who gave him an average rating of 7.64 – better than any other player out there. With Eze currently being scouted by a number of Premier League sides, it is only a matter of time before the 21-year-old turn up in England’s top flight.
Since Ebere Eze banged in the winner at Stoke City in the season opener in August, he has been unstoppable, scoring a total of six goals and providing two further assists in just 12 league appearances, all from an attacking midfield role.
Goals don’t just fully define Eze, mind you, as his dribbling skills, quick thinking and beautiful football brain – ignoring momentarily his stamina and incredible strength – make him the creative hub of a QPR side that is the league’s best attacking force after Preston and leaders West Brom.
Ebere Eze might just be the long term answer to a nagging problem evident in the Nigeria national football team since Austin Okocha retired. While the Super Eagles have at different times sought the solution in the likes of Nnamdi Oduamadi, Sunday Mba, Mikel Obi and presently Alex Iwobi, none has truly convinced.
Okocha left behind boots the size Goliath would find too big to lace. A dribbling wizard of immortal proportions, only Jay Jay could do what Austin Okocha could do. Better than that, he could provide beautiful assists and score great goals, such that even the great Ronaldinho confessed that Okocha was his idol.
While it may be near impossible to find another like for like player to replace that legend, it is imperative that the Super Eagles number 10 jersey should only be worn by footballers of better-than-ordinary talents. Ebere Eze fits that bill perfectly.
Iwobi certainly has the potential to grow into the role, it is however not healthy for a country so blessed with talents like Nigeria to retain only the Everton star for that attacking midfield role. And whenever the former Arsenal forward has one of his numerous off days, it is usually an eyesore watching Gernot Rohr look helpless on the sidelines, scared to substitute the tiring player with others who are defensively inclined.
Ebere Eze can be the antidote to that debilitating fear. His skill set can see him play anywhere across the front three attacking positions, which could see him also complement Iwobi instead of replacing him.
There is a snag, though.
The 21-year-old has already played for the England national under-20 team, having made his debut in a 2–1 win against Italy in the Under 20 Elite League. And with England’s manager Gareth Southgate presently in a pretty mood of snapping up talented Nigeria-born youngsters – remember Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham – it might be just a matter of time before Ebere Eze is called to join the Three Lions.
There is good news, however.
Eze loves and identifies with his fatherland dearly. The youngster once joined up with Alex Iwobi and co to train with the Nigeria national team and was pleased to see Joe Aribo score for the Super Eagles against Brazil.
Proud ❤️❤️ https://t.co/lkJwmDUbBN
— Ebere (@EbereEze10) October 14, 2019
If the country’s top football administrators can show genuine interest and sincerity of purpose, Eze will likely commit to Nigeria.
And with the Super Eagles goalkeeping problems gradually easing; the defence sorting its issues bit by bit thanks to the return of Semi Ajayi; Joe Aribo proving to be a classy addition to the midfield; and Chukwueze developing beautifully side by side with Osimhen; then Ebere Eze may just be the final missing puzzle in the birthing of this glorious Golden Generation.