Some positions in football have evolved over the last few years, but the role of an attacking midfielder or a creative midfielder has never been more important.
Sometimes they are even called the Central Attacking Midfielder (CAM), but they remain the creative outlet in a team.
Creative or attacking midfielders need a collection of skill sets that include dribbling, eye for a pass, pick teammates runs and score goals although not regularly as a striker.
A team has a higher chance of winning a game even before a ball is kicked if they have a top creative midfielder in their ranks.
For the Super Eagles, however, they’ve struggled to find a proper creative midfielder ever since Austin Jay-Jay Okocha retired in 2006.
The former Bolton star was a magician on the ball, and his absence is still felt till today. Not that there have not been replacements, but they’ve all proved to be incapable of replacing the former PSG star.
The likes of Haruna Lukman and Rabiu Ibrahim had the talents but had a limited time with the national team as they struggled with injuries.
For the past three years, Alex Iwobi, who is the nephew of Jay-Jay, has played in the role, but the Everton man has shown he’s not the man to fill the void left by his uncle.
The Everton man has made 40 appearances for Nigeria since he made his debut in a 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against DR Congo.
But in those 40 appearances, Iwobi has just seven goals and has provided three assists. While it is sometimes harsh to use stats alone to judge a player’s performance (Iniesta for example), Iwobi does not exact authority or influence in games.
For an attacking midfielder, it’s important to have that fear factor, but Iwobi lacks that, and he is just like another player in the team.
With Iwobi struggling to convince he’s the attacking midfielder Nigeria has been longing for, then what are the solutions available to Gernot Rohr?
Throughout Rohr’s time, most of Super Eagles goals have come from wing play, crosses and counter-attacks. But there are times where you’ll need a midfield genius to bail you out, and the Super Eagles do not have that.
Recently there have been shouts of Ovie Ejaria as the solution after the Reading midfielder switched his international allegiance to Nigeria.
However, it’s important to note that Ejaria is more a central midfielder than an attacking midfielder. Although his talents are undeniable, he still lacks some of the qualities of an attacking midfielder.
Nonetheless, he could still be the solution to the Super Eagles creativity problems, albeit not in the No. 10 role.
The 22-year-old may not have the ability to pick out his teammates with a pass, but he’s good on the ball, and that could be a huge asset.
Similar to Yaya Toure in style, Ejaria’s ability to move the ball swiftly draws opposition defences out and that free up spaces for his teammates.
Not only is he able to move the ball easily, but Ejaria’s is also able to get past opponents easily. According to sofascore, the former Rangers star has a 65% success dribbling rate this season, averaging 3.2 dribbles per game.
Ejaria does not score too much, but he makes up for it by setting up his teammates in scoring positions.
According to whoscored, the 22-year-old makes at least one key pass per game and has created six big chances this season, which is not bad for a player still developing his game.
Also, another area where Ejaria stands out is his ability to protect the ball even when he’s under pressure. This will definitely be needed in the middle of the park rather than further up the pitch.
Ejaria is not the only player who has also been touted as a perfect No 10 for the Super Eagles. Joe Aribo’s name has also been suggested, but it makes sense to play the Rangers star as a central midfielder.
While Both Ejaria and Aribo may not be the perfect solution, there’s one man that could solve Nigeria’s attacking problems, and that’s Ebere Eze.
The QPR star has been described as the next Jay-Jay by Pinnick- although that’s reaching. But judging by his performances this season, he will be an excellent attacking midfielder for the Super Eagles.
However, the problem with Eze is that he is also eligible to play for England having represented them at youth level.
Although the NFF are making efforts to convince him to switch to Nigeria, it could be a long wait, and Rohr may still have to rely on Ejaria for now.