When Odion Ighalo tapped home a Jamilu Collins cross that the Tunisian defence should’ve dealt with, no one expected it would be his final game as a Nigerian international.
The former Watford striker announced his international retirement after finishing top scorer with five goals to help Nigeria finish third at the 2019 Africa Cup Nations.
Ighalo’s final act was scoring the winning goal against Tunisia in the third-place match. Following the encounter, he called time on his Super Eagles career.
The announcement surprised many Nigerian fans, but more importantly, it raised doubts about whether the team would be able to cope with his absence as the team had to rely on him for goals at the tournament.
But while Ighalo announced his retirement, a young Victor Osimhen was getting ready to fill his void. The Napoli striker played 45 minutes of the encounter against Tunisia in what was just his second appearance for the Super Eagles.
He showed a glimpse of what to expect in that game, and a few months later, he established himself fully to calm Nigerians fears over Ighalo’s exit.
Osimhen has been a more than able replacement, and Nigerians have moved on from Ighalo. However, more than two years after Ighalo retired, Super Eagles manager Gernot Rohr revealed that the ex-Man Utd could be handed a recall to the team.
When asked why he wants Ighalo back, Rohr told Elegbete TV: “The answer is simple. The answer is when you look at the age of all the players that you speak about, they are all young, and also we need experience.
Rohr’s latest comment about Ighalo is the latest in a series of recently questionable decisions from the German tactician.
In a season that Nigerian strikers have stood out at their respective clubs, Ighalo’s potential recall raises a question on Rohr’s thought process.
Paul Onuachu, Sadiq Umar, Kelechi Iheanacho, Terem Moffi, and Simy Nwankwo are all having a brilliant campaign at their respective, yet Rohr is considering adding Ighalo’s name to the list.
And if Rohr is considering handing anyone a recall, it should be Simy and not Ighalo. Both Onuachu and Iheanacho are part of the Super Eagles squad, while Umar and Moffi were invited last time out, although they could not honour the invitation due to covid-19 restrictions.
However, Simy is yet to get a look from Rohr despite the record-breaking season he’s having in the Italian top-flight.
The 28-year-old has 19 goals in the Italian Serie A this season- the third-highest in the league after Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku.
What makes it more impressive is that Simy’s goals have come for the league basement side Crotone. In fact, he has scored more goals than Crotone have points (18) in the league this season.
The former Gil Vicente also became the highest-scoring Nigerian in the Serie A, beating Obafemi Martins record of 28 goals.
He’s also the Nigerian player to have scored the most number of goals in a single campaign in Europe’s top five leagues.
Still, this is not enough to convince Rohr to recall the 28-year-old over Ighalo. It even appears Rohr has shut the door on a potential return for Simy.
“You know that I invited Simy already for the last World Cup, and he was with us in Russia, and he came in sometimes,” Rohr told Eegbete TV.
“Now we have so many strikers, unfortunately, we cannot play with five centre forwards, when you see the centre forwards we have already the competition is so big that it’s not easy for anybody to come in our team.
This was Rohr’s statement when asked about a potential return for Simy, which is contradicting with what he said about Ighalo.
Simy was part of the Nigerian squad that went to the 2018 World Cup, but he never got a chance to prove himself as he had just three minutes of action in two games.
And if there’s anything Rohr has shown since he arrived, it’s that he rarely hands out second chances. Onuachu, who is equally having a fantastic season with Genk, was once on the receiving end of Rohr’s snub.
Still, it’s ridiculous that the third-highest goalscorer in one of Europe’s top five leagues is not in consideration for a potential return, but a player in the twilight of his career in the middle-east could make a return.
To be clear, Ighalo won’t be the first player to make a return to international football after retirement. But those who’ve done it have earned it.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently returned to the Sweden national team recently, but the 39-year-old is still performing at the top level with AC Milan.
In contrast, Ighalo is currently at Al-Shabbab in the Saudi Arabian Professional League after leaving Manchester United in January, and that raises the question of why Rohr would consider having him over players that are having an impressive season in Europe’s top leagues.
One point Rohr raised is that the current crop of Nigeria’s attack is still young, and Ighalo’s experience could help them.
Although he may be right, these players have already gained enough experience at their club sides while they are not as young as Rohr says they are.
Iheanacho is currently playing with one of the best strikers in Premier League history in Jamie Vardy. The 24-year-old has been playing top-level football for over six years right now, which is more than enough experience.
Onuachu turns 27 in May, while Osimhen is currently playing with Napoli after a season with Lille in the French Ligue 1.
Also, it’s baffling that Rohr previously stated he would not invite new players ahead of the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign, but Ighalo, who last played for the team two years ago, could make a return.
Ighalo was an excellent player for Nigeria, but the team has moved on, and there are players more deserving of a place in the squad,
Rohr needs to stop flirting with the idea of handing the former Manchester United player a call-up. If any player deserves another stint with the Super Eagles, it has to be Simy.