In 2018, Super Eagles manager Gernot Rohr caused controversy when he named a certain Crotone striker in his 23-man squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The German tactician’s decision raised questions as the Crotone striker had not even played a part in the qualifiers and was only invited for the build-up games to the tournament.
However, three years later, the striker has shown his quality, even though he has not played for the Super Eagles since the 2018 World Cup.
The name is Simeon Nwankwo. The 28-year-old is having a season to remember in the Italian top-flight. Paul Onuachu is the Nigerian striker in Europe getting all the headlines this season, but Simy, as he is fondly called, has also been silently doing his thing in the Italian Serie A.
It has been quite a journey for the man who has spent almost his entire career in Europe. Like most Nigerian players that play abroad, Simy never played in the domestic league before travelling.
The closest thing he had to local football was with the GUO team- where he started his career. GUO is a team owned by the popular transport company- GUO Motors.
After his time with the GUO team, he moved to Europe in 2011. His first stop was with Portuguese club Portimonense.
The 28-year-old arrived in Portugal as Simeon Nwankwo, but he got the name Simy due to his manager’s difficulty in pronouncing his middle name (Tochukwu).
“My manager who took me to Portugal had difficulty pronouncing my middle name Tochukwu, so he just called me Simy, and it has been like that since,” Nwankwo told ESPN.
Simy, who was compared to former Super Eagles striker Kanu Nwankwo, started with Portimonense U-19 before moving to the first team the same year.
The Super Eagles star had a decent spell in his first two years with the Alvinegros, scoring 19 times in 69 games, with 13 coming under Angola manager Lázaro Oliveira.
He left Portimonense in 2013 to join another Portuguese club Gil Vicente. Simy’s time with the Roosters was decent, scoring 31 times and registering eight assists in 106 games.
Although he failed to score in his first 15 games for the club, the Super Eagles attacker revealed it was a learning period for him.
“That is the only season I didn’t score a single goal, but I can say with all honesty that it was one of my most important years,” he told ESPN in 2018
“Going through that experience of not playing much, scoring zero goals, I learnt a lot about myself. It taught me so much, especially about my mental strength, and I think that is what prepared me for the latter years.
“Now I can control my emotions and be strong even when things aren’t going so well,” he continued. “That year was very important to me.”
It was a lesson well learnt as it helped him at his next club. Simy spent three years at Gil Vicente before returning to Portimonense on a free transfer in 2016.
However, he was immediately sold to Crotone, where he eventually caught the eye of many fans. Simy was in his fifth year in Europe by the time he arrived in Italy.
The move was a big transition as he’s joining a team in one of Europe’s top five leagues, and it showed in his first season.
Simy struggled to settle in quickly at Crotone and was used mainly as a substitute. The Nigerian international made 21 appearances in his first season, but he only played 90 minutes on two occasions while he was in the starting lineup for just two games.
It affected his return in front of goal, scoring just four times in all competitions. The experience, however, helped him in his second season, scoring seven times and providing one assist in 23 league games.
Simy started just 11 games in his second season with Crotone, making his seven goals return more impressive.
Unfortunately, his goals could not save The Pythagoreans from relegation, but his performance caught Rohr’s eye, who surprisingly included him in the Super Eagles squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
He only had three minutes of playing time in two games at the World Cup, but his profile increased. Simy’s first campaign in the Serie B was his third season in Italy, and by this time, he has had enough experience.
The lanky striker scored 14 times and registered five assists in 33 league games, although it was not enough to secure an immediate return for Crotone.
But the next campaign (2019/2020) saw the best of Simy. The 28-year-old finished top of the scoring charts with 20 goals and three assists in 37 league games to help Crotone secure a return to the top-flight.
The Nigerian might not have done a lot in the team’s buildup play, but he showed his qualities as a proper gunman last season.
Nonetheless, despite his exploits last season, not many expected Simy to replicate the form on his return to the top-flight with Crotone this campaign. However, he has over exceeded expectations, even though it has not reflected in Crotone’s performances.
Although he scored 20 goals last season, it still does not measure up to what he is doing this season. The Nigerian has scored 16 times in the top-flight this campaign, and he’s averaging 0.65 goals per 90 minutes.
This is an impressive return for a striker playing for a team that sits bottom of the table and has just four wins all season.
He has been able to seal his status at the club as he is now the team’s all-time top scorer with 62 goals in 151 games.
Among some of the teams that have been on the receiving end of Simy’s strikes this season is Napoli (2), Juventus (1), Lazio (2), Torino (2), Atalanta (1), which shows he’s not a flat-track bully.
His style may not be the most attractive, a view his manager shares. But he is clinical in the box and has missed just six big chances this season.
In contrast, Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku, who are the top scorers in the Serie A this season, have missed 15 and 23 big chances respectively.
The Nigerian was more clinical than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues last month, scoring eight goals in five games.
His latest strike against Spezia last weekend means he’s now just two goals from breaking Yakubu Aiyegbeni’s record as the Nigerian with most goals in a single campaign in Europe’s top five leagues in this millennium.
While his goals may not prevent Crotone from relegations, it has not gone unnoticed, and he is attracting interest from several clubs.
Although he has played in the Serie B before with the team, it’s unlikely he would do the same this time. Genoa are one of the teams reportedly interested in his services while he could be an option for AS Roma, who could be looking for a new target man should Edin Dzeko leave this summer.
He is also knocking on a potential Super Eagles return, although Rohr has stated he would not be inviting new players for Nigeria’s World Cup qualifying campaign. But it may be difficult to leave out a man that is one of the top scorers in Europe’s top five leagues this season.
Simy arrived as an unknown youngster in Europe, but he’s grown from that to a man who has etched his name in the history books of one of Europe’s biggest leagues.