Who will replace Wilfred Ndidi? That’s the question Nigerians and fans of the Super Eagles woke with as the Leicester midfielder hobbled off worryingly against Rennes.
Reactions trailing Ndidi’s injury concern are a revelation of his importance and how significant his presence is considered.
Ndidi was subbed off against the Ligue 1 campaigners on the hour mark and was replaced by James Maddison. Leicester manager, Brendan Rodgers revealed the nature of his injury afterwards and said it’s a Medial Cruciate Ligament tear, with the extent of the damage yet to be known.
The latest report coming from Leicester has thrown Nigeria in a dicey situation as results of scans are awaited. Ndidi is one of the most pivotal players to the Super Eagles and is expected to bring a lot to the Nigerian midfield, considered the team’s weakest spot at the moment.
Super Eagles coach Austin Eguavoen and the Nigeria Football Federation had released a 25-man squad of regulars and 7 players on standby. Other than Ndidi, there is Frank Onyeka, Oghenekaro Etebo, Joe Aribo, and Akinkunmi Amoo listed as part of the midfield but the latest injury concern has thrown some confusion into the Super Eagles fan base as to the perfect replacement for Ndidi.
Some of the players that may be a replacement for the injured Leicester midfielder are;
On his day, Etebo is a fine midfield enforcer and one of the best Nigeria can parade. However, a long spell on the sidelines has thrown a doubt about his fitness, and readiness for a clash of the importance of the one ahead.
Etebo’s invitation drew criticisms from sections of the Nigerian fan base, considering he’s yet to hit full gear, but Eguavoen revealed that he’s worked with the former Warri Wolves midfielder in the past and knows what he can do.
The Watford player has an undeniable quality and when fit, is as good as they come in a Nigerian jersey but without a lot of games under his belt, it’s not sure he can buckle up for the clashes against Ghana.
Frank “the tank” Onyeka had a stellar first half of the season at Brentford but the second half of the season has come with a brake.
Since his return from the African Cup of Nations where he had an uneventful outing, playing just 14 minutes, Onyeka has struggled to get back to the level he was. He’s also had his fitness concerns but has proven dependable on his day.
Onyeka played in three of Nigeria’s World Cup qualifying games, racking 192 minutes in those, and impressing when called upon. Without Ndidi, he looks the next best option in terms of availability, fitness and consistency. He has played 20 times for Brentford this season in the Premier League and has had 1049 minutes under his belt.
Onazi was a surprise inclusion, even on the standby. Many fans thought they had seen the last of the Al Adalah midfielder’s career with the Super Eagles but were stunned to see his name on the roster.
The former Lazio and Trabzonspor defensive midfielder was a trusted lieutenant on his best days but those have since passed. A nasty injury pegged him back and he in a recent interview with Omasports said Nigeria owes him.
While this is a delicate period to repay a “favour” especially on the basis of the weight of expectations, Onazi’s level is uncertain these days. If Ndidi’s absence is confirmed, he’s the man to call upon as he’s on standby, however, with the coach of the side, Eguavoen also unsure of Onazi’s current level, it becomes even more risky to throw him in the heat.
Hopefully, the coach will pacify himself this time, and not everybody, for the sake of what’s at stake.
In Ndidi’s absence at the previous stage of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Qualifiers, Bonke did a fairly respectable job screening the Super Eagles defence.
His partnership with Kingsley Michael was significant to helping Nigeria defeat Cape Verde away at the World Cup qualifiers.
Since Bonke joined Lorient after beautiful displays in the Swedish league with FF Malmo, he’s been one of the most dependable members of the team. With 6 games and 504 minutes played since January, he’s currently a great fit in terms of match fitness and readiness. Ghana, however pose a challenge probably never experienced before by the midfielder but this is where the men get separated from the boys.
The 21-year old midfielder has been consistent this season and has settled to life in Belgium with ease since he moved from Goteborg to Royal Antwerp.
Playing alongside former AS Roma and Inter Milan midfielder Radja Naingollan has helped Yusuf become a better footballer. Not yet the finished article, and this game may come too soon for him, but in the absence of any credible replacement, he won’t be a bad option.
Fearless and energetic, the midfielder has been mentioned by Eguavoen as the kind of midfielder he wants and this may mean Yusuf will get an early Super Eagles call. Or not.
Onyedika has shone greatly this season in the FC Midjtylland midfield but has so far been ignored by national handlers.
The 20-year old has played 21 times in the Danish Superligaen this season and this crucial fixture against Ghana may be coming too soon for him. Onboarding such young players into the national team needs time and a better atmosphere than the pressure-laden ones expected in Ghana and Nigeria.
Should the coaching crew feel he can do a job regardless, he’s definitely a decent option.
The West Brom defender impressed at the 2021 AFCON in Cameroon, but not as a midfielder. He’s however done some job in the role in the past under Gernot Rohr. What he showed on those occasions left little to remember as he seemed a little too speculative on occasions.
Should the coaching crew be unwilling to scout and extend invitations for backup to newbies, Ajayi may be an option off the pocket and hopefully, if given a chance, he comes to life in the role.
Awaziem had an AFCON to forget, as he failed to register a single minute in four games. His return to Alanyaspor also came with its challenges as he had to wait about a month to taste action again.
Since December, Awaziem has featured for his Turkish Superlig club just twice but that’s not down to his quality. He’s proven to be a dependable player for the Super Eagles and has featured as a right back, centre back and defensive midfielder.
Having played the role on many occasions, he’s another option to look towards, and a place on the standby also makes it easier for drafting.
Shehu missed out on the AFCON due to injury but has been invited back to the squad. Not your most elaborate footballer, or high with technicalities, but he’s shown he can be dependable on big stages and can do a job when trusted.
A hardworking player, Shehu’s versatility has made him a good option to always have in the national team and with the team’s hands tied following Ndidi’s latest problem, it could be considered an easy fix. How much of a viable solution he offers is a different discourse entirely.
Tijani has come into the Red Bull Salzburg team since January and has impressed on occasions. Currently a squad player as he’s had to come from the bench on most occasions, the defensive midfielder’s growth has been steady.
He has had one cap with the Super Eagles under Gernot Rohr and has a future in the team. As backup, the future may come early for Tijani if he’s considered worthy of a place at such a delicate period.
The 2016 Olympics in Rio was a long time ago, but Azubuike still has some wind in his sails. He shone like a million stars at the Olympics but has been shunned for the longest by national team handlers.
He has however proven in the past to be one of the few players whose technical qualities can make a real deal, especially playing from deep but against Ghana, with the stakes, rivalry and importance of the game, it’s a different kettle of fish.
While many are not looking towards the Malatyaspor midfielder’s direction, he could be just one of the many less traveled roads to ply.
There are lots of possibilities expected in the coming days but the most pleasant to fans of the Super Eagles will be the miracle of seeing Ndidi’s injury not being bad as first feared.