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Super Eagles: Sadiq’s recent goals and assists underscore his value

10:31 PM IST 02/03/22
Umaru Sadiq of Nigeria and Almeria.
The Almeria frontman still divides opinion among Nigeria supporters who grew weary of the gangly attacker during the Africa Cup of Nations

When Umar Sadiq latched onto the ball and carried it into Fuenlabrada’s defensive third with 13 minutes to play, the away side’s defenders were likely filled with trepidation.

The forward had already set up Almeria’s opener— outmuscling Ruben Pulido near the touchline, outpacing the centre-back as he ran aggressively into the box and then having the quality to pick out Arnau Puigmal with a chipped pass—and netted a brilliant 65th-minute header to send his team back in front after Mohamed Bouldini levelled 30 minutes earlier, showcasing the diverse threat he carries.

While Sadiq was not directly involved in Rojiblancos’ third, his give-and-go opened up the Fuenlabrada backline and he could be credited with a pre-assist.

The involvement in all three goals characterised the frontman whose nature means he not only acts as a goalscorer but also flourishes as a creator. In short, Umar wears the number nine strip for Almeria but is far from an old-fashioned goalscorer.

Now up to 20 contributions this season (13 goals and seven assists), the 25-year-old is five direct involvements away from matching last season’s return for a side seemingly destined for promotion to La Liga.

The influence carried by the Super Eagle has helped Rubi’s team recover from a poor start to 2022 where they lost four of five league games, drawing the other in a five-game winless run.

Interestingly, this coincided with Sadiq’s Africa Cup of Nations participation with Nigeria, a competition in which he made his Super Eagles debut and scored his first goal in the 2-0 group stage win over Guinea-Bissau.

Since returning from Afcon, the striker has been devastating against Ibiza — winning two penalties and scoring one himself, turning Gonzalo Escobar inside out before smashing a finish into the left corner — scored a poacher’s effort in the 1-0 success at Malaga, netted a 20-yard cracker against Mirandes before following that up with a lobbed effort in a 2-1 win.

Throw in last week’s impressive showing in Almeria’s success over Fuenlabrada and the frontman’s multi-faceted profile is demonstrated.

Be that as it may, the majority of Nigerians remain unconvinced.

Perhaps a consequence of a rather hit-and-miss tournament in Cameroon, the assessment of Sadiq has been more lukewarm than excited or enthusiastic.

Criticised for his seeming lethargy, the censure throughout his debut competition with the national team was reactionary at best and devoid of any context.

Afcon 2021 was Umar’s first finals representing Nigeria and was not a starter in three of his four appearances. The different formation — he plays in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 for Almeria — and shackling of his movement all contributed to the frontman’s average Afcon.

Still, it would be short-sighted to jettison a frontman whose completeness outdoes arguably every other striker in the Nigeria side.

Victor Osimhen is the Super Eagles’ top frontman, but the Napoli star lacks the playmaking ability of the languid 25-year-old.

Kelechi Iheanacho is usually used in a dual role for the three-time African champions, yet Sadiq’s dribbling and all-round ability probably matches ‘Seniorman’.

Taiwo Awoniyi is, by and large, a penalty box striker reliant on proper service from teammates and Paul Onuachu, capable of playing as a target man or poacher, lacks the technical quality Umar provides.

There is a feeling the returns of Osimhen and Onuachu, absent in Cameroon, could prompt the exclusion of the Almeria superstar from Augustine Eguavoen’s squad in the double-header against Ghana, an understandable decision but one that is not set in stone as Awoniyi continues to struggle at Union Berlin and Iheanacho has had to settle for cameos with Leicester City.

The potential availability of Odion Ighalo and Emmanuel Dennis probably hurt the ex-Roma attacker's chances on paper, although nothing is known for sure.

Sadiq’s dexterity in the dribble, movement across the attack, playmaking ability and decent-to-good goalscoring mean there are several facets to his game and Nigeria could be beneficiaries of the multidimensional frontman.

The value in having Umar in the squad and harnessing his talent could be colossal but whether Eguavoen recognises this rather than bow to outside pressure remains to be seen.