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Super Eagles: Should Chukwueze be threatened by Lookman signing?

10:06 PM MYT 22/02/2022
Samuel Chukwueze, Nigeria
The Leicester City wideman will likely join up with Nigeria for the World Cup qualifiers…but whose place will he take?

Nigeria fans are counting down the days until Ademola Lookman can make his long-awaited debut for the Super Eagles in next month’s World Cup qualifying double-header against Ghana.

There are no guarantees, of course, that Lookman will make the team for the Black Stars showdown, but the in-form wideman will surely have some role to play as the West African giants look to qualify for the grandest stage of all.

He’s Nigeria debut has been years in the making, with the NFF courting Lookman for sometime, and no sign of a full England debut on the horizon for a player who had represented the Three Lions at U-21 level.

Since 2019, however, Lookman’s international recognition has dried up with England, and it’s a massive boost for the Eagles that he has finally committed his international future to Nigeria.

Supporters are right to be enthusiastic about Lookman’s arrival on the scene.

The forward, currently getting another shot at the Premier League with Leicester City after previously struggling to make his mark with Everton and during a second spell with RasenBallsport Leipzig, has registered four Prem goals with the Foxes so far this season.

He previously demonstrated his quality during a loan spell in the Bundesliga with Leipzig—having a hand in eight goals in 11 games in 2018—but has struggled to recreate that form in recent years.

Ex-England skipper Alan Shearer, speaking on Premier League Productions, lauded Lookman’s performance in the 2016 champions’ weekend defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers, and his contributions this term.

“Things that Leicester have done well have come from him [Lookman]. He has been involved in all of them,” Shearer began, as per local media. “He’s been a threat from in behind, he’s really caused them, that back three or back five some problems there.

“To go short and then go long and with the conditions that obviously are very difficult, he has made the most of that,” Shearer continued. “He has been a real plus point.”

Lookman certainly has a lot to offer the national side, although it’s worth noting that he joins a stocked area of the squad—with Nigeria blessed with an abundance of widemen.

The Super Eagles already have Moses Simon, Samuel Chukwueze, Samuel Kalu, Henry Onyekuru, Chidera Ejuke, Anayo Iwuala, Ibrahim Sunusi and Ahmed Musa jostling for playing time.

The likes of Emmanuel Dennis, Peter Olayinka and Alex Iwobi can also feature in wide areas, and adding Lookman into the mix aggravates an already stocked area of the roster.

A few months ago, Simon looked to be the most vulnerable.

While Lookman’s versatility makes him useful across the forward line, the prospect of the wideman being stationed on the left flank and able to cut inside—as he did to great effect against Wolves at the weekend—was veritably mouth-watering.

Lookman’s presence in a front three alongside Victor Osimhen, or even on the left side of a 4-2-3-1 formation in tandem with both the Napoli man and Kelechi Iheanacho, could have given Nigeria a cutting edge from wide areas to emulate the impact Karl Toko Ekambi had for Cameroon during the Nations Cup.

However, Simon’s form at the Afcon has thrown this Plan A into doubt.

For a long time, the Nantes man struggled to bring his club form to bear in the international arena, appearing to play within himself during Gernot Rohr’s tenure.

That all changed during the Afcon however, as the wideman was Nigeria’s best player—the most prolific dribbler in the tournament—and registered either a goal or an assist in two of his four outings in Cameroon.

His performance against Egypt in Nigeria’s opener set the tone for their strong group-stage display, and he was arguably the Eagles’ best player against both Sudan and Guinea-Bissau.

There’s no way he can be dropped for the double-header against Ghana, with his form since the Nations Cup—including the winner against Stade de Reims and an assist against Paris Saint-Germain—evidence of a player at the top of his game.

If Lookman is going to start for Nigeria, then it’s surely Chukwueze, who started on Nigeria’s right at the Nations Cup, who’s in greater danger of missing out.

The wideman excelled intermittently in Cameroon—mesmerising against Sudan, anonymous against Tunisia—and a lack of consistency continues to afflict him at club level.

He’s had a hand in four goals in 15 league outings this term, not helped by Unai Emery’s unwillingness to play him from the off, although now that he’s fully back to sharpness after a long injury layoff, he should begin to feature more regularly from the off.

He terrorised Marcelo as Villarreal held Real Madrid 0-0 earlier this month—beating his man on six separate occasions during the course of the contest—and was unfortunate not to have put himself on the scoresheet.

He registered an assist in the victory over Granada at the weekend as Arnaut Danjuma-inspired Villarreal ran out 4-1 winners, but few would be surprised if he’s neutralised effectively or posits another anonymous showing against Juventus on Tuesday evening, such is the wideman’s inconsistent nature.

While Lookman arguably isn’t as effective on the right flank, he’s certainly a rival to Chukwueze’s berth in the team, and the Villarreal man must be acutely aware—if he wasn’t already—that he may well have to up his game to fend off the threat of the Super Eagles’ latest darling.