In the report JOHNNY EDWARD x-rays one of the weakest links in the Super Eagles squad lately and what must be done to improve it

The Super Eagles have been caught short of class, guile and quality in the midfield in recent games and the worrying signs are that this may not change any time soon, unless talented midfielders are discovered before the start of the Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast next year.

Never in the history of Nigerian football has the Eagles ever experienced this obvious lack of quality personnel in midfield, which has resulted to lack of creativity in the squad.

In the past, the Eagles boasted of quality talents in midfield like former captains Muda Lawal, Henry Nwosu and Sunday Oliseh; Mutiu Thompson Oliha, Adepoju, Austin Okocha, Mikel Obi, Wilson Oruma and Christian Obodo amongst others.

These players are miles ahead of manager Jose Peseiro’s current crop of midfielders, who have continued to chase shadows in recent games.

Not only did these midfielders make Eagles one of the most formidable teams of their era, they struck fear into the hearts of their opponents. They dictated the pace of the game, outclassed and outplayed opponents with their crisp and visionary passes.

They were also aggressive, full of awareness and were good at exploiting spaces of opposing defence. They also created scoring chances for their strikers to score as well.

Nigerians still fondly recall the understanding between midfielder Oliseh and late striker Rashidi Yekini. Quite often, the former’s pin-point passes found the dangerous striker, who had little to do before converting.

The current squad cannot boast of a midfielder capable of delivering such services on a consistent basis and this has been evident in the results Peseiro’s side has managed to churn out since the Portuguese took charge of the squad May 2022.

Leicester City midfielder, Wilfred Ndidi’s loss of form, as well as the inconsistent duo Alex Iwobi and Joe Aribo in recent times, further dimmed the little spark the midfield struggled to provide, leaving that department to the mercy of opponents to take over and dictate pace of the game.

The team lacks box-to-box midfielders in the mould of Lothar Matthäus, Clarence Seedorf, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Steven Gerrard, Johan Neeskens, Sócrates, Yaya Touré, Park Ji-sung, Patrick Vieira, Frank Lampard, Bryan Robson and Roy Keane, who are hard-working and have all-round abilities, which makes them skilled at both defending and attacking.

Following Ndidi’s injury woes, Peseiro has been unable to get a defensive and holding or deep-lying midfielder who can protect the Eagles goal either by defending a zone in front of the defence or man-marking specific strikers, as well as initiate attacks for his side, with his ball distribution, after gaining possession.

Talented duo Iwobi and Aribo showed glimpses of being able to initiate the Eagles attacks from midfield but their inconsistency of late has been the bane of that department.

The team’s recent AFCON qualifier against Sierra Leone in Monrovia, Liberia — a 3-2 win for the Nigerians — again exposed these weaknesses in Peseiro’s side as the strikers often lacked supply and were at the mercy of the Leone stars defenders.

But for the ingenuity of Napoli striker Victor Osimhen and a last-second Kelechi Iheanacho winner, the fellow West Africans were already celebrating another ‘great’ result against their more illustrious foes, after they had came back from 2-0 down to level 2-2.

Three years ago, they also came from 4-1 down to hold the three-time African champions 4-4 in Benin City in a 2021 AFCON qualifier.

Since taking over, Peseiro has called up seven midfielders — Alex Iwobi, Wilfred Ndidi, Joe Aribo, Oghenekaro Etebo, Raphael Onyedika, Frank Onyeka and Innocent Bonke — all based in Europe.

Bendel Insurance midfield dynamo Divine Nwachukwu made the squad for the game against Sierra Leone.

The numbers in the midfield is static each time the squad list for games are released, making the Eagles look so ordinary and predictable.

Does it mean that there are no other midfielders Peseiro select from?

In the past, the Eagles midfield had at least six competent players, but sadly not the same any longer, making it appear as if there is a dearth of midfielders to help shore up the team’s defence and initiate attacks.

Yusuf, Onyedika, Nwachukwu need a chance

Defender, Semi Ajayi, has been drafted into the holding midfield role as a stop gap measure on several occasions, but the West Brom defender has struggled to adapt in that role.

The only vibrant midfielder the Eagles have at the moment is Iwobi, but a few more competent additions will definitely breathe a fresh life and competition to the Eagles’ midfield.

Also, things could be a lot tighter in the middle if trio Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo and Aribo return to form.

Now is the time to give more opportunities to Alhassan Yusuf, who won the Belgian league title last season with Antwerp, homeboy Nwachukwu and Club Brugge’s Onyedika, who made his debut against Algeria in 2022.

Peseiro must also fast track the acquisition of two French-born U-19 and U-21 internationals of Nigerian decent, Lesley Ugochukwu and Michael Olise.

These ‘middle men’ can bring back that lost spark in the Eagles midfield for the attack to start firing again.

These youngsters possess amazing attributes of enforcing attacks with their breath-taking ingenuity and total awareness.

Eagles will play their final AFCON qualifying game against Sao Tome and Principe in September and with qualification for the tournament already in the bag, now is the time for Peseiro to take risks by giving opportunities to these lads to showcase their class.

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