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AFCON 2021: Nigeria finally finds a ‘Jay Jay Okocha’

As the Super Eagles begin their quest for a 4th Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title, a former Golden Eaglets’ scouting coach, Bunmi Haruna, weighs…

As the Super Eagles begin their quest for a 4th Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title, a former Golden Eaglets’ scouting coach, Bunmi Haruna, weighs in on whether Nigeria will ever find a replacement for their legendry midfielder, Austin Jay Jay Okocha.

20 years after Nigeria still searching?

Jay Jay Okocha is widely regarded as one of the best midfielders to ever play for the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

While there have been several players who have played in this unique role for the Eagles, Okocha stands out for his unique ability to entertain and create for his teams.

Since he retired from international football 20 years ago, several players have tried to fill the void he left behind with little or no success. They include John Obi Mikel, Rabiu Ibrahim, Nosa Igiebor, and so on.

Haruna, who is a CAF B licensed coach, thinks Nigeria may have found a replacement.

JayJay Okocha

“For Nigerians, the simple yardstick for measuring a good number 10 remains Jay Jay Okocha.

“But football has evolved, the days where the creativity of a team solely or largely depends on one magician is fast becoming a thing of the past because teams now know how to limit the influence of the magicians.

“For the number 10s to be effective they most times need time and space on the ball.

“But the modern game is now being played at a faster pace, with time and space largely limited. This explains why the position is gradually being phased out in the modern game,” the CAF B coach added.

“These days, most players with this sort of quality are now mostly deployed as defensive midfielders.

“They now play in this new role to help their teams play out from the back comfortably, playing largely in their own half of the pitch, where they can enjoy relative time and space on the ball.”

Haruna, who was part of the Golden Eaglets’ crew which won the WAFU 17 championship in 2018, added that it is not enough for the number 10s to provide assists, they also need to score goals.

“The modern number 10 apart from being creative is also expected to weigh in with a considerable number of goals.

“Nowadays, it is not enough to give the assists, you are also expected to be in a position where you could be assisted.


Nigeria’s Kevin De Bruyne

“A look at the current set of Super Eagles players will show you that Joe Aribo fits that description of a modern-day number 10.

He plays simple during build-ups but knows when to commit opposing players when in the opponent’s vital area.

“He has the athleticism of an African, armed with football basic tutorials from Europe.

“He shares a similar playing style with Kevin De Bruyne. Just like the Belgian, he can come in from the wings, behind the strikers or as a creative deep-lying midfielder.

“Though the latter is of better quality due to some essentials he has added to his game (For example, Kelvin is a dead ball specialist while Aribo is not) but the Manchester City star is a perfect example of what Aribo should aspire to be like.

“Aribo has scored six goals and provided three assists for Rangers in 13 league games this season. Though in several positions, has excelled mostly when tucked in the side of a combative defensive midfielder, mostly Adjei Kamara at Rangers.

Aribo fits perfectly into Eguavoen’s playing style.

“Coach Augustine Aguavoen is known to like playing two defensive midfielders in his lineups. While this is a very good way to play, it is important that he realizes that one of those midfielders needs to be given the freedom to join in offensive play.

“This was how Okocha played alongside Sunday Oliseh back in the day and another good example is the combination of Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi at Leicester City.

“If this is not achieved, the Eagles will likely dominate possession in their own half while they will be outnumbered in the offensive half, depending on the formation played.


What he needs to add

“Aribo needs to be given more responsibilities or better put this way; he needs to be more responsible for the team by taking the bull by the horn when the team needs something extra.

“Those quick trackbacks, extra yards covered, unselfish passes, ability to organize the team, communication, winning free-kicks in opponents vital area will be vital.

“He however needs to improve his quality to score from free-kicks, Haruna advised.

“He is in direct competition with fan favourite Kelechi Nwakali, Alex Iwobi and Frank Onyeka for a chance to star beside first choice Eagles defensive midfielder Wilfred Indidi,” Haruna concluded.

Do you think Aribo should start the Super Eagles games at AFCON ahead of Kelechi Nwakali, Alex Iwobi and Frank Onyeka?

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