During and after the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2015, not a few Nigerian fans were excited with their no. 10, Kelechi Nwakali, with a handful of them more excited with the prospect of finally finding a replacement for Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha.
His range of passes and ability on set-pieces endeared him to the fans, who thought ‘the new Okocha’ had been born.
Hardly any similarities between the two
However, asides his impressive range of passes, Nwakali and Okocha hardly have any other similarities in terms of style. But then, it wasn’t too much of a surprise.
John Obi Mikel and Rabiu Ibrahim are just two of the players who have been likened to Okocha, having also worn the jersey no. 10 for Nigeria at youth levels at different times.
Of the two, it was Rabiu, who looked closest to being an Okocha-esque kind of player. But just like Nwakali, and with the exception of his passing ability, Mikel never looked an Okocha-type of player.
While it is pertinent to note that the search for Okocha’s ‘heir apparent’ continues (in the minds of the fans, at least, and I still wonder why), it is also pertinent to warn that Nwakali, just like Mikel, is not an Okocha, and will not be.
Both players have their own distinct qualities which makes them unique, but we will focus on the former today.
The imminent question will be: who then does he play like?
Well, the 19-year old is more of a composed and intelligent midfield-controller than a swashbuckling, attack-oriented midfielder.
Although he played in more advanced midfield roles for MVV Maastricht last season, and has continued to do so for VVV Venlo this term, his future lies at the base of midfield.
He has a combination of power, creativity and elegance on the ball, and more often looks to pick out a pass in difficult situations than go for the dribble. These qualities make him a lot more similar to France and Manchester United’s Paul Pogba than Okocha.
Like Pogba, Nwakali’s physical presence and passing accuracy means he can dominate games in ways Okocha couldn’t.
In only 107 minutes of Eredivisie football this season, Nwakali has a pass completion rate of 86%, even higher than Pogba’s 85% in 360 minutes of Premier League football before his injury.
The Nigerian youngster also notches an average 0.75 key passes per game, similar to Pogba’s 1.75, even though the Frenchman has played more minutes.
No Okocha, but may turn out alright
While he may not be exactly what many Nigerian fans had hoped for, Nwakali may turn out even better than anticipated, but in a different way.
Written by Chris Oguguo
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisOguguo
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