Connect in the back of the net

Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho readily comes to mind when the next generation of Nigerian stars are mentioned or thought of.

Both players, over the last two seasons or so, have shown enough to encourage the Nigerian fans to believe the future remains bright, even as they continue to prove themselves in the present.

But one player who rarely gets mentioned when the new generation of stars are talked about is Ola Aina, on loan at Hull City from Chelsea. Maybe it has to do with the fact he has only recently completed his switch of allegiance to Nigeria from England, and only made his debut in the 1-0 win over Zambia earlier this month.

 

What is there to expect from him?

Aina was an 80th minute replacement for Elderson Echiejile in that match, and despite playing for just over 10 minutes, the 21-year old showed enough composure to give assurances of his quality. But what is there to expect from him, really?

His biggest asset yet has to be his versatility.

Not too many fullbacks in world football can seamlessly and effectively play across both flanks, and while being naturally right-footed, Aina can comfortably play at left back, which he did when he replaced Elderson this month in Uyo, in that World Cup qualifier.

At first glance, and when his team is in possession and trying to play the forward pass, what you notice is his bursting run forward. But he is not just about making that forward run, he offers a very solid defensive cover for his teams.

This season, he has averaged 1.67 successful tackles per game, equal to Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta. He has also averaged 2.17 successful interceptions per game, more than Azpilicueta’s 1.22 this term, although he has played three more league games than the Spaniard.

These days, Azpilicueta plays at the right of a back three for Chelsea, but he was signed as a full back by the Blues, and played there (predominantly as a left back, despite being right-footed and a natural right back) up until last season, when Antonio Conte switched to a 3-4-3 formation.

 

Why he should be compared to the Chelsea star

But it is clear to see that just like Aina, Azpilicueta’s versatility stands him out amongst the Chelsea defenders.

And often, fans would love to compare prodigies with a former player who excelled in the same position.

So when Aina starts getting regular games for the Super Eagles, it would not be surprising to see him compared to the likes of Austin Eguavoen or Ben Iroha or Celestine Babayaro (depending on the flank he plays more often), but the truth is, he would need not look that far to find his inspiration. He would only need a trip back to Chelsea’s Cobham training ground to see his inspiration in Azpilicueta.

 

Written by Chris Oguguo

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisOguguo

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