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 By Colin Udoh

Henry Onyekuru: Hot property in Europe, cold shoulder in Nigeria

Henry Onyekuru, one of Nigeria's top goal-scorers in Europe, was left off the national squad for the May 26 friendly against Corsica.
Henry Onyekuru isn't on Nigeria's squad for next week's friendly against Corsica, despite his being one of the Super Eagles' top scorers in Europe.

In the past couple of months, Nigeria technical adviser Gernot Rohr has named two squads. The first was for two scheduled international friendly matches in London, one of which ended up being cancelled.

The second, named last week, is for another friendly -- May 26 against Corsica -- to allow the coach to cast his eye over some fresh talent, including three domestic-league players.

Since he took over the Nigeria job, Rohr appears to have made a point of selecting players who fit into a certain mould: young, bred/raised/trained and mostly active -- or with potential to be -- at their European clubs.

That makes the exclusion of KAS Eupen striker Henry Onyekuru something of a head scratcher. With 21 goals for the season, the 19-year-old is one of the top scorers in Belgium, and he ticks all of those boxes in the Rohr book.

If his one demerit is that he plays for a relatively lowly club, then perhaps the interest from numerous top sides in major leagues should be a measure of his potential, if not ability.

Scottish giants Celtic saw a bid for him turned down in January; Anderlecht and Club Brugge have also reportedly tabled bids, but none have been entertained so far.

From the English Premier League, there are reports that Liverpool, Everton, Southampton, West Ham and even champions Chelsea are keeping close tabs on Onyekuru's situation.

So far, Eupen have resisted all approaches, but it appears that will change this summer. After the Celtic bid failed in January, Onyekuru was quoted as saying that he has reached an agreement to leave.

"I have made my decision to leave," he said at the time. "I have already agreed with Eupen that I am joining my new club after this season."

That new club is expected to be in England, with reports early this week claiming that talks are progressing with two Premier League sides.

Which is why Rohr's decision to not at least take a look at him during Nigeria's upcoming training camp in France is even more puzzling.

Scratch beneath the surface of the goals and the interest from top European clubs, and Onyekuru already looks a gem of a player.

Able to play as both a winger -- on either flank -- and as a central striker, he has the tools to make it all come together. His goals in Belgium have been as varied as they have been quality, from burning his markers with blazing acceleration, to ghosting past three defenders with magical close control in very tight spaces, to rounding a goalkeeper.

Even when he does not score, Onyekuru shows great strength and balance to stay on the ball against physical opposition.

Once can only surmise that Rohr has not yet got around to looking at him. But his lead forwards are struggling for goals and playing time: Odion Ighalo and Brown Ideye are still trying to settle in over in China; Kelechi Iheanacho has barely made the matchday squad for Manchester City, and Alex Iwobi appears to have lost his place at Arsenal in the closing stages of the season.

Of Rohr's preferred starting forward line, only Chelsea's Victor Moses has been a consistent starter at his club, and he plays as a wing-back.

Onyekuru is one of Nigeria's top two goal scorers in Europe, with the other being Olanrewaju Kayode. There is no reason he should not get at least a chance to show the coaches what he can do in the green and white stripes.

One hopes that Onyekuru will get that opportunity when the squad for the Nations Cup qualifier June 10 against South Africa is made public. He deserves nothing less.

Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.

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