Krylia Sovetov
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Uzoho and the search for Nigerian talent

There is nothing Nigerian football fans love more than a shiny, new prodigy.

Show them a player in Europe, or anywhere else in the world, whose name sounds remotely Nigerian and an immediate battle cry goes up to have said player called up to the national team.

Whether that player is a foreign-born national with dual citizenship, or just another Nigerian who left the country unheralded and worked his way up to the top of a club, it matters little.

If that player happens to have had one or two good showings for his club, then the shrieks get even louder. And heaven help the coach if he so much as scores a goal. Welcome the next great saviour of the Super Eagles.

Nigeria have called up players from the diaspora from as far back as the days of Tunji Banjo in the 80s, through Efan Ekoku and Reuben Agboola in the 90s, then Abbey George in the early 2000s, and currently the likes of Victor Moses, Leon Balogun, Alex Iwobi, and William Troost-Ekong in the current squad.

Many of these players have excelled in the green and white strip, but the real legends of Nigerian football have been the homegrown variety: Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu, Stephen Keshi, Austin Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Vincent Enyeama.

But in the last few years, and especially under the leadership of Amaju Pinnick, the NFF have developed an aggressive policy of scouting foreign-born talent and conscripting them into the Super Eagles.

Iwobi, Troost-Ekong, and Ola Aina were the initial recruits. And despite the player's denials, Pinnick claims to have spoken to Swansea's Tammy Abraham.

Then there are the players who have left home as unknowns, and earned their big breaks and became Super Eagles mainstays. Counted among that list are Obafemi Martins (at one point it was believed he was from Cameroon) and Emmanuel Emenike.

All of these recruits have all been outfield players. For the first time, there is a chance to get a goalkeeper who ticks those boxes, and at a time when the Super Eagles goalkeeping position has become the most uncertain in the squad.

Deportivo's Francis Uzoho falls into the category of players born and raised in Nigeria who went off to Europe without fanfare. But after a whirlwind 10 months, he could be on the verge of making the World Cup team.

In December 2016, fresh off graduating from the Aspire Academy in Qatar, Uzoho was a trialist at Deportivo. He signed for the club in January 2017, and by October had become first team goalkeeper by a combination of extraordinarily fortuitous circumstances.

The team's first choice keeper was injured in preseason, then the second keeper found himself sidelined, and the 18-year-old stepped in and took his chance. Now, he could well make his international debut by November after being called up by Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr to face Algeria and Argentina.

However, this rapid progression could be good and bad in equal measure. It takes more than three club games to make an international player. The baking process includes errors, poor decisions, avoidable mistakes and even a blooper or two. Chidozie Awaziem learnt the hard way, as have others before him.

The same fans celebrating his call up now will not hesitate to lay into him if he has a bad game. Thankfully, in the event that he gets a chance to make an appearance, any potential error will have no real consequences, and so the blowback will be muted.

The big takeaway here should be that Uzoho may have been called up to the squad, but he may not be ready for the World Cup. If he is, that would be a bonus. For now, fans will be happy that the scouts have unearthed a quality talent at a position that is proving to be an Achilles heel.


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