Jamilu Collins brings balance to Super Eagles
When Ifeanyi Udeze burst onto the scene as a strapping young pretender to Celestine Babayaro's throne, it was immediately clear to all that the future of the Nigerian left-back position would be secure for a fair few years.
And Udeze, true to form, went on to perform admirably behind -- and sometimes in tandem -- with Babayaro, before assuming the position when the former Chelsea man dropped out of the international reckoning.
Were it not for a succession of injuries, Udeze would have been around much longer than his five years and 35 caps as a senior international.
Jamilu Collins did not quite turn heads in much the same way in his first start and full game on Saturday against Libya. What he did show, however, was that there was the potential to be something more than just a trialist.
"I was very happy with him," Rohr told KweséESPN after the game. "He did well and we are happy to have him."
Multiple team sources confirmed to KweséESPN that Collins was just what the doctor ordered, though it did not start quite so well.
He looked nervous early on, gave the away the ball, and could not get the measure of his man. But as the game wore on, so his confidence grew. As his timing improved, so did his coverage.
By the end of the first half, he had settled in so nicely that he was not only playing combination passes, but latched onto a visionary pass from Alex Iwobi, raced into the Libyan box, and chipped the goalkeeper. Only the woodwork stopped what looked an almost certain goal.
Udeze tells KweséESPN that he was impressed by this latest successor to his number 3 jersey.
"He is good, but we still need to watch him play more games," Udeze said. "I like his recovery and he knows how to cover from the left side. But he needs to get himself involved more during the game."
With Elderson Echiejile back at Monaco but essentially clubless, Collins is now the only natural left-footed left-back available to Gernot Rohr.
As a matter of fact, he is one of only three natural left-footers in the squad; the other two being Kelechi Iheanacho and John Ogu. Rohr's other options in the position are inverted players, Bryan Idowu and Ola Aina.
This lack of natural left-footers has left the Super Eagles somewhat unbalanced, with wide players always looking to pinch in rather than do what Collins did on Saturday, which was provide the dual threat of driving in and attacking the fullback on their outside, while keeping open the threat of a cross.
Of course, one game is not enough to make a judgement. Kingsley Madu impressed on his debut in the same position under the late Stephen Keshi, but dropped off the radar after Keshi was replaced.
Collins has the advantage of a coach who not only believes in his ability, but who also appears willing to trust him to grow into the role alongside Idowu, and to some extent, Aina.
That competition should be of immense benefit to all three players. But more importantly, if Collins does reach the potential that Rohr appears to envisage for him, he could well be a long-term solution to the Super Eagles left-back issues.