INSIDE AFCON 2019: Etebo Reveals His Most Prefered Position on the Pitch

Despite being constantly deployed in the deep-lying midfield role for the Super Eagles, Stoke City midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo says his best position is just behind the striker as a number 10.

The Super Eagles have lacked a true successor to the legendary Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha with a coterie of players flattering to deceive in that role.

Eagles captain John Mikel Obi who had seemed destined for that role, metamorphosed into an outstanding holding midfielder stemming from his time at English club Chelsea and has often seemed an ill-fitting number 10 for the national team with his lack of pace and trickery.

Many fans view 23-year old Etebo as a more natural fit for the role and although, he has played for the most part in defensive midfield under Eagles coach Gernot Rohr, the former Warri Wolves attacking midfielder who is currently with the Super Eagles in Egypt for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations says he’s naturally more suited to playing further upfield.

“My best position is number 10 because when I was growing, I started playing as a number 10, as a second striker,” Etebo told in an exclusive interview at the Helnan Palestine Hotel base of the Super Eagles in Alexandria.

But as is wont in football, emergency situations arise and players are often drafted in as stop-gap measures only to find themselves permanently ensconced in those roles and for Etebo his dalliance with the deep-lying role started with him filling in for injured teammates whilst at Las Palmas in 2018 and carried over when he later moved to Stoke City last summer.

“I can recall vividly that it was when I went to Las Palmas because then we had two number 6s (defensive midfielders) and they were injured,” Etebo said, recalling his first time in the defensive midfield role.

“It was like two months and some weeks to the end of the season and they couldn’t play until the end of the season because the injury was really critical. So, I was the only option with them, so the gaffer said ‘OK, Etebo you need to play the number 6 position because we don’t have anyone’.

“So, I played almost like six games or so till the end of the season in that position. And so, when I went to Stoke it was the same although sometimes we did play under the gaffer (Gary Rowett) came, we played 4-3-3, sometimes we played two holding midfielders and then one in front or sometimes we played one and two in front but depending on the opponents and what strategy they are going to employ.”

It is a measure of Etebo’s talent that he has excelled in that role for club and country despite being of a more attacking bent. Indeed, the former CD Feirense playmaker was nominated for Stoke City’s Player of the Year in his first season with the Potteries for whom he played 34 times in the English Championship scoring twice and earning two man-of-the-match-awards.

And although he was beaten to the club’s best player award by goalkeeper Jack Butland, Etebo was voted South West Stokies Stoke City Player of the Year by fans of the club in the South West.

Every player would love to play in their favourite position and Etebo who has scored twice in twenty-six games for the national team is certainly no different.

However, the player who played in every game for the Super Eagles in the AFCON qualifiers and has started every game at the tournament proper in Egypt, believes the team must always come first and says he would play in any position to help his team win.

“Naturally I’m a number 10 and a second striker, that’s my position but one thing I believe in is even if the coach is going to say to me that you need to play as a holding midfielder, you need to play from right midfield or left midfield, the most important is that we should always stay as a team because we are going to achieve one goal, which is to win.

“We need to win, so, even if I’m going to play in front or I’m going to play defensively, the truth is that as a team we need to get that point which is vital for the team and for the nation.”