Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr has warned that Paul Onuachu must adapt to the national team’s style of playing if he must keep his place in the squad.
The 26-year-old Genk striker was called up as a late replacement for first choice striker Victor Osimhen ahead of the friendlies against Algeria on Friday and Tunisia four days later.
Onuachu has been in sizzling form for his Belgian side with seven goals in as many matches in the Jupiler League which has put him once again in the orbit of the national team having appeared to have fallen out favour after the 2019 AFCON.
With a 6’6 frame, Onuachu possesses an imposing physical presence and provides an intimidating aerial threat which can wreak havoc to opposing defences.
But responding to a question about how he plans to utilise Onuachu against Algeria, Rohr at a prematch conference held via Zoom on Thursday, revealed he has no plans to pander to the striker’s obvious qualities by abandoning the team’s possession-based style for route one tactics.
Instead, Rohr said, it is Onuachu who must seek to adapt to how he wants his team to play.
The Franco-German tactician who recently penned an extension to his contract that will see him take charge of the Eagles till 2022, has sought to develop a style of play predicated on swift interplay, nimble passes and speedy transitions. And he said that will continue to be the norm regardless of the physical characteristics of whoever comes into the team.
“The team doesn’t have to adapt the game to one player, Paul Onuachu, he has to adapt on the qualities of our football; how we play with short passes and wingers, playing quickly and switching from one side to the other and he has to integrate now with his qualities and to adapt,” Rohr said.
“We will not change our game only for him and make long kicks in the air. No, we will play football.”
Rohr, however, acknowledged that Onuachu’s physique presents obvious advantages which can be utilised at specific moments.
“You can see with our strikers and our defenders we have the opportunity to give long balls also to him and in the air he is very strong that is a new opportunity and quality for us but he has to adapt his game to ours.
“We play on the ground, we don’t want to play all time in the air but our wingers can give good crosses and then he can be interesting with his headers and also with his shooting.”
Rohr also pointed out the striker’s up technical skills, highlighting his lone goal for Nigeria, a scorching volley in his second cap against Egypt before the 2019 AFCON as proof that Onuachu is not too reliant on aerial balls to cause damage.
With Osimhen out, Rohr said Onuachu who last played for Nigeria nearly one year ago can prove to be more than an adequate replacement alongside his Genk teammate Cyriel Dessers who has called up to the squad for the first time.
“He has a very strong shot, remember the goal he scored in Asaba and for the moment I think he is a striker who can help us to replace Osimhen who replaces already well [Odion] Ighalo and now we try to find a new solution with Paul Onuachu and with [Cyriel] Dessers also perhaps, we will see in the last moment which one will start.”
Onuachu who was part of Nigeria’s bronze medal winning squad at the 2019 Nations Cup in Egypt has not played for the Super Eagles since coming off the bench in a friendly against Brazil last October although he was an unused substitute in the Eagle’s 2021 AFCON qualifying victory against Benin in November.
Belgian-born Dessers has yet to make his debut for Nigeria since declaring for the 3-time African champions. He was in line to make his debut against Sierra Leone in a 2021 AFCON qualifier in March before the coronavirus pandemic forced the postponement of the fixture.
The Super Eagles play Algeria on Friday, at the Worthersee Stadion in Klagenfurt with another clash against another North African side Tunisia four days later at the Jacques LeMans Arena.
Both games will kickoff at 7:30pm Nigerian time.