Not many would have predicted that Paul Onuachu would be involved in the conversation of best strikers in European football, but the lanky Nigerian is having that kind of season.
He just cannot stop scoring, 19 goals in 20 Belgian Pro League appearances for Genk, making him the league’s top scorer by a distance and also placing him 5th on the list for the European Golden shoe, behind only Robert Lewandowski, Kasper Junker, Amahl Pellegrino and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Impressive stats like this makes one wonder why he’s keeping such elite company at club level but has been a non-factor at national team level.
Paul Onuachu has scored just once for the Super Eagles of Nigeria, a good goal in a one nil win against Egypt, important to note he’s only played eight times, with a fair amount of his appearances coming from the bench.
So what is the problem? How does one of the best strikers in Europe suddenly become ineffective at the swap of a jersey? The answer is old and German in nature.
It has become clear that Gernot Rohr’s tactics or lack of it have been holding Paul Onuachu back, the sheer refusal to adapt to his point man’s style of play means neither party have been able to reap the full benefits of one another.
Onuachu is a 6’7 center forward, of course he’s not quick; strikers of that size rarely are. There’s only one way he can play and that is as a target man, and it appears everyone but Gernot Rohr can see that.
Rohr likes his strikers to be quick and full of energy, or at least be mobile and have the ability to run the channels, which is why he favours Osimhen, Iheanacho and Odion Ighalo before his retirement, which is not bad.
What is bad is getting an entirely different type of striker on the pitch and expecting him to play like that, it makes the player look like he’s not good enough, meanwhile he’s been used wrongly.
The obvious solution would be to tweak the style of play for the duration of the time Paul Onuachu is on the pitch, push the full backs further up the pitch and get crosses into the box rather than just trying to play through the middle.
That’s how Genk have done it, the full backs and to a large extent the wingers serve one purpose going forward, which is to get balls into the box, give their top scorer something to attack, and more often than not he does turn those deliveries into goals.
On the rare occasions Rohr does start Onuachu, he does so mostly as a lone striker flanked by two inverted wingers, Chukwueze, Iwobi, Musa etc, players who are known more for cutting in on their favourite foot rather than putting crosses in.
So the centre forward, who thrives on service, doesn’t get any, and inevitably gets substituted after another blank game, leaving the wrong image in the minds of fans.
And it’s not just Onuachu, Gernot Rohr just has a problem with target men in general, remember Simy Nwankwo? The one that will inevitably go down as a Super Eagles flop, he can’t stop scoring for Crotone. Coincidence? I think not.
Simy Nwankwo standing at 6 feet 6 inches looked like a fish out of water in his paltry 4 appearances for the Super Eagles, with two of them coming as a late substitute at the 2018 World Cup where he failed to have an impact and now we know why.
He’s proven he can score goals if utilised properly, he scored 20 goals to help Crotone secure promotion to the Serie A and remains their top scorer in the top flight with 6 goals this season.
Despite proving he can score goals consistently at club level, all that will ever be remembered of him at national team level is coming off the bench in the final 2 minutes of World Cup games, especially since he has not been recalled since then.
Paul Onuachu appears to be going down that same exact road now and if adjustments are not made soon enough, he would fade away and Nigeria would have lost yet another proven goalscorer because of the manager’s tactical ineptitude.