Trabzonspor have declined rapidly this season, still, the inside forward is playing reasonably well enough to be recalled by Gernot Rohr
With the dust still settling on Nigeria’s shocking collapse against Sierra Leone on Friday, it feels like an inappropriate time to present a case for Anthony Nwakaeme.
The Super Eagles scored four against the Leone Stars before contriving to draw 4-4, so the problem didn’t appear to be the forward line that netted four in the opening half-hour, but the backline that allowed cheap goals and a midfield pairing that looked dead on their feet as the visitors rallied late on.
Many will scoff at the idea of having the Trabzonspor wide attacker in the side, largely due to the presence of a plethora of options in his position. Alex Iwobi played there in a changed 4-4-2 line-up, although Gernot Rohr has tended to utilise Samuel Kalu, Moses Simon and Ahmed Musa down that side in the last two years or thereabouts.
The latter, now captain of Nigeria since Mikel John Obi’s retirement, was played along with Victor Osimhen on Friday and seemed out of sorts. The skipper’s touch was a tad heavy at times, leading to the breakdown of promising moves or slowing down the team’s progress upfield.
Goal 50 Revealed: The best 50 players in the world
For one, it was really odd that the German tactician included the unattached Musa in his squad for the double-header vs Sierra Leone, a decision followed by the strange choice to play the 28-year-old from the off.
With Kelechi Iheanacho in the squad, the ex-Bayern Munich player opted to start the former CSKA Moscow attacker along with Napoli’s record signing despite the skipper’s recent lack of match action as well as Iheanacho being the better fit to play as the second striker.
While Kalu wasn’t included in November’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, the 23-year-old Bordeaux winger has largely become a favourite of the Nigeria coach, regardless of form or appearances for the Ligue 1 club.
As for Simon, the Nantes attacker has mostly played second fiddle since Rohr’s appointment. Although his all-round contribution to the team means his continued inclusion in the coach’s selection may not be scrutinised, whereas Kalu’s presence and especially Musa’s prompt criticism of the man at the helm.
Given the aforementioned context, maybe a case for the neglected Nwakaeme can now be presented…again.
Indeed, little attention has been placed on the Trabzonspor forward in the last year or thereabouts despite his relative brilliance for Black Sea Storm since joining in 2018.
An amazing maiden season in Turkey saw the arrival from Hapoel Be’er Sheva hit 10 goals and as many assists in 18/19 before beating his goals tally by one last term. His assists number dropped by three and statistics showed he fashioned out fewer shooting opportunities and clear-cut chances for teammates.
Still, Nwakaeme sat fourth in the entire Super Lig for non-penalty goals and assists per 90 going into the final weeks of the season. He eventually finished in 11th spot after a late team collapse which saw the Trabzon outfit win two of their last seven to end four points behind champions Istanbul Basaksehir.
Be that as it may, his influence throughout 19/20 meant he was undoubtedly the side’s most important player behind Alexander Sorloth, who netted a staggering 24 and set up another eight.
The Norwegian’s sale to Bundesliga outfit RB Leipzig has severely blunted Trabzonspor and Benik Afobe hasn’t quite led the line as brilliantly as the towering frontman did last term, despite scoring a respectable three goals in seven appearances.
The issues plaguing Eddie Newton, however, run even deeper. Two of the club’s supporting cast from last year in Jose Sosa — contributor of 17 goals and assists — and Guilherme — 12 G+A — have moved to Fenerbahce and Goztepe respectively.
That leaves Ghana attacker, Caleb Ekuban as the only star besides Nwakaeme from last year’s top five goal contributors still at the club, but the West African’s tally of nine G+A pales in comparison to Sorloth (32), Nwakaeme and Sosa (17), and Guilherme (12).
While the Nigerian has mostly been efficient on average this term, the quality around him has significantly declined at both ends of the pitch, leaving Trabzonspor in 17th, with one win from their opening eight games.
Despite leading the team’s goal contributions table with four in six games, the 31-year-old can’t lead a one-man carry job for Newton, leading to a sharp drop off having contended for the title in each of the last two seasons.
0.71 non-penalty goals and assists per 90 places the inside forward 10th in the Turkish top flight with a slightly better return than last year’s 0.68, although it does come from a significantly smaller sample size of just six games so far.
Indeed, Nwakaeme could still pull decent to good numbers for Trabzonspor this season but the team’s general decline means a third shot at the title may be out of reach.
As for a return to the national team, it remains to be seen whether Rohr would keep ignoring the frontman if he has another prolific season in Turkey. The forward has deserved another shot in the side since an average performance in a dead rubber game with Algeria in 2017, but the German hasn’t granted another opportunity.
It leaves many wondering whether there’s any sort of meritocracy to the coach’s selections, especially as Nwakaeme has been mostly consistent in the last two seasons in Turkey and three previously in Israel.
After being kicked to the curb in the last two seasons, the forward would look to be third-time lucky as he looks to banish memories of that ill-fated game in Constantine despite the aforementioned challenges facing him in Trabzon.