Kenneth Omeruo: Leganes New Hero?

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The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations may still be six months away but Nigerian national team Manager, Gernot Rohr is already hoping that some of the Super Eagles players would maintain their scintillating performances till the summer when the AFCON kicks off.

Leganes of Spain defender, Kenneth Omeruo is one of such players the German-born tactician is hoping he keeps his form. Last weekend the Chelsea loanee put up a man of the match performance in his club’s 1-1 draw against La Liga title contender, Sevilla, which is still enjoying a wave review in Spain

Super Eagles defender, Kenneth Omeruo has continued to impress on loan at Spanish side Leganes from Chelsea. The Nigerian played in the 1-1 draw with Sevilla last weekend and was given the man of the match award rating in Spanish paper AS.

The underdog side defended superbly against title-chasing Seville, but conceded in the final minute, with Omeruo putting in 52 touches and 87 per cent pass accuracy.

The Nigerian defender at the heart of everything as this plucky Leganes side are now unbeaten in eight games and it’s based on the rock-solid defence that the Omeruo is part of.

The 25-year-old has featured 10 times for the modest side – starting nine of those.

Omeruo has been described as one of the best centre-backs in Spain, maybe also across Europe’s top leagues.

Omeruo who is on loan from Chelsea has made four previous moves in search of first-team football and topsy-turvy as his journey has been the Nigerian is showing great adaptability and the stats prove he is heading up.

The 25-year-old joined the Spanish side in August, his seventh loan move away from the English Premier League club Chelsea since he joined them in 2012. The Super Eagle defender was substituted in the 69th minute on his first League start due to injury but insisted that will not dampen his joy of playing in one of the best leagues in the world.

“Right now I’m fulfilling my dream of playing in La Liga, it’s amazing and different. It was a frustrating start due to my work permit issue, but after playing in two big La Liga games I must say things are finally looking up,” Omeruo told BBC Sport.

“I’ve been playing away from England in Turkey for a while and every time I always craved for a visible league where people can watch me.

“Luckily, after the World Cup where I had two good games, I got more options and I chose La Liga where everyone can watch me, and so far it’s been a perfect decision for me.”

Omeruo, who is yet to play a competitive game for Chelsea where he has a deal until 2020, spent a second spell at Turkish side Kasımpasa last season.

A 2013 Africa Cup of Nations winner with Nigeria, he has also been loaned to Dutch side ADO Den Haag, Middlesbrough in England for two seasons and another Turkish side Alanyaspor.

Back in 2017, he admitted he may have to leave Chelsea in his quest for first-team football on a regular basis.

He now conceded his dreams of playing in England’s top flight with the Blues could be over as he looks to continue in Spain and hopefully earn a permanent move to Leganes.

“Right now I’m fulfilling my dream of playing in La Liga, it’s amazing and different,” he added.

“Leganes have an option to sign me permanently and I would like to give everything to stay in the league. I’ve played in the English championship, I’ve gotten a feel of that but La Liga is very good. If I end up playing for Chelsea someday fine because it is one of the biggest teams in the world and they have the highest fan base in Nigeria.

“I would love to play for them, even if it’s just a game, but right now I am very happy with my life here in Spain.”

Omeruo can play at centre-back or right-back and is regarded as one of the continent’s best young defenders.

His 41 caps for the Super Eagles also include appearances at the Confederations Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations.

Meanwhile, head coach of the Super Eagles, Rohr has expressed his delight over Omeruo’s recent form in the Spanish League.

“I am really impressed with his performances,” Rohr stated, adding, “playing against a team like Sevilla and he was able to stay defensively focused and consistent shows his great quality as a defender.”

An obviously excited Rohr observed that Omeruo’s performance was a good development for the Eagles and also for his Spanish team as well. “We hope he continues in that manner and for me that gives a stiff competition in the first line of the Super Eagles.”

Fascinating enough, Omeruo who could have been given the chance to play in the Premier League by his parent club is doing a better job than David Luiz.

Another interesting comparison is the Nigerian’s numbers alongside Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk.

Only two years older, Van Dijk is the toast of many and has been regarded this season as possibly the best central defender in the game… but hold up.

The Dutchman has made 18 league appearances for the Reds a total of 1585 minutes; 734 more than Omeruo, but the latter has made more tackles (1.1 – 1.6) and more interceptions (1.1 – 1.4) in only 9 games for Leganes.

Van Dijk edges the Nigerian only slightly in blocks (0.6 – 0.5), Omeruo having more dribbles (0.1) to Van Dijk’s none per Whoscored.com.

However, overall both Van Dijk (7.46) and Luiz (7.22) are rated higher than Omeruo (6.77), obviously for the number of league games, but the young Chelsea loanee has shown he deserves to be mentioned in the same breathe.

He was the only player among the three at the 2018 FIFA World Cup as the Netherlands did not qualify and Luiz was ignored outright by Brazil’s head coach Tite.

Another season in that upward trajectory Omeruo could find himself in some very star-studded circles.