Simeon Nwankwo: On Rescue Mission to Lokeren

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After failing to save Italian club, Crotone FC from going down relegation in spite of scoring seven goals not many would have thought that Nigerian young star, Simeon Nwankwo would go down to Italian second tier with his team. With the season just halfway the striker may have to be on another rescue mission, this time in Belgium as top division side Lokeren would be counting on Simi’s goals to save them from sinking

In a desperate attempt not to go down relegation in the Jupiler Pro League, Belgium side, Lokeren have during the week signed Nigerian international, Simeon Nwankwo from Italian Serie B side, Crotone.

Lokeren are desperate to avoid relegation this season and as such, they hope the goals of new signing Nwankwo would help achieve the objective as they are currently bottom of the Belgian league table and in the automatic relegation spot more than halfway through the season.

They have 14 points from 21 matches, three points behind Royal Excel Mouscron, who are in 15th position with a -16 goals’ difference as they have let in more goals than they have scored this season.

On returning from the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Nwankwo was heavily touted to join Italian side Lazio but the deal failed to go through and he, therefore, went down with Crotone to Serie B.

Following seven goals in Serie A last season and two cameo appearances with Nigeria’s Eagles at the World Cup in Russia, the stock of Nwankwo seems to have escalated, such that Crotone was finding it difficult to keep hold of him again, most especially with Lazio having extended their dragnet to scoop him, based on the long history they have with other talented Nigerian players.

Lazio was then counting on one of the Rome-based club’s former players, Stephen Ayodele Makinwa to ensure they get their desired target of hooking Simi who still has a year left on his contract at Crotone but were relegated on the final day of the past season.

His rush of late goals did not help save modest Crotone from dropping to the lower Serie B but at least it alerted top clubs to take notice of what he can do at the club.

“There are several top clubs in Serie A like Lazio who want to sign ‘Simi’ but we just have to wait and see what happens after the World Cup. But it’s almost certain that he will be staying put in Serie A,” a credible source disclosed then.

Lazio is willing to pay as high as €10m to grab Simy but Crotone is hanging on much longer to see if they will be reinstated in the Serie A before deciding on his potential sale.

Simi ended last season on a high but it was still not enough to help Crotone remain in the Italian top-flight, but were hoping to be reinstated with the positions of Parma and Chievo under threat due to investigations affecting them.

Parma is accused of attempted match-fixing for a game against La Spezia in Serie B last season, while Chievo faces punishment for falsely accounting the transfer details of 30 players with Cesena.

Lazio then mandated Makinwa to push through the move for Simy, with high hopes that the former striker’s position as a players’ representative will help lure the Eagles rookie to Stadio Olimpico next season but the deal failed to sail through.

In a chat with THISDAY, former Nigerian international Paul Okoku said it was natural for players’ profile to rise after the World Cup.

“It is just natural for clubs to go after players after starring for their countries in the World Cup. For a player to make the team for his country shows he is good. Forget the fact that the Super Eagles did not qualify from the good stage, the truth remains that they still put up a good show. After all, they only lost the second round ticket with only four minutes to full time against Argentina.

After losing their first game to Croatia due to a tactical error, the team bounced back against Iceland and in the last group game against Argentina, Nigeria was already coasting home before conceding a last minute goal. But when you also considered that defending champions and favourites, Germany came last in their group you would then realise that the Super Eagles are not that terrible but luck was just not on their side,” Okoku noted.

Speaking further, the 1984 Africa Cup of Nations silver medalist said there are still some players in the team that distinguished themselves in the team in spite of not qualifying from the group stage.

“Individually, we have some players that had outstanding tournament and clubs would naturally go after those ones to beef up their team for the coming season,” he said.

For Friday Ekpo, he felt Super Eagles Manager, Gernot Rohr did not really utilised the potential he had in Nwankwo, saying with his height and physical presence, the result might have been different against Argentina, rather than his late introduction in the encounter.

“It was just unfortunate that Nwankwo did not have enough playing time at the Mundial, the whole world would have seen his potentials and by now a lot of European clubs would have been seeking for his services. However, he is still very young and has years behind him to fulfill his ambition. With the Africa Cup of Nations still around the corner and another World Cup just four years from now, there is no way Coach Gernot Rohr could ignore his potentials and am optimistic he would surely explode,” Ekpo expressed.       

Speaking in the same vein, Ifeanyi Udeze who represented Nigeria at the 2002 World Cup in Japan-Korea, said respect automatically comes with appearing at the World Cup, and all that the player needed to do is to grab the opportunity that comes his way to earn the respect.

Crotone, who will feature in Serie B in the coming season after they have been relegated from the top flight this past campaign, were ready to let go their Nigeria goals machine for a princely seven million Euros before the World Cup in Russia.

But after the big centre-forward made the final cut to Russia 2018 and even played a handful of minutes at the World Cup, Crotone have now doubled their valuation of the player.

“Lazio were ready to pay seven million Euros for ‘Simi’ before the World Cup and it even looked like a deal would be sealed. However, since after the World Cup, Crotone are asking for 15 million Euros,” a top source told only SCORENigeria.

The 25-year-old scored seven goals in Serie A last season including a spectacular over-head effort against champions Juventus. He still has a year left on his contract with the modest Italian club.

It, however, remains to be seen whether Nwankwo would be able to save them from going down.

This season, the lanky striker has 17 appearances in the Italian Serie B, scoring four goals for Crotone, who sit 18th in the 19-team second tier.

Nwankwo is already billed to join Lokeren in training camp in Spain ahead of the restart of the second round of the season.

Besides Nwankwo, Lokeren are also shopping for an attacking midfielder to boost their firepower.