Paul Onuachu: Set to Take His Chance with Super Eagles

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That he has taken Danish football by a storm would amount to an understatement and the clamour for his call to the Super Eagles has been on for some time now. With Nigeria set for the AFCON qualifier against Seychelles to be followed by a friendly with the Pharaohs of Egypt, Paul Onuachu now finally gets the chance to establish himself in the national team. How well he warms himself into the heart of the Eagles gaffer, Gernot Rohr,  will  clear all the doubts

In spite of missing two months of last season to injury, Paul Onuachu was still able to manage 18 league goals.  He indeed attributed his non-invitation to the Super Eagles before now to his injury.

“I was supposed to be in the Nigerian squad for the last set of friendly games against Poland and Serbia but I was injured by the time the team list was to be released. I’m back now and hoping to get a look in soon.

“My aim is to get back to scoring goals like I was doing before I got injured and hopefully I will make it hard for Coach Gernot Rohr to ignore me. He is aware of me and that is a motivation I need to build on,” Onuachu said.

So far Onuachu has been able to walk the talk as he has been in fantastic form this season for FC Midtjylland in the Danish League, scoring 14 goals and also contributing three assists, which has really made it difficult for Rohr to ignore him.

The 24-year-old, who hails from Owerri, Imo State, is also eligible to play for Denmark as he has lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 in the country, but said representing the Danish national team was never an option for him, and he is “super proud” to have been named in Nigeria’s latest squad.

 “I am super proud to be selected for the Nigerian national team. It’s something I’ve been dreaming for a long time, and it’s just a good feeling to have achieved such a great goal in my career.

“It has been a goal for me for a very long time, but you just have to be patient. I do what I can on the football field, and now I’m just glad it has succeeded. I was called by the Nigeria coach and he told me he wanted to try me out for a while, and now he has found room for me on the team,” Onuachu said.

Speaking to cafonline.com about his player selection, the Franco-German stated that Onuachu was in form and was too strong to be overlooked.

“He has the experience of Europe at the height of his 24 years. His size is obviously his strength and the beautiful goals scored in the Danish championship. This is another profile for us in the attack,” Rohr said.

Last year, Onuachu alongside Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez were the only Africans to join top stars from around the world in the FIFA 19 Ultimate Team of the Week.

Onuachu said his first call up to the Nigerian senior national team was a dream comes true. The FC Midtjylland striker has lived in Denmark since 2012, and for most of his time in Denmark, he has been a diligent goal scorer.

However, he had to wait to get a shot at the Nigerian senior national team, after he had earlier been called up to the Nigerian under-23 national team in February 2015. On Monday, he was called up for Nigeria’s Super Eagles game against Seychelles and Egypt.

FC Midtjylland’s head coach, Kenneth Andersen, believes that the selection is well-deserved. “He has played well for a long time, and it is deserved that he gets the chance… Now I’m not exactly an expert on the Nigerian national team, but from my point of view it has been underway for a while.”

Onuachu said he received the happy message over the phone. “I was called by the Nigerian coach (Gernot Rohr), and he told me he wanted to try me out for a while, and now he could find room for me on the team,” Onuachu noted.

The 24-year-old was playing amateur football barely five years ago and almost did not even make it to the professional ranks. While turning out as an offensive midfielder for Young Stars Academy in Lagos, Nigeria, Onuachu’s growth spurt meant he could not quite function effectively in that playmaking role and his future as a footballer looked in doubt. His father, growing impatient, decided it would be better for his younger son to leave football and either continue his education or become a trader at the popular Alaba electronics market in Lagos.

That was when fortune played its part. First, his coaches at Young Stars decided to convert him to a striker, where his emerging physical attributes could be more of an asset.

“It was tough for him as he was growing taller. We had options to either move him to defensive midfield, central defence or attack. We decided that because of his great footwork, which would be wasted if he played so deep, we should make him a striker,” said Young Stars coach Osahon Emokpae to ESPN FC.

Then he was spotted by FC Ebedei’s Churchill Oliseh, a man whose track record of spotting and promoting talent includes the likes of Obafemi Martins, Stephen Makinwa and current Nigerian midfielder Sylvester Igboun.

“As soon as I saw him, I knew he was special,” said Oliseh to ESPN FC. “And as I always do with my players, we immediately put him on scholarship at Golden Gate College, Sagamu while he played and lived at the academy.”

While at school, Onuachu played for Ebedei, including a friendly match against Nigeria’s U-23 team in which he was head shoulders above everyone else, and not just physically.

“Some of the team officials came to me and said I should tell him to show more respect to his senior international colleagues and not embarrass them too much,” Oliseh said.

Within months of leaving school, where he passed his O’ Levels with seven credits, and finishing as third-highest scorer in the Nigerian second division, Onuachu was off to Denmark to join Ebedei’s parent club, Midjytlland.

Oliseh insisted that the 24-year-old Onuachu, who was a member of his school’s 4x100m relay team, has all the tools. “For a player with his height, he has good dribbling ability. People of his height only rely mostly on their aerial strength, but he can play, both in the air and on the ground. And he has speed,” said Oliseh.

Onuachu moved to Danish club FC Midtjylland in 2012, on a scholarship, from their affiliate team in Nigeria, FC Ebedei. He was a prolific scorer for their youth team, and made his first-team debut in the Cup later that year, before making his league debut in December 2012. In June 2013, he signed a new three-year contract with the club before extending it for further three-years in August 2015. In early 2015, he was loaned to Vejle BK, before returning to FC Midtjylland ahead of the 2015–16 season.

Onuachu is known for his goal scoring exploits in Europe, especially his 77th-minute winning goal for Midtjylland against Manchester United in their Europa League last-32 first leg tie in 2017. In October 2018, Paul Onuachu bagged a hat-trick in FC Midtjylland’s 4-1 away victory at FC Nordsjaelland. Onuachu has scored 17 goals this season with Midtjylland.

Onuachu, however, admitted he would love to play for Arsenal. “The way they play is just the kind of football I like to see and so I would like to play for Arsenal at one point…”