Henry Onyekuru: Will He Ever Don Everton’s Shirt?

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His dream of playing for his parent club, Everton still hangs in the balance, not because he is not good enough to don the blue and white colours of the Toffees, but realising the 75 per cent playing time for the national team that would pave way for his work permit by the British Home Office is still a tall order.  Kunle Adewale asks if Onyekuru would ever get to play at  Goodison Park?

While many felt that Odion Ighalo ‘premature’ retirement from the national team had left a vacuum that would be difficult to fill, fans of Henry Onyekuru were silently rejoicing, believing it was an avenue for their idol to capitalise on to get more playing time in the Super Eagles frontline and ultimately achieving 75 per cent playing time for the national team, which will eventually pave way for his work permit by the British Home Office and finally achieve his desire to play for Everton.

However, with Tammy Abraham now showing interest to play for Nigeria, having fallen hugely in the pecking order for a place in the English national team, Onyekuru may still remain a fringe player in Gernot Rohr’s team.

Onyekuru is therefore set for a third-successive loan spell away from his parent club, Everton after the Nigerian international was denied a work permit by the British Home Office.

Onyekuru who recently in Benin City, Edo State married his longtime girlfriend fell short of the requirement to qualify to play in England as he must have played at least 75 per cent of the Eagles’ matches over the previous two years to be granted a permit to play in England, but the forward played six times in the previous 12 months for the Eagles, hence his denial.

The 22- year-old joined Everton for a fee in the region of £7m and has been shipped out on loan to Anderlecht before going to Galatasaray last season.

Despite making Nigeria’s squad for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, Onyekuru made only one substitute appearance.

He is yet to play for the Toffees but has bagged 26 goals and six assists in 72 club appearances over the last two years playing for Anderlecht and Galatasaray.

Former Nigerian international, Paul Okoku believes with the kind of potential at Onyekuru’s disposal, achieving 75 per cent playing time for the national team is achievable as long as he’s ready to out in extra effort.

“For a player of his stature, he should be able to achieve the 75 per cent playing time for the Super Eagles he so much desires as long as he is ready to work harder and improve on his weaknesses.

“There is no doubt he has the talent, but talent is not always enough in most cases. Even Lionel Messi with all his enormous talent still put in extra effort to improve on his game,” Okoku said.

“For FC Barcelona known for its very formidable scouting system to once send scouts to watch Onyekuru tells you he has a lot to offer. I also read sometimes that Bayern Munich was also at a time toying with the idea of replacing him with aging Arjen Rubben. All these speak volume of his talent.

“My advice for him is that if he is dreaming to play at the top level, he should just work extra hard,” the 1984 Africa Cup of Nations silver medalist opined.

After having a good season on loan with Galatasaray where he has scored 16 goals and registered six assists in 3,346 minutes, Bayern Munich was said to have agreed on a deal with English Premier League club Everton in principle for Onyekuru but the deal did not sail through.

Everton could not resist his signature after his exploits in the Belgian League for KAS Eupen, during which he hit the back of the net 24 times. Surprisingly, immediately after putting pen on paper for the Toffees, he was loaned to Anderlecht of Belgium where he excelled.

Onyekuru was impressive for Anderlecht at the beginning of his first season culminating in Catalan giants-Barcelona sending scouts to watch his matches. Aside from Barcelona, Manchester United, Fiorentina, Ajax, PSV, Southampton and Stoke City were also believed to have sent their scouts to see the player in action in the Belgian league.

“It’s a blessing to be recognised by these clubs and of course, it’s flattering but I take everything one step at a time. I will focus on what is in front of me and for the next few months,” Onyekuru said then.

In front of goal, Onyekuru is an improviser. He possesses good movement, especially when he has to spin in behind a full-back; he is often up and away before they even know it. When through, he can finish in a number of ways; though, like most speedsters, he seems to enjoy going past the goalkeeper.

There is a lot to admire about him, but he is still a teenager, so there are a lot of areas where he can improve. That is only natural. His aptitudes for the defensive side of the game, as well as his decision-making, are still undeveloped. 

He is unashamedly direct – he will pick the ball up, accelerate quickly, and go towards goal. He also has shades of Robben – he plays mostly on the left, so he can cut in and shoot on his stronger right foot.

He is small of stature – 5ft 9in – but uses this quick change of direction effectively, bamboozling defenders, using his change of pace to get past his man rather than a barrage of stepovers.

Perhaps, the biggest weakness in Onyekuru’s game is a streak of single-mindedness. It can manifest as overconfidence or as selfishness, but too often, he wants to go alone. He will often get the better of his marker, and opt for a shot from an angle rather than lay in a teammate in a better position centrally.

Onyekuru is a winger who can score goals and play out wide, but he has no real pedigree outside of lesser leagues.

Onyekuru began his football career with the Aspire Academy in 2010, and graduated in 2015 joining their partner club, KAS Eupen and made his debut for Eupen in September of the same year in a 2-2 tie against Dessel Sport in the Belgian Second Division. He helped the team get promotion to the Belgium First Division A in his debut season.

After a successful season in the Belgium first division, Onyekuru finished as one of the top scorers in the league, attracting the attention of various big teams in Europe. He finished the 2016/2017 season as joint top-scorer with 22 goals, but the trophy was handed to his rival as he scored more away goals than Onyekuru.

He made his senior debut for Nigeria in a 3-0 friendly win over Togo last year’s July.