Tyronne Ebuehi is expected to replace Wilfred Ndidi in the Nigeria squad for international friendlies against Algeria and Tunisia in Austria during October, Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr has told ESPN.
Ndidi’s absence, due to a groin injury for which he has undergone surgery, also opens the door for at least one exciting new prospect — Frank Onyeka of FC Midtylland in Denmark — to follow in Joe Aribo‘s footsteps and make his mark on the Super Eagles.
Aribo joined the squad in similar circumstances, with Ndidi injured, and promptly proceeded not only to light up Nigeria’s midfield but also to score in consecutive games against Ukraine and Brazil.
Onyeka now has a chance to make a similar first impression.
Ndidi is one of the first names on Rohr’s team sheet when he is fit and available, and the Nigeria coach hoped to have him play in Austria as he prepares his team for Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in November after nearly a year off due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, the midfielder suffered an abductor injury in Leicester City’s English Premier League match against Burnley. He underwent surgery this week and is expected to be out for up to 12 weeks.
“I have spoken to him, of course. He must be patient now and take his time to get well.”
Rushing back is an indisputably bad idea, especially for Ndidi’s injury.
But with Rohr forced to reassess his squad options, it is revealing that he is taking the loss of one of his best players with such calm.
Ndidi has played the double pivot role to perfection alongside Oghenekaro Etebo, with his tackling, play breaking and influence from deep key to the Super Eagles’ defensive strength; it has provided a foundation for their attacking play.
But injuries have meant that Ndidi and Etebo have not played together since the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, with Aribo filling in when either man has been missing.
Such has been Aribo’s form for the Super Eagles that Rohr’s big headache, prior to Ndidi’s injury, was deciding which of the three to drop from his starting line-up. He has gone from that to losing two of the three, and now needs to find players to pick up the slack.
That is a challenge that Rohr may have solved for himself, with his focused squad building over the past four years.
The German’s 25+5-man Super Eagles squad — named on Sept. 21 — featured five additional players as standby, including Granada’s Ramon Azeez as the lone midfielder and Shehu Abdullahi, a defender who can play as a holding midfielder.
Rohr chose to go in a different direction, telling ESPN that he would be moving up a fullback instead.
“Tyronne will replace Ndidi in our team from the standby,” he said.
It is an instructive pick from the coach, reflective of the largely multifunctional unit of players he has built that he is not picking a like-for-like replacement.
Ola Aina and Semi Ajayi, primarily defenders, have acquitted themselves well in the holding role in the past. There is the youngster Samson Tijani, who can also make an impression. Mikel Agu, who makes a consecutive call back to the squad after missing out on the Afcon, would be the familiar choice to slot in alongside Etebo.
But Onyeka may just be the natural fit who skips the line ahead of Agu. Like Aribo, the 22-year-old now has the opportunity to step in, seize his chance and create additional selection problems for Rohr.
Onyeka has excelled consistently for FC Midtylland, scoring four goals in the Danish club’s charge to the title last season. He has been just as impressive in the current campaign, with the side just one game from qualifying for the group phase of the UEFA Champions League.
Ndidi is near irreplaceable, but there is a good chance that Onyeka puts some salve on the pain of losing the Leicester man. At least for a time.
Leicester are not in a particularly thrilling position themselves, with respect to Ndidi’s injury.
Afflicted with injuries of their own to what is a small squad, Rodgers had shoe-horned Ndidi into defence before the injury.