Super Eagles and Midtjylland striker, Paul Onuachu, talks about his experience at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and how prepared he is to fill the void left behind by Odion Ighalo in this interview with Johnny Edward
How would you describe your debut appearance at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, which ended recently in Egypt?
I think it was phenomenal. I think everything went seamlessly, only that the goals didn’t come for me. However, I was satisfied with the way I played in the games I featured in. Overall, I think it was very successful because I won a medal.
Aside winning the bronze medal,what would you say was the highlight of the tournament for you?
I think it was being handed a starting role in the first game against Burundi, though I did not get the kind of scoring chances I hoped for, to score.
What happened in the semi-final 2-1 defeat to Algeria? Don’t you think the Eagles could have done better?
The game was lost in stoppage time and it was nobody’s fault. Everyone loves a comeback story, which we did when Ighalo scored the equaliser. That strike from Riyad Mahrez broke my heart because from the bench, we had that feeling we would win if it went into extra-time but it was not meant to be. Also, I think from that game a lot of lessons have been learnt. It was a fantastic game – but we lost it.
How did you feel when Mikel Obi and Odion Ighalo announced their retirement from international football?
Their exits from the national team was painful for me because I hoped to play along with them for a while. We knew it was going to come but nobody thought it was going to be after the AFCON, particularly that of Ighalo. Mikel was an inspiration to the team with his charisma, while Ighalo was one player I was watching closely in training to learn few tricks from.They have called time on their career now and we have to move on to show that we learnt a thing or two from them to bring our country more glory. But I will miss him so much because I learnt a lot from him in Egypt. He is a fearless striker who always wears a good smile.
You have been touted as a possible replacement for Ighalo, do you believe you have the qualities to lead the Eagles attack?
I have been told that from Egypt but I’m not just the only striker in the team capable of doing that.Victor Osimhen, Henry Onyekuru and other strikers can equally do so. For me, without pressure, I can lead the Eagles attack but I still need the help of everyone in the team to translate my club form to the national team. I led the attack in some games and played well but you know strikers are judged by the numbers, not workrate often times. I just have one goal in six games, so the decision on who replaces Ighalo remains with the coach.
What were the challenges you faced at the AFCON?
Playing for Nigeria is a challenge on its own because the minimal expectation is good results and scoring goals as a striker. I learnt that but I will be better when next I get the chance. I need the trust and belief of my teammates as well.
You sound like a striker who lacked the desired service during the tournament?
It was just hurting that I didn’t really make the kind of impact I hoped for because I know what I can do. We had forwards who also wanted to make names for themselves, which is normal.
The new European season kicks off in August, are you planning to leave your current club Midtjylland?
That depends on so many factors considering how last season ended. The fact that I have been linked with a move away from the club in the past three season means I have been doing something right. I feel it’s time to move but I won’t sign myself, a club must meet my valuation and every party must be happy to make the deal go through.
Several reports have linked you with a move to the Belgian Jupiler League, with Club Brugge and Anderlecht leading the race. How concrete are these offers?
Those are reports like you said, but sincerely there are offers and concrete ones from the top teams in Belgium and from Italy as well. My future will be settled in the coming days when I return to my club for pre-season and hopefully have a meeting with my agent and the club director to know what the plan is for the season. The dream is to play regularly wherever I find myself in the new season and not just limit myself. I have several opportunities in Europe but I have to be careful in fighting for what I desire.
Do you think your style suits the Belgian league?
Of course, I can play in any league in Europe. It’s about teamwork from colleagues and the team playing to their striker’s strength to get the goals. If I get such anywhere ‘I go shake net’. We all need support from others and to play to our strength to attain greatness. If I got a measure of that, I could have maybe scored a couple of goals at the AFCON.
But do you regret not scoring in Egypt, having made the headlines with that stunner on your debut?
Not really but I think I could have done better if I had scoring chances.
But you had two in the first game against Burundi?
I don’t mean those kind of chances.
Following Nigeria’s third-place finish at the AFCON many have called for Gernot Rohr’s exit. Do you think he has done enough to remain on the job?
My own opinion may not count but I think that he has done well to continue as coach. He’s one coach the players listen to well and of course changing guard now when the 2021 AFCON qualifiers start may not be a good idea.