Meet the latest Super Eagles star, and how Gernot Rohr can get the best out of him
October 10 2021, at the Japoma Stadium in Douala, Cameroon, Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr brought on Chidera Ejuke for Ahmed Musa in the 67th minute of Nigeria's 2-0 win over the Central African Republic in the second leg of their 2022 World Cup qualifier.
The change came when the three-time African champions were two goals to the good, courtesy of first-half strikes from Leon Balogun and Victor Osimhen.
While the result was the most important thing as the Super Eagles had suffered a shock home defeat in the reverse tie, Ejuke's cameo was also one of the talking points.
The 23-year-old did not score or provide an assist in the 23 minutes he played, but he did just enough to get fans talking about him.
Ejuke entertained fans with his quick feet and his dribbling skills. He moved past defenders like a hot knife through butter, which earned him a comparison with former Super Eagles captain Austin Jay-Jay Okocha.
He caught fans eyes when his brilliant solo run late in the game almost resulted in a goal. Ejuke even got recognised by EA Sports, makers of the popular video game franchise, FIFA.
The 23-year-old is the seventh-fastest player in the latest version of the game.
But who is the new Super Eagles fan favourite?
Ejuke is currently on the books of CSKA Moscow, but he had to overcome some disappointing challenges before he got to where he is right now.
The 23-year-old's talents were first spotted at the U-17 level, but the youngster never got represent Nigeria at any age-grade competition.
He didn't make the Golden Eaglets that won the 2015 u-17 World Cup, and he was ineligible to represent the squad that failed to make it to the world stage two years later.
According to his agent, as per Owngoal, the decision to drop him from the 2015 squad came as a shock to everyone as he was one of the best players in the team.
“No one can explain why apart from the coach Emmanuel Amunike, Ejuke's agent told Owngoal.
However, following the disappointment of missing two consecutive U-17 tournaments, Ejuke was selected along with some friends for trials at Liverpool.
“I was selected with a couple of my friends,” Ejuke told Super Eagles in an Instagram live video when asked about his time at Liverpool.
But again, Ejuke was left disappointed as Liverpool passed up the opportunity to hand him a professional contract.
“I did the trials for a couple of weeks, and it didn't seem that Liverpool were interested then.”
“All of a sudden, it wasn't a success. You feel bad. I felt like I disappointed my agent, my family, the people that believed in me. I never thought something like that would happen,” Ejuke added.
The youngster returned to Nigeria following his failed trial and had a short stint at Supreme Court before he was offered a chance at Gombe United, who were managed by Manu Garba then.
Garba was in charge of the Golden Eaglets squad in 2017, but despite not selecting him for the African championship due to his ineligibility, Garba rated the winger very highly.
Ejuke started his professional career at Gombe, but he stayed at the club for a few months before moving to Norway, where his European journey started.
Ejuke's first club in Europe was Vålerenga Fotball. The Bohemians beat other clubs in Norway for the youngster's services.
Despite his inexperience, he was thrust straight into first-team action. The youngster proved to be a good signing, scoring 15 times and registering six assists in 69 games.
After two years in Norway, Ejuke moved to the Netherlands in 2019, where he signed for Eredivisie side Heerenveen.
According to Scisports, Heerenveen were looking for a winger with excellent offensive skills and a good resale value.
Ejuke ticked the boxes, and the Dutch club paid 2m euros for his services. It was at the Abe Lenstra Stadion Ejuke's profile began to rise, even though he only spent just one season at the club.
The 23-year-old scored ten times and provided six assists in 29 games for The Super Frisians, earning a place in the Eredivisie team of the season.
As stated earlier, Ejuke only spent a season at Heerenveen before signing for CSKA Moscow for 12m euros. His first season could've been better, but he still managed five goals and three assists in 25 league games.
He has started well this campaign, winning CSKA's player of the month for August and September. So far, he has scored three times and provided two assists in 11 league games.
Ejuke made his Super Eagles debut in an international friendly against Tunisia in October 2020. He has gone on to earn four more caps, with the latest coming against CAR.
How has he fared and how Rohr can improve his game
Ejuke has been impressive in his few games for the Super Eagles, but he tends to overdo things. The youngster is a skilful player, no doubt, but he needs to improve on his decision making, which is a view shared by former Super Eagles left-back Ifeanyi Udeze.
Okocha Comparisons and could he play as a number ten?
His performance in the second leg of the clash against CAR has made many fans compare him to Jay-Jay, while some even believe he is the answer to the team's search for a creative midfielder.
However, the projections are wrong as he does not have the required skill set to play as a number ten for the three-time African champions.
The youngster is a winger that likes to take on defenders, and that remains his best position. The comparison with Okocha is not out of place, although the former PSG star was a midfielder.
However, it is important to note that the former Bolton Wanderers star did more damage through his movement and dribbling skills.
While Okocha wore number ten during his playing days, it was Kanu Nwankwo that actually played more as a number ten during their time together.
This is why Kanu delivered the goods when it mattered. His ability to pick out teammates with his pass is superior to that of Jay-Jay.
Some of the games Kanu showed his class as a number ten include the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations clash against Tunisia and the 2004 game against Cameroon.
Ejuke is not blessed with this ability, at least for now. However, the comparisons with Okocha are correct, and he could do damage with his skills on the wings.
However, he must improve on his decision making and his output.