Make or break: Three Nigerians who need big seasons

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As the new European season gets underway, this trio stands at a crossroads in their careers, and only a star turn will do

The start of the new season is a blank slate, a fresh start. While the element of unpredictability is largely a memory in most major European leagues, the development and progression of players within a season is still hard to forecast.

There are such vagaries as form, fitness, managerial whimsy, professionalism, and so on. So, we take a look at three Nigerian players in Europe who are at a major intersection in their club careers. For these ones, they cannot afford any less than a stellar season, for various reasons.

The 24-year-old ended a career-long affiliation with Inter this summer, joining Torino for €2.4 million. When you come right down to it, it qualifies as a step down, but that view would be only marginally accurate.

As recently as last term, Gianpiero Ventura’s side were in action in the Europa League, and are by no means a soft touch in Serie A. They are precisely the sort of team where the uber-talented Obi can fulfil his potential.

Of course, that we are still referring to his potential at 24 speaks volumes. Since breaking into the Inter first team in 2011, frequent injuries have robbed the youngster of at least two years of development, and when fit, he has struggled for game-time. His last appearance for Nigeria came in a friendly over a year ago against Scotland. There, he looked tremendously rusty, and was hauled off after 45 minutes.

Breaking into the Torino side will be no picnic—aside the competition for places, Ventura is a notoriously meticulous manager, and places huge physical demands on his players. Joel must prove his fitness, and win a place in the squad in order to force himself into the reckoning at international level.

Allowing a five-year span for memory, one more year in the wilderness could very well see the end of Joel being classified as a ‘player with potential’ and instead as a ‘player who never realised his potential’.

Eighteen months ago, the only way for Olaitan was up. The 22-year-old was leading the line for Greek champions Olympiakos in the UEFA Champions League, his ‘false 9’ role wrong-footing the pair of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in a famous 2-0 win in Piraeus.

However, his collapse on the pitch in a Greek Super League derby against Panathinaikos in March led to a diagnosis of viral myocarditis. He would only return to action this past January.

His loan to Ergotelis in the second half of the season was hardly the tonic needed, and he will now spend a season on loan at FC Twente in the Eredivisie.

It is unclear what Olympiakos have in mind for Olaitan, though reports seem to suggest they are uncertain of his physical state. This indicates Twente stand a chance of holding on to him beyond the one-year loan period.

However, this depends greatly on how Olaitan does in the Netherlands. His talent is not in doubt, but his fitness is. He got off to a flier, netting on his first appearance for the club in a friendly draw against Schalke with a crisp volley and will need to produce at that level on a consistent basis this season to get his career out of the pits and back on track.

Simply put, this may be the last chance Moses has to prove he belongs in an elite team.

After impressing for Wigan, the fleet-footed dribbler moved on to bigger things with Chelsea. However, his time with the Blues has proved he may have shot up too fast and too soon.

The 24-year-old initially impressed in Chelsea’s run to the Europa League title in 2013, but the Blues were barely their usual competitive selves in the league that year. The return of Jose Mourinho saw his involvement reduce severely, farmed out on loans: first to Liverpool (where he stunk the place out) and then to Stoke.

It is perhaps telling that it is in the more modest surroundings of the Britannia Stadium that he approached something resembling his usual self. In any case, Chelsea’s relative lack of spending does indicate Moses will be given a chance to impress this season, probably deputising for Player of the Year Eden Hazard.

If he fails to make the most of this opportunity, it is hard to see him remaining at Chelsea in any kind of useful capacity after this term. More pertinently, it could see him permanently written off as an option for the top-level clubs going forward.

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