Thursday, 21 February 2013

EMENIKE: The rise of a 'goal getter'

He’s already been labelled the new Rashidi Yekini. And Nigerian striker Emmanuel Emenike has begun to prove his national team coach Stephen Keshi right with a glut of goals for both his country and his club, Spartak Moscow. And, unlike the late Yekini, who was a revered but modest man, Emenike has 100 per cent belief in his ability.

At 25, the time is right for him to emulate one of Nigeria’s biggest footballing legends – with Liverpool, Chelsea and Juventus linked to the forward.

AFCON 2013 will be a memorable one for Emenike and his family as he helped Nigeria win the African Cup of Nations for the first time in nearly 20 years, scoring four goals along the way and being named the tournament’s top goalscorer.

From the town of Otuocha, in southern Nigeria, when Emenike started training with his new team it took him more than an hour – on foot – to get there. He began to bang in the goals for Delta, although it was clear his talents lay elsewhere. Europe was too high a standard, too soon, so Emenike headed to South Africa with Mpumalanga Black Aces, in the National First Division. Three goals in seven games was enough for FC Cape Town to sign him, in May, 2008.

Despite scoring just once in 16 games, Emenike was on the move a year later, but this time to Europe, as Kardemir Karabükspor took him to Turkey. His goals fired the northern Turkish team to the country’s top division and he won the league’s best foreign player. Emenike goals continued in the top flight – he hit 14 – which was when giants Fenerbahçe took notice. In the summer of 2011, the Istanbul club signed him for around £7 million. Yet Emenike, who’d won his first Nigeria cap in the January of the same year, ran into big trouble with his new club. Fenerbahçe become embroiled in a huge match-fixing scandal.

According to the case indictment, it was alleged that Fenerbahçe officials had fixed a game against Karabükspor, demanding that Karabükspor not name Emekine in their team and that he be transferred to Fenerbahçe after the match.  He lasted just six weeks in Istanbul – without making an appearance – and joined Spartak for the same fee as he’d joined Fenerbahçe. It wasn’t an easy first few months for Emenike in the Russian capital.

Emenike started life in Russia with a bang, thanks to some important goals in the Moscow derbies –
 African players, in the main, have taken a while to adjust to life in a country where racism, especially among football fans, is still horribly rife. But the supporters soon took to the striker, who linked up in a formidable partnership with Artyom Dzyuba. He netted his first goal for the club in a 1-1 draw against CSKA Moscow and got his first hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Lokomotiv Moscow.

He went on to score 13 times that season, resulting in a new four year deal and an increased buy-out clause – reportedly at $42 million.
However, strife wasn’t too far behind, once again. Emenike was fined for making an offensive gesture towards Dynamo Moscow fans, who’d aimed horrific racist abuse towards him, and he received a red card for mock vein-tapping in preparation for an imaginary heroin injection to celebrate after he scored against Zenit Saint Petersburg.

His electrifying form continued into the current campaign, the player having scored the fastest goals in the history of the Russian League, 10 seconds into a 2-1 win over Alania Vladikavkaz during the opening game of the season.

He also scored in a Champions League qualifying win over former club Fenerbahçe, and then scored a brace in a 3-2 loss against Scottish club Celtic in the Champions League proper.

With his exploits at the 2013 AFCON, he has been linked with a big move to English Premiership club, Liverpool. A nimble and fast striker, Emenike can cope with even the strongest of centre-halves, despite his relative lack of height at 5ft 11in for a perceived target man. Goals seem to come easy for him, providing he receives the right service. A move to Liverpool might seem unlikely, given Luis Suarez’s public announcement that he wishes to stay, as well as the Uruguayan currently playing well with new signing Daniel Sturridge.
Competition for places at Juventus would mean Emenike would spend considerable time on the bench, something which wouldn’t suit a man who came into football late and who is determined to keep on proving himself.

Chelsea may be a more realistic option – if the soap opera surrounding Fernando Torres finally reaches a climax come the end of the season. Should Roman Abramovich reach the end of his tether with the misfiring Spaniard, Emenike would be more of an adequate replacement. The sight of two fast goal getters – him and fellow African Demba Ba – could be enough to see Chelsea shell out for him.

Considering where he’s come from, walking to training from his local town to becoming a hero in Nigeria, don’t bet against Emenike’s raw ambition and determination outweighing Spartak’s desire to keep their star man.

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