22 Defender Heerenveen Hungary
2014 has been...
A steady decline. This time last year, Kenny Otigba was really beginning to stand out. The 21 year old defender had been highly regarded for a number of years as a junior, but 2013/14 was unquestionably his breakthrough. A consistent performer for the Heerenveen under 21 side, Otigba was increasingly drafted in the first team squad by Marco Van Basten and was afforded a first start for the club against Alkmaar on the opening weekend of the Eredivisie season. Strong in the tackle and hard working throughout, Otigba would retain his place for most of the season, weighing in with an impressive five goals.
A tendency to be that little bit overzealous resulted in several bookings but it was a red card at Groningen in February which truly disrupted Otigba’s year. His suspension was enough to allow the versatile Christian Kum to retain his place alongside Arnold Kruiswijk at the heart of the Heerenveen defence and condemn the youngster back to bench duty.
Having represented Hungary at youth international level (his mother’s nationality), Otigba had already made noises suggesting that he would prefer to wait for the call from Nigeria rather than accept any further recognition from the Magyars. There may have been some brinksmanship here with the World Cup looming, but at the turn of the year, it was looking increasingly likely that the relevant formalities could be resolved in order for Otigba to be drafted into Stephen Keshi’s plans. He was certainly playing well enough. However, any chance of making it to Brasil 2014 disappeared with that red card. Unable to force his way back into Van Basten’s first eleven, Otigba suffered an anti climatic end of season at the Abe Lenstra.
Under new coach Dwight Lodeweges, De Superfriezen have continued to bob along in mid table but a new regime has not meant good news for Otigba. Lodeweges has decided on his first choice central defensive partnership and has stuck with it. Former NAC Breda defender Jordy Buijs and another youth product, Joost Van Aken, a year younger than Otigba, are currently in the chair. At present, Otigba returns to more familiar surrounds and warms the bench.
Otigba has certainly fallen away this year and to find that he’s no longer a first choice at Heerenveen will be difficult to take. On a more positive note for him, Lodeweges' side haven’t looked particularly impressive at all this season and while there is a lot of optimism around Van Aken, he has yet to truly convince in the Eredivisie. A recent chasing at the hands of Ajax may result in a change of heart from the coach when it comes to team selection and it’s notable that Otigba replaced Buijs midway through the second half of that particular match.
On the international front there seems to be something of an impasse. Otigba has enough about him to make the national squads for Nigeria or Hungary, but needs to be playing regularly to seal a place for either. Recently Nigeria have called upon the services of youngsters Kenneth Omeruo and Solomon Kwambe and Otigba could certainly be in the mix, especially in the wake of the Super Eagles failure to make the next African Cup of Nations. He needs games before a decision is required though.
A quick and relatively powerful centre back, Otigba has a lot to learn in the game but isn’t a bad prospect at all. However, at 22, especially when you look at some of the other players we feature in The 100, prospect may not be that appropriate a word.
Over the coming weeks we’ll get to see whether Kenny Otigba can regain his place at Heerenveen. He showed enough last time around to suggest there’s a decent player here, but he’ll need to hit the ground running. Soon.
"After a wonderful start, Otigba has faded away. The Hungarian defender spent most of 2014 on the bench and must do better to re-ignite his promising career." - Michiel Jongsma
"Only four players won a higher percentage of their aerial duels than Kenneth Otigba in Eredivisie 2013/14 (70+ duels)." - OptaJoe
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