21 Striker Al-Arabi Nigeria
2014 has been...
…notable for a transfer taken for what we hope were sporting reasons but we remain dubious.
It’s almost impossible to write this report and not frame it around Imoh Ezekial’s decision to move in the summer. To get some of the facts out of the way before we comment, here is what you need to know. Ezekiel is a good striker who was making decent rather than spectacular progress in Liege prior to his move. Going at a rate of a goal every three games in the Belgian league is not the stellar emergence of some on this list, but it was enough to ensure several were keeping an eye on the young Nigerian, even more so after his first full international cap in March.
In good form he was somewhat unlucky to be overlooked by Nigeria for even the provisional World Cup squad in the summer, but change was coming. Since the turn of the year he had been openly courting a move, his agent dropping the “welcome interest/open to a move” line to most clubs and newspapers that would listen. Lille and West Brom were said to be keen on a player who didn’t look like he was going to go for huge money, moves to Russia, Turkey and Italy were all in the frame at one point, but it was announced in July he had signed with Al-Arabi in Qatar for a reported $11m fee on a 4-year contract worth nearly $4m a year. He’s started in great form (7 goals in 9 games at the time of writing) and we expect him to do well there as to be frank, at 21-years old he’s already a good player who if he continues to work hard could be a very good one in a league that won’t often really test him.
Now it’s easy to write this move off as a money grab but there’s a couple of things that need to be said. Firstly, the money that was offered in this instance would turn anyone’s head. Not only is it a significant increase on his wage in Liege, it would be excellent money wherever it had been offered and far more than other clubs were prepared to pay him. Secondly, sporting reasons aside, there should be no criticism attached to him taking the move. We’ll talk about the football aspect of the transfer in the next section, but we completely understand a young man taking a fantastic offer to ply his trade in new surroundings, and to be honest you would if you could too.
While we stand by the comments above, it’s now time to look at the move in terms of his football career and what comes next. On the face of it there is no sporting reason to take a move to Qatar - a far weaker standard than the Belgian Pro League. This will not particularly challenge him in the way a move to the Premier League or Ligue 1 would have done. His progress has been steady but constant so there is no reason to think he couldn’t have done a job elsewhere, but to take a step backwards despite the obvious reasons to do so, will always attract criticism.
At his previous club he was somewhat outshone by team-mate Michy Batshuayi who has now moved to Marseille. So far he’s finding it tougher going in France but the two players moving at the same time in such contrasting fashion only shines a bigger light for those who believe there was only one rea$on Ezekiel moved to Qatar. Is there a case to be made he moved for something else? Well in interviews he has insisted he wants to keep developing at Al-Arabi and “open the door” for others, but the evidence is yet to be seen.
If he continues to score at the rate he’s started a move back to Europe will come eventually. But, and it’s a big but, can he continue to develop and push himself when the competition is weaker than he could realistically expect to perform in? We don’t want to condemn a player for taking a move such as this when the money involved is understandably too good to turn down, but we hope in a couple of years there’s still a footballer inside his head telling him to push himself more. We’re a bit disappointed but we wish him all the best, it’s too easy to write things off for Corinthian principles when we would all do the same thing in the circumstances. A case of “we’ll see” then, may eventually play in a top league or may be happy to keep taking the best financial offer.
“There’s a good but not great striker here, personally I completely understand the move but can’t condone it football wise, I’m not sure he’ll still be in the mix for the Nigeria squad at the next World Cup unless he really is breaking all sorts of records in Qatar” – Dave Hartrick
"Only Michy Batshuayi (21) bagged more goals for Standard in 2013/14 than Ezekiel (12)." - OptaJoe
C Doing the basics right and scoring goals so it has to be a C, but how can he be judged in the future in a league that should come easy to him?
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