Blessing Eleke 20 Striker NK Olimpija Ljubljana Nigeria
Robust Nigerian centre forward that moved from the Flying Sports Academy in 2014 to ND Gorica of Slovenia.
Making his debut against Prva League leaders Domzale in November 2014, Eleke was afforded a first start for Vrtnice in a 2-0 victory over Krka in the opening week of December. A series of strong performances over the course of the season caught the attention of several European scouts but Eleke was unable to turn promising displays into goals. By spring he had become a first choice at The Športni Park Nova Gorica and ended the season with three goals from fourteen starts, including a leveller against high-flying Maribor and the second goal of a 3-0 routing of Celje in late May.
An exceptional run of form from Eleke in the early part of the 2015-16 season elevated his side to first place in the league. Well supported by the veteran forward Miran Burgic, the Nigerian had found the back of the net eight times by the end of September and was already being discussed as a primary transfer target for several major clubs in the region. Although Gorica were unable to maintain their blistering start to the season, Eleke continued to score regularly, building up a good understanding with midfielder Amel Dzuzdanovic who was responsible for several assists to the striker.
2016 has been…
Sluggish. The January transfer window arrived in Slovenia with one move looking particularly likely, that of Blessing Eleke to champions-elect Olimpija Ljubljana. Debuting for The Dragons in a routine 2-0 victory over FC Koper in late February – a game in which he laid on the opening goal for the impressive Miha Zajc – Eleke was offered an opportunity to fill the boots of the recently departed Andraž Šporar. Local boy Šporar, who also made the IBWM 100 last December, had been a revelation for Olimpija up until his transfer to Basel so Eleke’s task would not be easy. Nevertheless, he was clearly the prime contender to fill the shoes of the prolific Slovenian marksman, especially as fellow Nigerian Ezekiel Henty was already set for a move to Lokomotiv Moscow.
Despite the loss of their primary strikers, Olimpija were able to secure the league title ahead of Maribor but their triumph owed a lot more to the early season exploits of regular scorers Henty and Šporar, as well as the craft of midfielders Zajc and Rok Kronaveter, than to anything Eleke had offered.
Nevertheless, the Nigerian did make headlines globally after being caught in a racism storm which would eventually cost coach Marko Nikolic his job. Eleke’s over exuberant celebrations following his first home goal against Zavrc on 10 April incurred the wrath of his coach, who believed his team still had time to clinch a victory. Nikolic was caught on camera calling Eleke a 'Bl*** I***t' for wasting time. Despite Eleke’s pleas on behalf of his coach, Nikolic was promptly sacked by club owner Milan Mandarić and temporarily replaced by Italian Rodolfo Vanoli who oversaw the Liblujana club’s eventual league victory.
So far this season Eleke has been intermittently used by new coach Luka Elsner but has not helped his cause by being particularly profligate in front of goal when he has played. To date, he has scored three times in sixteen league appearances as Olimpija and Maribor slug it out in a very close league campaign. Sharing starting positions with the experienced trio of Leon Benko, Andraz Kirm and Etien Velikonja, Eleke has found his role more as a decoy for the exciting Olimpija midfield, with the aforementioned Zajc a real breakout star.
In order to get back on track, Eleke needs to do what attracted attention to him in the first place. Scoring goals.
C- Stay composed
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