The towering striker is fourth in the Serie A scoring charts, but seems to be persona non grata where the national team selectors are concerned
What a difference 18 months can make in football.
It seems just like yesterday that Odion Ighalo’s retirement from international football left many aghast, uncertain at the prospect of a Super Eagles without the former Watford striker. While his very suitability was the subject of much debate until his departure, what was impossible to deny was his standing and goal return.
Since then, however, there has been a veritable explosion of striking options for Nigeria, with the ongoing 2020/21 season representing the high-point.
There has been a breakout season for previously unknown Terem Moffi in Ligue 1, Indian summers for late-bloomer targetmen in Paul Onuachu and Simy Nwankwo, and an emphatic re-affirmation of potential from former Olympian Umar Sadiq. And that’s before taking into account the incumbent Victor Osimhen who, despite a chequered debut season at Napoli, is the new standard bearer for the Super Eagles’ attack.
All but one of these were in the mix for the most recent international window: Moffi was named in the standby list, Sadiq was kept back by clubside Almeria over Covid travel restrictions, while Onuachu scored in the two matches against Benin and Lesotho.
The odd man out was Simy, whose last appearance for Nigeria under Gernot Rohr came at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Since that latest snub, the 28-year-old has hit an even richer vein of form for lowly Crotone, taking his tally of league goals for the season to 17 in 31 appearances. Of that number, 10 have come in his last seven matches, with scalps taken against the likes of Napoli, Atalanta and Lazio — some of Serie A’s foremost sides.
Impressive as this all sounds, it acts as a surreal backdrop for a very grim reality: despite having already equalled Yakubu Aiyegbeni’s Nigerian record for goals in a top five league, and with the real prospect of eclipsing it altogether, it is highly unlinely Simy will pull on the Nigeria jersey again under Rohr’s management.
One of Rohr’s well-established hang-ups is his unwillingness to grant second chances.
Often, the German will run the rule over a player the first time, and once he has decided said player is not to his liking, he will stick to that initial assessment no matter what.
As a consequence, the door was slammed shut on Anthony Nwakaeme for all time, and it is worth remembering that he was willing to exclude even Onuachu on this basis too, only to have his hand forced by the withdrawal of Sadiq during the March international window. “It is because I want to see somebody else,” he said of his decision to leave out the Genk hitman initially.
Having assessed Simy at close quarters at the last World Cup, it appears Rohr has reached a similar verdict here as well.
It just seems rather stiff-necked for the sake of it though.
Whatever reading Rohr got from a couple of training performances three years ago, it is clear this season that the rangy striker has gone up a couple of notches in terms of his output.
His ungainliness can count against him sometimes, and his finishing still is quite hit-and-miss, but Simy does a great job finding space inside the box to convert, and this season he has diversified his attacking movements away from simply looking to attack high crosses.
Seven of his total have come from the penalty spot, however, but even that can be considered a marker of his sheer dependability and importance to the Crotone cause.
While all the usual caveats apply, they still have to be put away and, in any case, being the fourth-highest scorer in one of Europe’s major leagues playing for the basement dwellers certainly paints at least as pretty a picture as bagging 30 for one of the top sides in the Belgian league or in Spain’s Segunda Division.
Perhaps there is some magic number upon which Rohr will be forced to not just confront his own biases, but consider integrating Simy.
After all, the German has made much of his preference for players in Europe’s top five leagues (a consideration which was used by some to explain his disdain for Nwakaeme), and while consistency across the board has never been his strong suit, that position of second choice centre-forward is yet to be properly decided.
At the very least, Crotone’s all-time leading goalscorer deserves a fair shot off the back of a monster season.