With the crazy summer transfer window done with, we take a look at what to expect from some of the Nigerians plying their trade in LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank this season.
Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal CF)
Umuahia native Chukwueze has been missing in action since he suffered a hip injury in the semi-final of the Europa League against Arsenal in May. Despite Yeremy Pina putting in a decent role as his deputy, the role of Chukwueze in Unai Emery’s squad has never been in doubt due to his quick feet and pace. The youngest player to ever play 100 games for the club, the Nigerian international will be as important as ever on his return.
Questions will hover over how quickly he will be able to hit top gear following from this lengthy lay off, but look to Chukwueze to star sooner rather than later as the Yellow Submarine seek to compete on multiple fronts and build on their Europa League triumph last season.
Umar Sadiq (UD Almeria)
After a goal-laden 2020-21 campaign in which he scored a highly impressive 20 league goals, Sadiq chose to stay at ambitious UD Almeria with an eye on gaining promotion to LaLiga Santander. The 24-year-old has wasted little time in hitting the ground running this season, returning a goal and an assist from three appearance.
Sadiq, who hails from Kaduna and first left Nigeria in 2014 aged 17, is undoubtedly Almeria’s biggest goal threat and the Nigerian international will prove pivotal to his side’s quest for promotion to Spain’s elite division this season.
Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes)
Leganes are enduring a difficult start to the season, winless in their first three games, but Omeruo has been one of the shinning lights at the club. The central defender, a native of Abia State, is now in his fourth season with Leganes and was part of the defensive unit that was key in the club’s promotion push last season – falling just short in the promotion play-offs with defeat to local rivals Rayo Vallecano.
Omeruo remains a mainstay in Leganes’ defensive set up and has made more tackles than any of his teammates, while only Luis Perea has won more duels than him after three games this season. Indeed, he has enjoyed a decent start to the 2021-22 season, but this needs to rub off on the entire team if Leganes is to gain promotion to LaLiga Santander this time.
Kelechi Nwakali (SD Huesca)
A successful loan spell at AD Alcorcon during the second half of last season has undeniably breathed fresh air to 23-year-old Nwakali’s career. SD Huesca have won two of their three matches this season, and it is not surprising that these were the two games in which the Nigerian midfielder has featured.
The former Nigerian U-17 international is into the final year of his contract with Huesca, so this will likely be a career-defining campaign for Nwakali who looks keen to live up to the promise that earned him the Golden Ball award at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile.
James Igbekeme (Real Zaragoza)
Igbekeme is not a household name in Nigerian football but the left footed midfielder is the steel in the heart of Zaragoza’s midfield. The 26-year-old is into the fourth season of the five-year contract he signed when he joined from Portuguese club Gil Vicente in July 2018.
Igbekeme is a fine blend of physicality and mobility. Having featured in all of Zaragoza’s three games this season and won all his aerial duels, the Lagos-born midfielder has the elements required to turn out successful this season. However, this largely hinges on the performance of the entire team that has accrued just one point from their first three games of the campaign so far.
Emmanuel Apeh (CD Tenerife)
One assist in 31 matches in LaLiga SmartBank last season was a down year for 24-year-old Apeh, who is yet to feature in any matches for Tenerife so far this season. The Kaduna born striker, who formerly played for fellow LaLiga side RC Celta, must now grab any opportunities that come his way to force his way back into coach Luis Miguel Ramis’ plans.