Ahmed Musa is perhaps the most vilified forward ever to play for Nigeria. If he isn’t, then he must be pretty close to it. Some critics harshly describe him as clueless or without intelligence. But the reality is that he is far from that. He may be the most dangerous weapon that the Super Eagles have, bar none.
The truth, however, is that since Musa made his first appearance for Nigeria after startling displays at Kano Pillars and VVV Venlo, he has been largely an enigma. One day he will burst through defences with ease. On another day, he will be virtually anonymous. But on his good day, he was and is virtually unplayable.
But watching Nigeria since 2018, it will be hard to argue against Ahmed Musa’s play. There is no doubt, that he was Nigeria’s most influential player of 2018. He passes the eye test. Without doubt, he is the fastest player on the field, usually, on the Nigerian side as well as the opponent’s.
His pace is like a sprinter running downhill with few obstacles in place. That pace is a deadly signature that no Nigerian player has ever had. Here, I include the likes of legendary Segun Odegbami and Finidi George or who ever else you would want to mention. No one, bar none, has ever produced the speed on the ball produced by Musa down the lines in a football game.
There are players who excel against minnows. These are the guys who fill up the stats and make highlight videos against the lesser ranked teams in Africa. Musa does his damage against the very best. You would think that Nigeria’s top scorer at the World Cup would be legends like Nwankwo Kanu, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins, or the incomparable Rashidi Yekini. Instead, the guy with that record is Ahmed Musa.
He ran Argentina ragged in 2014 in the World Cup in Brazil and curled in one goal that remains memorable even as I write this. In 2018, when beating Iceland was a must, it was Musa who produced two exquisite goals. One in which he sped down the left, leaving defenders in his wake before blasting the ball beyond the goalkeeper.
Clearly, Musa has easily passed that eye test particularly in crucial games. But importantly, his inconsistency during the early part of his career has given way to a more consistent output. He now rarely has a poor game. His crosses are much better and he rarely outruns the ball on the end line as he so often did then.
But the eye test is not one that is subjective nor is it an aberration. His play represents the most dangerous threat to a Nigerian opponent and is, in a different way and style, comparable to the threat posed by Victor Moses during the latter’s mercurial days or Segun Odegbami in the late 1970s.
Remember Victor Moses’ effect on the AFCON in 2013 or Odegbami’s heroics at the 1980 AFCON. Musa’s statistics support this view. Think for a moment. Who is a non-striker that has scored the most goals for Nigeria since 2018? Who has assisted on most goals?
The second question is the most intriguing. While the media rave about Alex Iwobi or Mikel Obi in terms of play making for Nigeria, it is Musa who is stuffing the stats book with assists and not those two! (see Table 1). What does that mean? It means his passes present the best opportunity, theoretically for Nigeria to score? Musa is not fancy and will not dance on the ball to create a talking point.
Thus, his pass does not come after dancing around a player. It isn’t a pass that looks colourful. It isn’t a pass that merely opens up a defense. IT IS A PASS that effectively presents Nigeria with goal scoring. That is exactly what Musa has presented for Nigeria.
Of course, it is almost sacrilege to write these things about one of Nigeria’s most reviled players but the fact is that Musa’s play has been among Nigeria’s best if not the best in recent years. He is plausibly Nigeria’s best weapon entering the AFCON in 2019. His pace, his goal scoring, and his assists will be fore front as Nigeria seeks to conquer Africa again. Do not look beyond Musa for answers. Enough stated.
Table 1: Nigeria’s Top Assists /Goals since January 2018