The No. 10 position has proved problematic under Gernot Rohr, but the fine display from the Arsenal man against Libya might solve the issue
One has to go back to the 4-0 pummelling of Cameroon during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers to find the last time the Super Eagles produced a dominant display at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium. The exact scoreline was repeated against Libya in Saturday’s crunch 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, and even though it was not a completely commanding performance, despite Odion Ighalo stealing the headlines with his hat-trick, it was Alex Iwobi that stood out in Uyo as the team’s creative force.
It suggested prior to kick-off that coach Gernot Rohr should start Iwobi in the number 10 role if a 4-2-3-1 formation was employed, and that was exactly how the German tactician utilised him.
It proved to be the masterstroke. Rohr has previously employed captain John Obi Mikel in that position, and he certainly thrived in the 3-1 routing of Algeria and the 4-0 routing of the Indomitable Lions, in which he scored. However, Mikel isn’t much of a creative player, as he is used more as a defensive midfielder at club level.
Kelechi Iheanacho is the other man to be employed just behind the centre forward, but he has endured nightmarish performances in that role, so much that his worth as a football player has been questioned.
This is where Iwobi comes in, and it is no surprise that he was so much at ease on the pitch at the weekend.
The midfielder was able to control the tempo of the game, link up well with the attackers, with his vision contributed to Ighalo’s second goal. He almost provided left-back Jamilu Collins with his senior debut international goal.
Indeed, Iwobi’s passing accuracy and involvement in the game were so awesome that Nigeria would have put more goals past the Libyans were it not for wasteful play from Ighalo and Samuel Kalu.
It was certainly the kind of performance that suggested that the nephew of Jay-Jay Okocha is the right man for a central role, rather than the wide positions he’d been occupying previously.
This is not to say that the 22-year old is not a good wideman, his performance against Zambia in the World Cup qualifiers is testament to that, but Iwobi saves his best performances when playing the No. 10 role because it gives him the chance and space to express himself on the pitch. He had previously played in this role in the 2-1 pre-World Cup friendly defeat by England at Wembley.
The Super Eagles were trailing 2-0 at the break and a change in tactics by Rohr saw the West Africans dominate and take control of the second half. Iwobi was in the thick of things as the playmaker, and it was no surprise that he got the consolation goal. If there had been more time, Nigeria could have clawed their way back into the contest.
The evidence suggests that Iwobi will only show his best as a No. 10, where he can also get the most out of the players around him.
The hope is that Rohr realises this.
The former Burkina Faso gaffer has been known to be heady with his selections, picking players who have little or no input such as Elderson Echiejile and Ogenyi Onazi.
However, having softened his stance in recent times, it will do a lot of good – and be to the benefit of Nigeria – if he does likewise with Iwobi.