Ahmed Musa probably cannot have it any worse in this most testing period, his wilderness experience. Crossing over to Leicester, then awash with the title-defending champions from icy-cold Eastern Europe was meant to signal an upward curve for Musa but the move has started a downward spiral that could hurt his indispensability to the Super Eagles.
Ahmed Musa has been a main feature in the Super Eagles fold ever since he made his debut under Augustine Eguavoen as a fresh-faced 17-year-old in the match against Madagascar. In his oversized jersey that looked like it bore a hidden jet-pack, he made his 15-minute cameo replacing Mikel Obi, he almost got Nigeria a third goal two minutes before the end of regulation time but his shot dragged wide of the post. Ever since, he has not missed any competitive fixture for Nigeria.
Things have been slightly different though this past year, the forward has started just one competitive game for the Super Eagles since he made the move away from Russia: a dead rubber against Tanzania after the hopes of Africa Cup of Nations qualification had been dashed following the loss to Egypt in Alexandria.
Ahmed Musa no longer has the automatism of a starter and was an unused substitute in a competitive game for the second time in his Super Eagles career against Cameroon at Yaounde. The other time was as far back as 2013 in the quarterfinals of the AFCON against Ivory Coast. The winger has featured for less than 30 minutes in all of Nigeria’s 2018 World Cup qualifying matches.
There is sympathy to be had for Musa’s case, a typical instance of a transfer move gone wrong. Trading Moscow for Leicester in hindsight is a fail. It is difficult to fault the ambition of the 24-year old, calculatedly taking steps forward from when he started at the Aminchi Football Academy. His career has seen him break records in the NPFL with Kano Pillars, impress at the Eredivisie with VVV Venlo before making the move to CSKA Moscow when he felt ready. After 125 games and 42 goals, Leicester City came calling with a fee that matched CSKA’s valuation of their forward, a then, club record £16.6 million after the forward had scored a career best of 18 goals in 44 appearances.
Who’d have known Claudio Ranieri who seemed hung up on his talents was going to get sacked after Leicester City had done the unbelievable. Musa played in 19 Premier League games scoring two goals while Ranieri was at the helm. Immediately after Craig Shakespeare took over as caretaker manager, Musa did not make Leicester’s matchday squad for two consecutive games. Musa would only feature three times again in Foxes’ remaining 13 Premier League games playing for less than an hour.
The lag in playing time was certain to have an effect.
International football though is a delicate beast needing a bit of subjectivity, especially for sides not exactly bursting at the seam with top level talent. For a player who is obviously more talented than most his country has to offer, the country will still persist with him even if his playing time at his club side leaves a lot to be desired.
If that were the case for Musa, then, there is no discourse to be had per his call-up but the current realities in the Super Eagles allows for more objectivity with the criteria for selection including playing time and form.
Alex Iwobi for example, despite his sparse minutes with Arsenal, will get a call-up because of his talents and unique skill-set in the Super Eagles. But same cannot be said with Musa whose searing pace on the wings has been replaced with Moses Simon’s directness, and more-controlled running. His place in the squad also seems to impede the ascent of Henry Onyekuru who is more naturally talented than Ahmed Musa.
Onyekuru had a brilliant last season and has begun this season in like fashion with Anderlecht, scoring his fifth goal of the season but the former Eupen winger has the Musa-shaped shadow cast over him. Thus, he is only good enough for the standby list while on the other hand, Ahmed Musa has not featured in a league game this season with Leicester City. Against Bournemouth in the weekend, Musa was not good enough for the bench as compatriots Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho featured in Shakespeare’s side.
The winger has not been in any of Leicester’s matchday squad in the English Premier League this season. It was depressing to see the 62-time capped Super Eagle bursting his lungs in the development squad against Chelsea U23 while his teammates had a crunch tie the next day against Liverpool in the League. The former Super Eagles captain was sent to the U23 squad to gain match fitness due to a lack of playing time.
For the Zambia game, it is all cast in stone, Musa is in the squad and will probably get a late cameo but going forward, the difficult, slightly awkward and uncomfortable conversation about Musa’s invitation is meant to be had.