Onyekuru heads for the Premier League via a brief sojourn at Anderlecht

By | June 29, 2017

Henry Onyekuru (picture from completesportsnigeria.com)

Eupen’s Henry Onyekuru has signed for Everton but he won’t be seen at Goodison Park for at least 12 months. When agent Mogi Bayat was given exclusive rights to manage the player’s transfer, Anderlecht were always going to get a sniff of the action.

Bayat is extremely close to the Brussels club and so it came to pass that Onyekuru will spend 12 months with the Belgian champions before moving to the Toffees. .

This arrangement also has the advantage of nullifying any problems Onyekuru might have had with a work permit as he’s only played a few minutes for his native Nigeria.

Nominally playing on the left wing for Eupen, Onyekuru can float past opponents and frequently moves inside to use his stronger right foot. The player himself says his best position is centre forward.
‘Henry’ made headlines during Belgium’s oddly-named Europa League playoffs – a convoluted series of games at the back-end of the Belgian season. With Eupen, he scored 11 goals in 10 games in those playoffs to add to his 12 in 28 games in the regular season.

That total of 23 goals made him joint leading scorer in the Belgian league along with Anderlecht’s Lukasz Teodorczyk and brought several big clubs running.

But who is Henry Onyekuru?

The 19-year-old is a product of the Qatari Aspire Academy. The Aspire programme, said to be created for humanitarian reasons, has been heavily criticised. The search for talent starts with six-year olds. Around 350,000 youngsters are screened each year in Africa, Asia and South America, with the best being offered places in Qatar and Senegal.

‘Henry’ was spotted in Lagos and shipped out to Dakar aged 13. That either breaks a young boy or gives him a dose of self-confidence. After four years, Onyekuru was selected to join Qatari-owned Eupen, a club in the German-speaking region of Belgium.

The Eupen club had been bought by Aspire in 2012, as an outlet for the academy’s most promising players. It’s an odd business model with the apparent aim of giving young players experience in professional football, while putting them in the shop window.
Although Aspire insist that the aim is not grant players Qatari nationality ahead of the 2022 World Cup, suspicions linger.

Following Eupen’s promotion, Onyekuru’s performances were noticed by Glasgow Celtic and the Scottish champions made a bid during the January transfer window. After Eupen refused to let the player go, Onyekuru went underground. Head coach Jordi Condom was not impressed but with an eye on results, he eventually accepted the player back into the fold.

Then came his avalanche of goals and Arsenal were said to be interested, along with several of the usual suspects, Anderlecht and a bunch of other clubs.
There are a couple of notes of caution for Everton. Belgium’s ‘secondary’ playoffs, where Onyekuru scored half of his goals, frequently lack competitiveness and strikers can easily find wide-open spaces. Onyekuru is also far from the finished article and his education has not included team-play and putting in a shift.

But I guess the fee of eight million euros is nothing these days and the talent is certainly there. Onyekuru has been given the number nine shirt at Anderlecht and he might find himself leading the line instead of Teodorczyk who only joined the Brussels club with the agreement that he could leave; so far there has been no interest.

Whatever happens in the remainder of the transfer window, there will be a lot of Everton fans watching with interest as developments at the Constant Vanden Stock stadium unfold.

Note: this is an update of the article that appeared on http://www.football.london/ on June 4th.

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