Striker Simeon ‘Simy’ Nwankwo’s goals for Italian Serie A side Crotone mean he is rated one of Europe’s best scorers in 2021, yet considered surplus to requirements by Nigeria.
His 19 goals for Serie A’s bottom club is a new record for a Nigerian striker in a single season in one of Europe’s top leagues to overtake Yakubu’s Aiyegbeni’s 17 goals in the 2011-12 campaign for Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League.
Despite these impressive statistics the Nigeria coach, Gernot Rohr, has indicated Simy is not part of his plans at the moment, something the player says does not worry him.
“As I said before, I have never stopped following his performances, but I believe that next year he must go and play in a club and in a team that is stronger than Crotone,” Rohr told website Europa Calcio.
“It will not be equally easy, but he would already have a better chance of returning to the national team.”
Simy’s 15 goals in 19 Serie A appearances since the start of the year is only bettered by Robert Lewandowski (19 goals in 14 games), Lionel Messi (19 goals in 17) and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Andre Silva (16 goals in 17) in Europe’s top five leagues (England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France).
‘Not an obsession’
The 28-year-old, who was a shock call-up to the Nigeria 2018 World Cup squad but has since been overlooked by Rohr, is philosophical about not adding to the five caps he won in 2018.
“I won’t say I am bothered about the Super Eagles. As a Nigerian I am a fan of the national team, we are all born to be fans of the Super Eagles,” he told BBC Sport Africa.
“I share the same dream and ambition of every young footballer to one day represent the country. But it’s not in my hands, it’s not something I can control.
“I focus on the only thing that I can control, which is my my day-to-day performances, improvement, becoming better every day, working hard and doing the things I have to do for my club.
“That’s the only thing that I am able to control. What happens in the Super Eagles is out of my control.
“If it happens again, it happens and if not.. life goes on. I am not worried.”
Rohr also pointed out that at the moment Simy faces a lot of competition up front in the Super Eagles squad.
“However, the competition is huge: we have (Victor) Osimhen, (Kelechi) Iheanacho from Leicester and (Paul) Onuachu from Genk, who is very similar to Simy in terms of features and physical build,” Rohr pointed out.
“Without forgetting (Umar) Sadiq and (Odion) Ighalo. So it is very difficult to be part of the Nigeria attack, we have very good players.”
Simy adds that despite, his 29 goals erasing the record set by compatriot Obafemi Martins (28 goals) – as the all-time leading Nigerian scorer in the Italian league for Inter Milan between 2002 and 2006, he holds no grudges against Rohr.
“I need to make it clear that making the national team squad is not an obsession for me,” he added.
“I don’t lose sleep over it to be honest and I only focus on what is professionally expected of me by my club.”
In March, Simy became the third African player in Serie A history to find the net in five games in a row after Liberia’s George Weah in 1996 and Senegal’s Keita Balde in 2017.
His brace for Crotone in a 4-3 win over fellow strugglers Parma last weekend, which sealed just their first away win this season, has only delayed their Serie A relegation.
Top scorer with 20 goals in Serie B as the club made a return to the top flight this season, Simy refuses to celebrate his personal success while his club are effectively doomed for demotion.
“It’s a good feeling to be honest. On an individual level, scoring lot of goals for every striker is very important for your confidence and then breaking important records as well is something special,” he said.
“But I’ve had absolutely no time to think about it. It’s been a difficult year for us. Football is a collective sport.
“We’ve not been able to pick important results along the way that would’ve helped us staying up in the league. So it’s a kind of a mixed feelings for me.
“I always prioritise the team’s collective results ahead of mine but it’s been really crazy this year but it’s a good feeling for a striker when you score goals and I’m glad.”
Light in the dark
Linked with several clubs in Italy and elsewhere, surpassing Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Obafemi Martins records in Europe and Italian football is expected to be the bright spot in a challenging year.
But Simy, who was subjected to racist abuse back in March continues to prioritise Crotone his club over his latest accolades.
“In the build-up to the game and the last few games I’ve been hearing about this record from journalists around here,” the player, who scored in seven matches in a row this season, explained
“But I didn’t take it serious because records are meant to be broken by someone someday, and today it’s mine and tomorrow it will be somebody else.
“Of course it feels good getting to such numbers and it’s a good thing for every striker but I wish I could extend it more by scoring important goals for my club.
“Personally it’s nothing special and not that important for me because collectively we’ve been struggling as a team so I don’t have much time to enjoy it.”
-Oluwashina Okeleji, Sports Writer, Nigeria