There are few more glamorous positions in world football than that of the winger.
Sure, the No.9 gets the goals and the acclaim for victory, the No.10 tearful adoration, but there is an enigma, a mystique around the debonair wing-man—he is perhaps the sole embodiment of individuality in a team-focused sport; he must serve the whole, but can only do so completely when allowed to indulge.
This explains, to an extent, why Ahmed Musa is one of Nigeria’s most underrated footballers. Since his debut in 2011, the CSKA Moscow man has made 49 appearances for the Super Eagles, tallying 10 goals.
In spite of this return, there remains an element of indifference toward Musa from the Nigerian public. He is tolerated rather than loved, greeted with sighs and shrugs, and is often the butt of heckling. Compare, for instance, the difference in popular opinion between him and Peter Odemwingie. The latter has the sultry good looks and mystery that is relatable in wingers; however, his 65 caps for Nigeria have yielded 11 goals—some of these playing as a striker.
Why does Odemwingie receive so much more affection than Musa?
Musa lacks the archetypal comeliness of the Stoke forward, his frame is slight and his gait is awkward. The rather inelegant sobriquet ‘Aboki’ – literally ‘friend’ – a pejorative term for people of the Hausa extraction, has stuck; one undeterred by the fact the former Kano Pillars man hails from Edo state in the South on his mother’s side.
It also encapsulates the playful peer-group ribbing that is common among the youth, especially in the wake of minor indiscretions, perceived or actual. In the eyes of the majority, Musa’s abilities remain flawed by poor decision-making, a trait most associated with a lack of maturity and/or savvy.
Quite aside the snobbish inaccuracy of this view, complete with its condemnable tribalistic undertones, there is some basis for the view about the player’s style. Frustrations have always lingered over the erratic nature of his decision-making in the final third, as well as a perceived ‘inconsistency’.
This is worsened by his occasional deployment on the right flank, which totally negates his strengths: he never has been an efficient crosser, and tends to over-estimate both the amount of space between himself and the touchline, as well as his own pace. As a result, he frequently runs the ball out of play, precipitating groans and eye-rolling.
However, the presence of a blemish in one’s playing style is true for just about every footballer—it is a sport with a vast range of skill-sets, all of which cannot be mastered absolutely. The only two players who come close to filling out the polygon – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – are, at best, gods and, at worst, freakish elements of Nature-on-acid: possessed with a crazed, over-active imagination. For the rest of mortal humanity, it will suffice for the strengths to outnumber and outweigh the weaknesses.
Musa will never fly that high. However, he is quick, blindingly so, and has great technique when striking the ball. He is also surprisingly cool in front of goal: witness his finishes against Argentina at the World Cup in Brazil, giving Manchester United’s Sergio Romero the eyes before finishing near post; and in October against Sudan in Abuja.
Musa | Flawed, but his qualities are hard to deny
Then again, these traits were already apparent four years ago when he debuted for Nigeria, and set the world alight at the U20 World Cup in Colombia. Since then, toughened up by spells at centre-forward for CSKA, Musa has bulked up quite noticeably – all the better to battle muscle-bound centre-backs with – and has the best movement off the ball in the national side.
His first touch is also much improved. Playing on the left, this makes him a useful asset for switches of play, where he can isolate a full-back and either come inside to link up or shoot, or go down the outside with his searing pace.
If there is an element of anarchy to his play which occasionally infuriates, it is a double-edged sword. Attacking is, after all, about breaking the opposition’s defensive links—if positional play and intricate passing fail to do the trick, a little chaos factor serves to pick the lock.
This unique blend of qualities, albeit dappled with slight imperfections, make Ahmed Musa indispensable to the national team. When Sunday Oliseh reveals his starting 11 to face Tanzania on the 5th of September, you can be sure Musa’s name will be there, just as you can be sure it will be received with a sigh and a shrug. Five goals already this season in nine games for CSKA Moscow is proof-positive we cannot begrudge him.
He may not be everyone’s cup of tea but, Vincent Enyeama aside, Musa is the first name on the Super Eagles team list.