Nigeria forward Emmanuel Emenike has been the subject of some major interest from the Premier League this summer. Ben Jefferson of the Daily Express wrote that Manchester City, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur were competing to sign the Super Eagles striker, while Turkish newspaper Fanatik [via Jame Sanderson of the Metro] report that Chelsea are preparing a £16 million bid for the Fenerbahce star.
In this article, we focus on the reported interest of Everton, and consider to what extent Emenike would be an ideal signing for the Toffees.
The Blues have made signing a striker a priority this season. They are one of several clubs reportedly in the hunt for Swansea City striker Wilfried Bony, as per Simon Bird of the Daily Mirror, but are primarily looking at a deal to bring Romelu Lukaku back to Goodison Park, as noted by Simon Rice of The Independent.
It is easy to see why Lukaku is Roberto Martinez’s key transfer target. The Belgian forward scored 15 goals in 31 Premier League appearances with the club last season, thrived in the Spanish manager’s side and became a popular figure at Goodison Park.
"Of course we'll get him,” Martinez told fans, as noted by Rice, making no secret of his club’s intentions.
However, despite Chelsea’s purchases of Diego Costa and Didier Drogba, it is not yet certain that the club want to sell, while Everton may face competition for Lukaku’s signature from clubs such as Juventus, Wolfsburg and Tottenham Hotspur, as acknowledged by Simon Johnson of the London Evening Standard.
Should the towering frontman remain at Stamford Bridge, or should one of his other suitors outbid Everton, then Martinez may need to turn to a Plan B.
This is where Emenike comes in.
Some of the Nigeria forward’s qualities were on show for all to see at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil this summer. The forward started all four of Nigeria’s games, and was one of six players who played every minute of the tournament for the Super Eagles.
He was particularly impressive against Bosnia-Herzegovina in the crucial Group F match that Stephen Keshi’s side won 1-0. Indeed, Emenike was one of, if not the, standout player in this match and it was his excellent work that set up Peter Odemwingie for the sole goal of the game.
My colleague at Kick Off Nigeria, Uche George Egbe, had this to say about the forward’s showing against the Eastern Europeans:
My outstanding performer was Emmanuel Emenike. Odemwingie may get the praise for the goal, but the Fenerbahce striker did the dirty work, with his energetic burst of creative brilliance. One only needs to take a look at the statistics of his performance in the game to understand why he was in my opinion the most influential player in the game.
The 27-year-old aside from providing the assist for the only goal of the game also hit 4 of Nigeria's 20 shots on goal. He also made 5 key passes and completed 8 successful dribbles, a higher number per game than any other player in the competition so far.
His menacing physical presence was backed by intelligent runs, which made him a constant source of worry for Bosnia's defenders.
This summary of Emenike’s performance encapsulates many of his qualities and sheds light on why he may be a successful addition to Everton.
The striker may have struggled to impose himself against Iran in Nigeria’s opener, where space was tight and the defence packed, but against Bosnia he was afforded more space and thrived when getting in behind Senad Lulic.
The Lazio man struggled with the physicality and the pace of Emenike and was regularly outmuscled and outpaced by the hulking frontman.
The versatility displayed by Emenike in this match must also be noted, especially considering the context of Everton who typically have a small squad and have, for a long time, needed to get the most out of the personnel available to them.
Nominally, the former Spartak Moscow man is a centre-forward, but he is also adept at operating from a right-sided position and playing a supporting role. He averaged 2.3 key passes per game at the World Cup, putting him firmly inside the top-30 players in the competition.
He is most effective, however, as a leading man where he enjoys profiting from the intelligent movement of his teammates and isn’t afraid to push a little wider to find space if needed.
During the first half of 2013, this was demonstrated by the fine relationship he cultivated with recent West Bromwich Albion recruit Ideye Brown.
The £10 million man isn’t likely to bag you too many goals, but his hard work, relentless energy and selfless movement brought the best out of Emenike. Since Ideye has been left out of the Nigeria side, Emenike’s goals have dried up somewhat. He has scored eight goals in his last 17 games for Nigeria, six of those goals came in the eight matches that the two played in together, while only two came in the nine games where Ideye was absent. Simplistically, Emenike is three times as effective when paired alongside the Baggies workhorse.
In Steven Naismith, Everton possess a player not too dissimilar to Brown. In his 31 Premier League appearances last term, Naismith only scored five goals, but he is a team player who may well be able to get the best out of the Nigeria forward. John Edwards of the Daily Mail, for one, describes Naismith as a “workhorse,” a term that could easily be attributed to Ideye Brown.
At the World Cup, we also saw Emenike’s ability to take players on. On the 13 occasions he attempted to beat his man against Bosnia, he succeeded on eight occasions, and averaged three successful dribbles-per-game during the World Cup (the 13th best in the tournament). Emir Spahic, Bosnia’s left-sided defender, represented limited opposition, but up against some of the Premier League’s less well-equipped stoppers, he might enjoy similar fortune.
Emenike may not possess the elite intelligence or technique to thrive at an elite club, where pressure is greater and space much reduced, but at Everton he would be the kind of well-rounded forward that would thrive much as Lukaku did last season.
The Blues could do a lot worse that recruit a striker who will look to run the channels, who presents the kind of physique to thrive in the Premier League and who possesses the dynamism and work rate to thrive in different positions across the forward line.
What fans didn’t see at the World Cup, however, was his scoring ability.
The hitman was the top scorer at the 2013 Cup of Nations where, despite missing the final through injury, he bagged four goals in five games. His goals were also decisive, in three of those matches his goals made the difference between picking up points and not or advancing to the next round or being eliminated.
He was missed at the 2013 Confederations Cup where, again, injury ruled him out, and his worth was evident as the Super Eagles appeared impotent without him.
Most impressive, perhaps was his showing in the tense 2014 CAF World Cup Qualifying Play-off against Ethiopia at Addis Ababa. Faced with a partisan atmosphere and taxing altitude, and being a goal down, Nigeria were desperate for a saviour. Emenike rose to the occasion, his two goals making the difference between a defeat and a victory.
He equalised with an effort from 30 yards, spinning away from one defender, duping another, before firing a right-footed thunderbolt into the net.
Later in the second half he tore down on goal, chasing a long ball, outmuscled an Ethiopian defender, was brought down inside the box and converted the resulting penalty.
Pace, power and composure—what’s not to like!?
The striker appears receptive to a move to the Premier League. “I have always dreamed of playing in England,” he said, as reported by Jamie Sanderson of the Metro, “If I get the opportunity to play in England – I wouldn’t turn it down.”
Depending on how things go at Stamford Bridge, Emenike may receive the opportunity sooner rather than later.
Is he a better option than Lukaku? Probably not—especially when considering the Belgian’s age, the fact that he already has 32 Premier League goals to his name and his positive relationship with the Everton fans. However, should the former Anderlecht hitman prove elusive for the Blues, Emenike is an excellent alternative.
All Stats via WhoScored.com