In recent years, the Belgian Jupiler Pro League has provided European football with many great strikers. Victor Osimhen, Jonathan David, Roman Yaremchuk and Mbwana Samatta to name a few. Then there is one striker who has scored more goals than any of the aforementioned and who is still in the league, waiting to join Europe’s top five leagues: Paul Onuachu.
Since the end of the 2020-21 season Onuachu has been rumored to teams like Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, Dortmund, Tottenham, West Ham – but looking back at his early career it was not for certain that Onuachu was going to play professional football.
Growing up in Ojo, Lagos State in Nigeria, it was difficult to make ends meet for Onuachu and his family. There was not always food on the table for him, but he kept dreaming of becoming a professional footballer.
He then got scouted at a local youth tournament and signed for an academy in Togo. But after eight months he returned home and could not find a club thereafter. No club wanted to sign him. As time went on, his father kept on pushing him that he needed to do something with his life and help out contributing to the family. At last, Onuachu listened. He decided to do something else in life – but then he met one of his old coaches who helped him get a place in FC Ebedei’s academy. And that was the turning point of his career.
He became a prolific goal scorer for Ebedei’s youth team and soon their affiliate team, FC Midtjylland, in the Danish first-tier division, offered him a scholarship to come play for them. So, at 18 he traveled to Denmark to start his professional career.
The first two years at the club he was a substitute player. The third year he spent on loan at second-tier team Vejle BK. But thereafter he established himself as an important player for the club.
From 2015 to 2019, he won two league titles with Midtjylland and one Danish cup title. Overall, he scored 74 goals and provided 23 assists in 181 appearances for the Danish side and that led to bigger teams opening their eyes for him – and to him getting his first call up to the Nigerian national team in March 2019 at age 24.
In August 2019, he was signed by Belgian side Genk for six million euros and it has been at Genk Onuachu really has made a name for himself on the European scene. His first season ended in ten goals and two assists in 29 appearances. Although not bad, perhaps one should not make too much of those stats as it was his first season in a new country, new league and new team – but the season after that he really showed his class.
During the 2020-21 season, Onuachu scored 35 goals and 5 assists in 41 appearances for Genk. 0,85 goals per 90 and 0,95 points per 90. He became the top scorer in the Belgian Jupiler League with 33 goals in 38 appearances and got awarded Player of The Year. On top of that, he helped Genk win the Belgian cup and scored two goals in the final.
So, how is Onuachu as a player?
At 201cm (6ft6in) Onuachu is a big-framed striker. It makes him a tremendous asset in the opposition’s penalty box, as he has a big and dangerous presence. As many players of his size could be clumsy, Onuachu instead is very intelligent in the his use of his frame. He knows exactly how to use it to his advantage, for example, to protect the ball and retain possession or to win aerials in the opponent’s penalty box/other key areas of the pitch.
Further, Onuachu is a clinical finisher. He rarely shows nerves in front of goals and is very competent in scoring with both his feet and his head. But another reason why he scores so many goals is his positioning in the penalty area and his anticipation. He knows exactly where to be and when to be there, an essential characteristic for a striker which Onuachu uses so well.
That said, he is also a good creator. As he is often targeted for long balls from his teammates, he has developed a skill set to keep the ball and create chances for his teammates in the next phase of the attack thereafter.
Onuachu is a prototype target man. He is a monster in the box, he has the size and knows how to use it well to his advantage, he can retain the ball and be the focal point of attacks – but he can also set up his teammates with intelligent passing. He is limited when it comes to speed and pressing, but you cannot really expect a target man to provide that for you. His focus is to be where he is needed in the box to score, be a focal point in attacks and to retain possession whilst his teammates join in the attacks. And for that Onuachu is a special breed in European football.
He is a late bloomer, but his quality has been noticed, acknowledged and wanted by some of the best clubs in Europe who are now interested in acquiring his services.
He’s come a long way from the streets of Ojo, Nigeria, and almost quitting as nobody wanted him. Paul Onuachu is now one of the hottest striker names in Europe – and he is yet another proof that you should never stop believing and pursuing your dreams. Because if you work hard enough and believe, preparation will meet opportunity.