I was browsing through some basic statistics of the Super Eagles a couple of days ago and came across Ogenyi Onazi's disciplinary record and it reminded me of Ifeanyi Udeze's a few years back. At the time, Udeze was Nigeria's all time leader in accumulation of yellow cards. Now, Onazi has taken that mantle, averaging 0.33 cards in 12 games.
Ordinarily, one would not associate Onazi with such a disciplinary record. He gives 100% effort on the field and is not perceived as a dirty player. So why the disciplinary record? Perhaps because his tackles can be jarring at times and his cautions (4 in last 7 games) are deserving. He is late on tackles and his defensive positioning is not the best. He reminds me, somewhat, of Mikel Obi in his early days as defensive midfielder under Jose Mourinho in Chelsea. At that time, Mikel was learning the rudiments of defensive play, anticipating an attacker's moves and playing in the right spaces in order to cleanly deny an opponent possession or space. Mikel took some time to learn and, of course, his lack of pace increased his learning curve. Mikel eventually learned and his disciplinary record for Nigeria is now 0.10 in 50 games. Not eye popping like Onazi's! Onazi is going through a similar learning curve as Obi but the Onazi's curve should be shorter as he has the pace to compensate for inexperience.
One hope's Onazi's current rate of accumulating cautions is not on a similar trajectory as that of Ifeanyi Udeze who did have the defensive abilities but chose to play at the margin of the rules and, thus, accumulated more cautions than was necessary. Udeze's average is 0.24 (8 in 33 games) and second, historically, only to Onazi's. I believe that Onazi is not choosing to play at the margins but is simply and diligently seeking to learn the responsibilities at his position, as best as he could. In the future, one expects his average to go down.
TOP FIVE IN CAUTIONS PER GAME
1. Ogenyi ONAZI..........0.33 (4/12 games)
2. Ambrose Efe..............0.20 (5/25)
3. Kenneth Omeruo.......0.18 (2/11)
4. Elderson Echiejile......0.16 (5/31)
5. Fegor Ogude..............0.14 (2/14)
To learn more about Nigerian soccer statistics checkout CHUKASTATS at Amazon.com books.