Peter Etebo should be proud of Stoke City debut season
Background Image: Dom fellowes, CC-BY-2.0
When Stoke City signed Peter Etebo from Feirense, little did they know he would be Nigeria's star at the World Cup in Russia. Not many expected the 23-year-old to emerge Potters’ Player of the Season. His unpredictable nature will be crucial for the Super Eagles at this summer's Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
Gary Rowett's arrival birthed a new level of optimism at Stoke. A drastic overhaul was anticipated. The Potters were favourites for promotion following relegation from the Premier League. Rowett was tasked with clawing them up at the first attempt.
To accomplish his mandate, the 45-year-old rushed to the market. He began the shopping spree with Etebo. Eight other newbies followed. Yet it was the little-known Nigerian, on his maiden foray to England, that offered some element of surprise.
Etebo's rise came with skepticism. His superb goalscoring prowess from midfield garnered admirers. He bagged 23 strikes in 64 appearances for hometown club, Warri Wolves. He finished as top scorer at the 2015 U-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal, too - a qualifying tournament for the Olympics.
In Rio, Etebo further enhanced his rising stock, hitting four goals as Nigeria's U23 team claimed a surprise bronze. However, a switch from Wolves to Feirense in January 2016 proved a little underwhelming, with work permit issues delaying his debut.
Considering his early promise, Etebo failed to fulfill expectations albeit performed admirably as Feirense finished eighth upon their return to the Portuguese top flight. A change in position didn't do him good. Being attacking-minded, he strived in a defensive role despite his physique.
A loan switch to Spanish side Las Palmas in January last year corrected the anomaly. Etebo was the rare bright spark in what was otherwise a poor season for La Union Deportiva. But after relegation to Segunda División, the midfielder jumped at the opportunity to take his trade to England.
After a busy summer with his country in Russia, deprived of rest and a proper pre-season, Etebo returned worn. It took a toll on his game. There were early concerns about his ability to adapt to the Championship, with the player himself even confirming that fear.
Etebo started the season’s opener - a 3-1 defeat at Leeds United. He then vanished to the bench in subsequent three games. However, Rowett's departure and Nathan Jones' appointment reversed his fortune.
The mobile, energetic engine room came forth. A 'pivote de garantías' in Stoke's midfield, Etebo's monstrous physical qualities, size, speed, and strength made a huge difference. He protects the defense with a high work rate, ability to intercept and launch clean tackles, while adding power and speed.
''Where did Stoke find Peter Etebo?” Steve Bruce asked after Stoke's scoreless draw with Sheffield Wednesday. ”Feirense in Portugal, eh? You come here and they have got good players, to be fair to them, very good players for this division .”
Etebo possesses a great vision of the game. He can pick that killer pass or decide to go for glory after a solo drive. The Lagos-born midfielder didn't do that often this season, with just two strikes in 34 appearances. However, his goals are quite memorable, especially the winner at Blackburn Rovers in April.
With the game tied goalless, Etebo received a pass from Thomas Ince before firing in a right-footed shot past goalkeeper David Raya from outside of the penalty area.
What does the future hold?
Etebo is already attracting interest from a host of top European sides. It would be a surprise to see him in Stoke's red and white shirt next season, especially should he perform well during this summer's African Cup of Nations in Egypt.
Etebo will play a key part for Nigeria. With his mobility, he will provide the platform for Alex Iwobi to shine in a more central role. He has already formed a formidable partnership with Leicester City's Wilfred Ndidi.