Nigeria eye January recall for Sunderland ace - but he won't be leaving relegation battle
Sunderland pulled off one of the transfers of the decade when they swapped Jozy Altidore for Jermain Defoe.
Defoe, crowned North East Football Writers’ Player of the Year, has become a hero on Wearside after scoring 19 goals this calendar year to keep Sunderland in the Premier League and provide hope of avoiding the drop again this season.
One of the main summer priorities was to bring in some additional firepower to relieve some of the pressure from his shoulders.
But to the dismay of Sunderland fans, the summer transfer window closed without the cavalry arriving.
That was until David Moyes turned to one of his former charges at Everton, 28-year-old Victor Anichebe arriving on a free 48 hours later.
His arrival hardly got the pulses going, given his poor goalscoring record but the former West Bromwich Albion frontman has proved to be a very shrewd piece of business.
Signed on a one-year deal, Anichebe has been worth his weight in gold since breaking into the team at the start of November after building his fitness levels.
The 6ft 3in striker has been unstoppable, scoring three goals in nine games to help spark a turnaround in Sunderland’s fortunes.
Anichebe has changed the way Sunderland play, with the powerhouse able to hold the ball up, bring others into play and link up well with Defoe and Patrick van Aanholt, in particular.
It is no surprise, therefore, to see Anichebe linked with a return to the Nigeria team.
Super Eagles’ coach Gernot Rohr is reported to have compiled names of Europe-based players that he wants to bring back into the fold for the forthcoming January friendlies with Ivory Coast and Senegal.
Moyes says it shows how well he has done since heading to Wearside and reviving his career.
Don’t worry, though, Sunderland fans, Anichebe won’t be leaving the relegation scrap.
Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and their forthcoming friendly games fall outside of the international calendar, which means even if Anichebe is selected, they can’t demand his release and Sunderland don’t have to release him for duty.
Moyes said: “Victor would love to play for Nigeria, I’m sure, but not now!
“Nigeria have good players and a good squad.
“It shows how well he is doing, though.
“You would be very hard placed to replace him given the quality he has shown.”
Anichebe has 11 caps for his country but last played for them five years ago in an African Cup of Nations qualifier in Madagascar in September 2011.
It is no surprise Nigeria are keen to bring him back into the fold.
But that will have to wait, with third-bottom Sunderland’s need more pressing.
Anichebe’s arrival has added another dimension to Sunderland’s play, given they finally have someone who can hold the ball up, giving time for others to break forward and join the attack.
Moyes has tended to play him on the left-hand side, supporting Defoe from out wide.
And the Sunderland boss is conscious they may have to alter his role in the side over the coming months to keep opposing teams on their toes.
Moyes added: “We need to be mindful, we don’t want teams to work him out.
“We might have to change his roles and positions at times.
“He has given us a starting point as a team which we have not really had.”