Sadiq: Nigerian head honcho taking Spain by storm


EBENEZER BAJELA with Agency Report

A silent roar that rose from a little town in Italy, his path to European glory exploded in the streets of Serbia, for him to finally rise above the warm Andalusian sun of Almería.

The story of Sadiq Umar is not the most conventional, but it remains nonetheless impressive. His recent move on deadline day from Almería to Sociedad is a testament to the mark he’s left in the country of mediapuntas.

After helping Almeria secure promotion to the top division as champions of the Segunda Division after eight years of asking, Nigeria international Sadiq has grown to become one of the most celebrated players in the Andalusian Sun of Almería.

The big striker joined the Rojiblanclos from Partizan in 2020 and quickly established himself as one of manager Rubi’s most trusted men.

During his two-year spell with Almeria, Sadiq was in fine form and scored 38 goals in 74 La Liga 2 appearances, registering 19 assists in the process.

His performance did not go unnoticed and was courted by several European and La Liga clubs with Villarreal, Real Sociedad and Valencia all linked with the former AS Roma forward during the summer transfer window.

The forward, however, joined Sociedad on the final day of the transfer window.

Now, in the land of smaller technicians, Sadiq is the exception, and not for the wrong reasons. Rather bulky and noticeable with his 1.93m, the former Almería forward didn’t go unnoticed last season. His statistics illustrate why Sociedad chose Sadiq as Alexander Isak’s replacement, as the Swede recently left for the windy shores of Newcastle.

Sadiq may not have Isak’s associative play to combine in compact spaces, but he will unlock spaces in the penalty boxes by pinning his inferior markers. Sadiq is not only a powerful shooter in the box, he’s also a powerful runner off the ball. If shooting is definitely his prime attribute, the combination of his off-the-ball runs and his technique on the ball to beat his marker is what takes Sadiq beyond the average.

Sadiq is one of the moulds of players that find ball-striking situations out of the blue; not only does he convert chances, but he also creates them out of situations that seem ‘locked’, through a hunch of defenders between Sadiq and the goal. Defenders find it hard to mark him, primarily because of his mobility (he tends to roam around the box to confuse defenders, finding space for either himself or his teammates), and because of his physique. At his height, much like Haaland, most would expect headers to be a primary scoring mechanism; but it is game-play on the ground instead where Sadiq is most threatening.

As with many modern forwards, Sadiq will drop deep to defend if his team need him to – Almería aren’t the most offensive team, resulting in Sadiq defending quite often. He might not be Raphinha, but he’ll nonetheless be happy to help and slot in, despite ‘not being a defender.’

If his main strength is goal-scoring, one should not expect him to solely be a goal-scorer in the box, waiting for the ball.

That would be unjust to Sadiq’s greatness, someone that strikes fear beyond the ‘striker area’. For already with Almería, he had displayed a great deal of key passes and through-balls to his partners. If the play needs him to do so, he will drop deeper to get the ball going to the final third. In the absence of Oyarzabal, he’s the leader that was needed – his predecessor, Isak, found it hard to score.

Beyond that, Sadiq’s great understanding of the situation means the Nigerian forward knows how to make his team progress from deep: from central to wide progression, he’s got the full package. At Almería especially, the full-backs were instructed to run during counter-attacks, and Sadiq was happy to find them within a few touches.

Another doubt or valid question is to see how Sadiq’s strengths will translate into Imanol Alguacil’s endless innovations, notably how the Basque will fit Sadiq’s strengths to the team’s needs. The Nigerian, much like other greats, tends to drift – in his case on the left – and whether this will translate into a more left-leaning Real Sociedad. It also begs the question of how the Nigerian will thrive with Oyarzabal once he will come back – is he to be restricted to the central area, or is he likely to drift to overload compact zones? With his mobility, one would assume the latter, but it could also be argued that fastening the central lanes would free up space in Zone 14 or in the wide areas – in both cases, something to exploit for his teammates.

It’s also in a revamped Real Sociedad that Sadiq has arrived – one where Brais Mendez and Mohamed Ali-Cho have come to Donostia-San Sebastián, with more dynamism to be expected should injuries not hinder La Real (as it has after the winter break in the past). Takefusa Kubo has also joined after deceiving spells, and he could both overload the central areas with Sadiq or even stretch the pitch. In other words, Real Sociedad are likely to shine with the added recruits – not to mention the likes of Robert Navarro and Benat Turrientes, arriving from the B team to reinforce the middle. Oh, and to finish this off, Sadiq has already scored on his debut against Atlético Madrid last Saturday.