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Analysis: Gifted Onyekuru appears destined to leave Monaco after early struggles

Henry Onyekuru of Monaco during the Ligue 1 match between Monaco and Nimes on August 25, 2019 in Monaco, Monaco. (Photo by Pascal Della Zuana/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

Following his exceptional output at Galatasaray last season, where he was an instrumental figure towards propelling the Turkish Giants to a league and cup double, Henry Onyekuru was a man in demand come the summer.


Having racked up 16 goals and six assists for Fatih Terim’s Gala while on loan from Everton, who he never played for due to work permit issues, AS Monaco pounced, signing the Nigerian international from the Toffees in a deal worth £12 million.

On the surface, this deal was hugely exciting as Onyekuru looked set to complement Monaco’s fellow attacking weapons like Islam Slimani, Wissam Ben Yedder, Aleksandr Golovin and Jean-Kevin Augustin beautifully. In reality, his time with the Monegasques has been anything but smooth sailing, which is largely through no fault of his own.

Not helped by Monaco’s woeful start to the season, which forced Leonardo Jardim to switch to a back three, this meant there was no natural fit for him in the side, for Slimani and Ben Yedder took the striking roles and wingers were no longer used, just wingbacks.

At his best when playing on the left flank or through the middle, Jardim’s setup has certainly not aided his cause to stake his claim. Obviously needing time to adapt to his new environment and some injury issues hasn’t helped his cause either, as he’s only featured four times totalling 160 minutes of action.

Ahead of Monaco’s colossal clash with Paris Saint-Germain, which was called off because of bad weather, Jardim did, however, make note that Onyekuru’s beginning to impress him. “Henry Onyekuru is better, he has had a complicated adaptation, but today he shows his level in training and is becoming an option. I always make these choices thinking that a player who starts the game can bring something more to the team,” he explained.

Interestingly, reports have recently emerged linking the quicksilver attacker with a return Galatasaray, so it’ll be fascinating to see how he fares until the January transfer window comes around.

A very exciting player who can hurt opponents in a variety of ways with his explosive, game changing set of attributes, he’s certainly a nightmare for defenders to come up against.

Blessed with scintillating pace, acceleration and agility, these characteristics ensure he’s such a threat with and without the ball. Firstly, when embarking on his runs, he does so in a thoughtful fashion, as he times, angles and directs his run smartly to get the edge on his adversaries. So quick and aware when a teammate is in a position to pinpoint him, he gets on his bike swiftly to give himself every chance to latch onto through balls first.

The way he uses little hesitation moves, double movements, zig zags, wicked out-to-in diagonal runs, pins markers and exploits the blindside of his marker add to his menace.

Wicked blindside run

Superb run in behind

Brilliant diagonal run in behind

Quality run down the channel and drawing two markers

Smartly pinning two markers

In addition, when bursting into the box, the way he attacks the six-yard box, knows when to go to the near or far post and has the presence of mind to hold his runs as the defence collapses is a bonus.

Clinical run and finish

Meanwhile, when it comes to his work with the ball at his feet, Onyekuru poses a very unpredictable and elusive proposition. On top of his aforementioned athleticism, his mazy dribbling ensures he can breeze by his man with his sheer pace, cut infield in an instant or beat his man with feints, shoulder drops, stepovers or searing changes of pace and direction. Moreover, the fact he’s so dangerous on the ball often attracts multiple markers, which has the key byproduct of freeing up space for teammates and destabilising his foes’ shape.

His close control when dribbling at speed notably places doubt in defenders minds, for if they step in he can quickly shift the ball to outfox them or draw a foul, thus making him an even more challenging adversary.

It must be said, however, that he can overdo it sometimes on the dribble, which means he gets cornered or fails to see a teammate in a better position. But all in all, any negatives are outweighed by the big positives attached to his confident and eye-catching work here.

While it’s not really his game to create chances or orchestrate passing moves, there’s been some signs of his aptitude here, as he can combine nicely in around the box, calmly recycle possession and play the odd splitting through ball if the option is there. Probably the most effective tool in this regard is how he plays some slick one-twos which helps unlock deep sitting defences while allowing him to receive the return pass in a goal facing posture so he can continue his momentum.

Clean one-two to unlock the opposition

Onyekuru’s finishing complements his intriguing game nicely, for this ever improving area of his armoury allows him to reward all his good work. Instinctive and with a keen eye for goal, the man who finished sixth in the Turkish Super League scoring charts despite playing predominantly as a winger, can crucially score in a variety of ways.

Capable of opening his body to hit placed, side footed finishes, driven efforts, cheeky lobs, neat first-time efforts and very good when 1v1 with the keeper, Onyekuru’s a clinical operator. So quick to react to rebounds and good at recalibrating his runs, he’s great inside the box too, where he’s scored some nifty headers and tap ins.

Masterful finish on his left foot

Amazing lobbed finish

Looking at his numbers from last season, and it’s easy to why Monaco splashed the cash for him, for he completed 3.89 touches inside the box per game, 2.05 progressive runs pg, 2.35 dribbles pg, 1.86 shots pg and 1.14 shot assists pg to accompany his goalscoring feats.

A player who has a unique skill set and that parlays power and finesse, hopefully Jardim can find a way to integrate him more into his plans, for it would seem a waste if he left in January without being given a proper chance. Unfortunately, however, if reports are to be believed, he does, in fact, appear likely to return to Galatasaray.

In the story of Onyekuru, it will be a case of watch this space for now, but hopefully one day he can prove himself at Monaco at, as he has all the talent to have a real impact if given a chance.