In Focus: Red-hot Paul will be switched On to nail the Hammers
Standing at 6ft 7in, Paul Onuachu certainly catches the eye — and his phenomenal goal record has attracted the attention of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Leading the line for Belgian outfit Genk, the 27-year-old marksman romped to his domestic Golden Boot last term and has started the 2021-22 campaign in equally blistering fashion.
As he prepares to face West Ham in the Europa League this evening, we take a closer look at why the Nigerian forward is a man in demand.
In an era where scouts are paid to scour the earth in search of hidden talent, Onuachu is a forward without too many secrets.
A towering presence at the top of his side’s forward line, Genk boss John van den Brom keeps things simple for his talisman by tasking him with two clear jobs to be carried out with maximum efficiency each game.
First, when the Blauw-Wit are out of possession, Onuachu must offer his team-mates an outlet — a target to hit who can hold the ball under pressure and make his physical presence felt by opposition defenders.
Secondly, and more importantly, he must be the man who applies the finishing touch to his side’s attacks as frequently as possible.
It sounds simple but scorers with as impeccable a record as Onuachu are in short supply.
Questions will rightly be posed regarding the quality of domestic league Onuachu plies his trade in — but the numbers are still quite spectacular.
His 33-goal tally in the Pro League last term was the highest recorded by any individual in the competition in 41 years — and his strikes came in just 38 appearances.
What is more, he has shown himself to be no flash in the pan, having already racked up nine goals in just 10 appearances this term, which makes 42 strikes in 48 appearances since the start of last season.
Of course, it is only fair to reference previous stars to top the scoring charts in Belgium — Dieumerci Mbokani, Hamdi Harbaoui and Lukasz Teodorczyk have not exactly gone on to achieve great things.
But the likes of Ivan Perisic, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Carlos Bacca and Romelu Lukaku all serve to show the division can produce forwards capable of making an impact at a higher level.
Goals are the most important currency in football — but in the modern game, elite players are expected to have many strings to their bow.
While Onuachu’s aerial prowess and composed finishing touch cannot be brought into question, there is a feeling some of the continent’s biggest sides may be a tad underwhelmed by other areas of his game.
For example, a high pressing outfit would be unlikely to consider him to spearhead their attack due to his style of play, while a meagre two assists in the last two league campaigns suggest he is no creator.
Perhaps the most notable drawback is his age, with elite clubs generally preferring to sign players from a younger age bracket and mould them into their specific club philosophy over several years.
Football can be a brutal business at the top — and it may well be that Onuachu’s simple but effective game is simply not fashionable enough for the superpowers.
On the move
West Ham were actually linked with a move for Onuachu in the summer — though David Moyes has been quick to play down the club's interest.
Plenty of others are still in the mix for the forward, with LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid, Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund and Premier League pair Southampton and Tottenham all reportedly keeping tabs.
The man himself made no secret of his desire to test himself at a higher level when asked about his future last week.
Onuachu said: "I can do nothing more to decorate a transfer. The football world is not always fair. I am still convinced I could have made a nice transfer.
"In addition, many clubs are currently not having an easy time financially due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Have new agreements been made in the meantime? Genk will co-operate if an offer is made that all parties agree with.”
Chance to shine
One stage where nobody could question Onuachu’s achievements would be in the Europa League, where continually strong performances are sure to tempt one of his suitors into making a move.
Having already netted in Genk’s Champions League qualifying defeat to Ukranian side Shakhtar Donetsk, a stoppage-time strike in Austria was enough to snatch all three points in their opening group game of this competition against Rapid Wien.
His upcoming two meetings with the Hammers are likely to be the highest-profile encounters of his career to date, given the pulling power of the Premier League.
Should he deliver the goods, it would undoubtedly make other sides from England’s top tier ponder his rumoured £20million asking price a little harder.
Onuachu’s career could be about to really take off.