Is the FC Porto full-back paying the price for his reported desire to leave the Portuguese giants during the offseason?
A case could be made that Zaidu Sanusi of FC Porto was Nigeria’s breakout star last season.
He came from nowhere to replace Alex Telles as the domestic giants’ first-choice left-back, established himself in the Super Eagles, and excelled for the Dragons during their run in the Champions League.
He looked comfortable up against some of Europe’s finest full-backs, and particularly impressed in the first leg against Chelsea—where Porto’s run eventually came to an end.
Sanusi settled quickly in the more vertical approach espoused by Porto coach Sergio Conceicao, holding his own in defence, and making an impact going forward.
His tackling was effective and decisive without being a liability, his anticipation was admirable for a 23-year-old, and his athleticism and presence allowed him to shuffle into a back three or catch the eye as a more advanced wing-back.
His key attribute, certainly, was his speed—allowing Porto to break through a team’s press and carry through to another phase of play with a spurt of acceleration from Sanusi to beat his man.
Admittedly, his crossing and final delivery needed work—but Sanusi had time on his hands, and enough of the fundamentals, to refine this element of his game.
In recent months, however, things have taken a turn in the wrong direction for the full-back, culminating in a horror show as Liverpool routed Porto 5-1 on Tuesday.
The left-sider was hauled off after 56 minutes following a miserable hour on the pitch, in which Porto had conceded twice and Sanusi’s poor control had led directly to Mohamed Salah opening the scoring after 18 minutes.
It was a sign of how far the full-back—who’s made just one start in the Portuguese top flight so far this season—has fallen, with the defender also replaced at the half-way point of Porto’s 0-0 draw with Atletico Madrid after picking up a booking.
The defender still appears to be a shadow of the rampant, vibrant full-back who was Nigeria’s star performer in the UCL last season.
The signing of Wendell—a consequences of uncertainty around Sanusi’s future at Porto—is troubling news for the West African, who may well rue agitating for a move away from the club.
At one point, rumours heavily linked him with a switch to Benfica, while there’s a suggestion too that West Ham United were also keen on recruiting him.
Sanusi’s agent—speaking to local sources—indicated that he was surprised the full-back’s move to West Ham hadn’t gone through, with the reason being a late change of heart on the part of Conceicao.
It’s left the defender making up for lost time since the season started—now with a rival threatening his playing time—and appearing out of sorts in his appearances to date.
It’s also a shame for the Super Eagles, who had appeared primed to be the beneficiaries of Sanusi’s emergence and his burgeoning relationship with Alex Iwobi down Nigeria’s left.
Instead, he was left out of the squad earlier this month—a consequence of a lack of playing time at club level—with Jamilu Collins threatening to take pole position in the race to start as Naija’s left-back at next year’s Africa Cup of Nations.
While some Nigeria fans may be content with Collins as a starter following his encouraging recent form for Paderborn, he’s rarely demonstrated the high level of performance as Sanusi did—particularly in the UCL—at times last season.
Both player and country could set to be major losers if Sanusi’s flunk doesn’t end soon or even if his latest poor showing leads to Wendell establishing himself further as Conceicao’s go-to.