The 60-second story
Date of birth: February 2, 1997
Place of birth: Kaduna, Nigeria
Height: 6ft 3in
Current club: Roma (on loan from Spezia); 6 apps, 2 goals
Umar Sadiq’s story is waiting to be written. The 19-year-old Nigerian is very much the new kid on the block, having made his first senior appearance less than four months ago. It’s testament to the striker’s potential that, despite having only 187 Serie A minutes under his belt, the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal are already believed to be vying for his signature.
Born in Kaduna in north-west Nigeria, Sadiq joined the Future of Africa football academy and Abuja Football College as a youngster. Football was in his blood – his father Umar Abubakar had been a striker for Ranchers Bees – and it didn’t take the 6ft 3in totem pole long to get noticed.
Sadiq scores against Genoa
Sadiq headed for Croatia to take part in the historic Kvarnerska Rivijera youth tournament in 2013, where he finished as top scorer as Abuja were crowned champions. The prestigious annual tournament hosted by HNK Rijeka is known as a hotbed for scouts, with Serie B side Spezia swooping in to sign him.
Sadiq was initially sent off to Lavagnese in Serie D for one campaign before returning to revolutionise Spezia’s youth team. Last season, he fired in 26 goals in 24 games for the Ligurian juniors and finished as the top youth scorer in Italy by a landslide.
Roma then acquired him on loan for a reported £188,000 in the summer, but few expected the young Nigerian to make an impact in the Giallorossi’s first team.
A combination of Edin Dzeko’s struggles and Sadiq’s own eye-catching form led to an opportunity in Serie A; after the youngster recorded eight goals and three assists in his first four youth matches, then-boss Rudi Garcia handed him a senior debut off the bench against Bologna on 21 November.
Despite starting only two games for the capital club, the Nigerian has scored twice and turned heads around the continent. With vultures from Germany and England circling, the option to buy Sadiq permanently from Spezia for £2 million this summer might be the easiest decision Roma’s transfer gurus will ever have to make.
Why you need to know him
Sadiq’s powerful build makes him an awkward presence for opposing defenders, with his two Serie A goals underlining his burgeoning potential.
The first, a well-placed diving header in a 2-0 win over Genoa, showed the Nigerian’s aerial threat and predatory movement. The second, a scrappy slide-tackle-into-the-net effort against Chievo, suggested that Sadiq possesses that golden ability that all great strikers have – getting into the right positions at the right time.
The teenager admitted he found it difficult to adjust initially, telling Roma’s website: “I had to adapt to a lot of things that I wasn’t used to, both in terms of playing and life in general.”
Sadiq nets against Chievo
You wouldn’t be able to tell there was any ongoing struggle from his figures, though. With a total of 18 goals and seven assists between the Roma senior and youth teams this season, Sadiq has made the step up from Spezia look effortless.
Roman newspaper La Repubblica reported last week that Arsenal’s bid of over £10 million had been rejected but that Roma were willing to sell for £12 million. Such fees may sound high for someone so inexperienced, but it’s clear that Sadiq is highly rated by those in the business.
Sadiq’s towering height and gangly gait make certain characteristics stand out immediately: aerial prowess, good strength and an all-round physical challenge for defenders.
The Nigerian also has surprisingly good close control and technical ability for someone of his size, with his footwork often catching out unsuspecting opponents. His anticipation and positioning were key to both of his goals so far, meanwhile, and he has a good turn of pace too.
Sadiq believes he’s improved since moving to the tactically demanding climate of Italian football: “I can say that my game has improved both physically and technically,” he told Roma’s website. “I'm more aware of my role now as a striker more than ever and you are aware that Italian football is very tactical. Defensively they are tight which makes it difficult for any striker.”
A lack of experience at the top level has occasionally exposed a lack of composure. While it’s hard to criticise a teenager who’s taken advantage of the opportunities he’s been handed brilliantly, his inability to finish off a handful of chances will need to be improved if he’s to succeed at the very highest level.
Sadiq has a knack for creating opportunities and space for himself, but occasionally fluffs his lines after fashioning an opening. This was particularly evident in the Chievo clash, when he raced beyond the backline superbly to set up a one-on-one with the goalkeeper, only to pull his shot wide.
Sadiq will need to keep a cool head when chances present themselves, as he’s likely to soon discover that they are a rare commodity against the best defences.
Sadiq’s agent Mohammed Lawal isn’t shy about discussing transfer links: “Yes, we’ve been approached by Arsenal, but they are not the only team that have interest in Sadiq as Borussia Dortmund are also pushing for him,” he told owngoalnigeria.com.
“In the coming days or weeks we will know where he is heading to, but for now he is very happy and focused at Roma.”
Did you know?
Sadiq’s footballing role model is none other than former Gunner Nwankwo Kanu.
“I hope and pray to work hard and achieve as much as Kanu did,” he told SuperSport. “I loved watching him play when I was a kid and every day I work hard on my game to be the best. He is my role model. I’ll work hard and make sure I achieve my goals of being the best.”
What happens next?
It remains to be seen whether Roma will insist Sadiq stays at the Stadio Olimpico; after all, the 19-year-old has only been afforded one minute of playing time since Luciano Spalletti replaced Garcia in January. Now that he’s had a taste of goals at a senior level, Sadiq will undoubtedly be pining for some guarantees in the summer.
The teenager has openly spoken about his desire to play for Nigeria, but will need more game time to achieve that goal.
Corriere dello Sport reported recently that Roma’s summer transfer strategy will be centred on keeping Miralem Pjanic and Radja Nainggolan at the club, meaning cash may have to come in from other sources.
While some players on loan deals like Adem Ljajic (Inter), Juan Iturbe (Bournemouth) and Seydou Doumbia (Newcastle) will likely be sold permanently, the newspaper believes Sadiq’s departure is also a possibility.
It’s hard to imagine the Giallorossi turning down the opportunity to make a huge profit on a player who’s barely been tested at the top level. If Arsenal’s interest is sincere, they should be able to tempt a sale.
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