Nigeria's left-back gap continues to baffle Gernot Rohr

Ikouwem Udoh made his Nigeria debut with the B-side in 2017. Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Ikouwem Udoh's aspirations of capping a sensational year with a maiden international call-up went up in smoke on Monday, as the left-back was omitted from the last Nigeria squad selection for 2018.

The squad to face South Africa in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, and Uganda in a friendly, in November did not contain the Enyimba player, who was arguably the stand-out player this Nigerian domestic season.

Naturally his latest snub should make him feel aggrieved at not been considered for the Nigeria left-back spot, a position which still doesn't have Jamilu Collins' name cast in stone, despite the latter starting the last three games.

At a time where the rare inclusion of domestic-based players continues to be an area of concern in Gernot Rohr's Nigeria managerial career, Udoh's consistency, rapid development, and soaring profile over the last 10 months made him one that deserved an invitation.

But, Rohr overlooked the teenager, who was tipped to break into the team post-World Cup, and made the surprising decision of extending an invitation to FC Ifeanyi Ubah defender Adeleye Olamilekan instead.

The decision throws up two talking points: Why an inactive player selected ahead of Udoh, and why waste an opportunity to potentially increase genuine competition at left-back, by having two natural players in that position for the first time in two years, since Elderson Echiejile and Kingsley Madu.

While Rohr has run out of patience with Chidozie Awaziem, whose continued lack of game time at FC Porto must have played a huge part in his demotion to the standby list, it remains to be seen how the inclusion of a rusty player improves the squad.

Olamilekan missed the majority of last season due to a contractual dispute with FC Ifeanyi Ubah, and only returned to the team towards the end of the campaign, just in time to feature in the Super Eagles B friendly against Atletico Madrid in Uyo.

With the domestic league concluded in June, and his club knocked out in the Round of 32 in the Aiteo Cup, Olamilekan's last competitive action was in September, a second-half appearance on his international debut against Liberia in Monrovia.

In contrast, in that period, Udoh featured in four CAF Confederation Cup matches, and in the group-stage and quarter-final games of the Aiteo Cup.

Perhaps Rohr further miscalculated by naming five central defenders, including three full-backs, in his selection, when he could have increased options by listing two players per position, and is now left with Brian Idowu as cover in both areas.

The exclusion of injured first-choice right-back Abdullahi Shehu should have left Ola Aina and Idowu as the designated players in that role, while Collins and Udoh would have taken on a similar job in the opposing position.

In Rohr's defence, he could argue that Semi Ajayi, against Seychelles, and Olamilekan, against Liberia, have played in an unfamiliar position as makeshift right-backs, but the truth is that a massive opportunity was overlooked to blood an exciting talent, and most importantly introduce a healthy rivalry for Collins.

Now, Udoh's immediate international priority is the 2019 Africa U20 Cup of Nations, starting from February in Niger Republic, a tournament he could use to stake a claim for progression to the senior team and seal his long-term spot in a talented squad.

Understandably Rohr might be reluctant to bring in yet another young and inexperienced full-back at this time. However, his decision to omit Udoh, yet again, amid unconvincing performances from potential rivals, means his selection yardstick needs recalibrating.