The Nigerian international scored goals with a predictable regularity the like of which the Belgian elite division had not seen for many years
Paul Onuachu is the favourite to succeed Dieumerci Mbokani as the winner of the Ebony Shoe, the top award given annually to the best player of African origin playing in Belgium.
Onuachu will then be the first Nigerian since Celestine Babayaro in 1996 to claim the honours, ending Nigeria’s 25-year wait for a trophy that once seems like the country’s birthright.
Daniel ‘Da Bull’ Amokachi, then starring in the colours of Club Brugge, was the first player to win the Ebony Shoe after the award was instituted in 1992.
The power-playing forward reclaimed the best African player award two years later after RFC Liege striker Victor Ikpeba pipped Amokachi and defender Chidi Nwanu to the podium in 1993.
That year was the first – and it remains the only time – that players from the same country would emerge as the three finalists.
Versatile midfielder Godwin Okpara won it in 1995 after his excellent performances for Eendracht Aalst before Babayaro picked up what proved to be Nigeria’s last win to date.
Failure to win the award has not been due to a lack of trying on the part of Nigerian stars, though.
Joseph Akpala finished as the Belgian League top scorer in 2008 with 16 goals while playing for Charleroi.
But the prolific Nigerian forward didn’t even make that year’s top three list, with Standard Liege’s Marouane Fellaini going home as the winner.
Moses Simon also finished as first runner-up in 2015 after his brilliant exploits powered Gent to the league title.
There should, however, be no denying Onuachu the Ebony Shoe following his extraordinary goalscoring feat in the recently concluded Belgian Pro League.
The Super Eagles striker notched 35 goals in 41 matches in all competitions, including 33 in 38 league games, to help Genk lift the Belgian Cup and finish second behind league champions Club Brugge.
The Racing Genk striker has already been named the Pro Footballer of the Year for his exploits, and no one would be surprised should he add the Ebony Shoe to it.
Onuachu faces competition from the Anderlecht duo of Sambi Lokonga and Lukas Nmecha and Club Brugges’ Clinton Mata.
In 2020, it was Antwerp striker Dieumerci Mbokani who was voted the winner of the award.
The winner of this year’s award will be announced on Monday, June 7, during a trophy ceremony to be broadcast on the organizers’ Facebook page.