Oghenekaro Etebo's Spain adventure adds to Rohr's headache

Oghenekaro Etebo of Las Palmas EPA/Elvira Urquijo A.

Barring any unfortunate, last-minute training-ground injury, Oghenekaro Etebo should be in the Las Palmas starting eleven to face Barcelona and Lionel Messi on Thursday.

Since joining the club at the tail end of the winter transfer window, Etebo has featured in all four of his new club's games, notably stealing the show on his debut, a 1-0 victory over Malaga.

Having moved from Feirense in Portugal, Etebo is having to contend with a step up in class ahead of the World Cup, but so far, he appears to be coping well.

Between now and June, he will likely have to face teams of the calibre of Celta Vigo, Villarreal, Deportivo La Coruna and giants Real Madrid, which should offer him excellent preparation ahead of the world-class opponents he'll encounter with Nigeria this summer.

The 22-year-old Nigerian should get a chance to compete against the likes of Messi, Ever Banega, Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and others ahead of meeting them in Russia.

However, it could all have been so different.

Barely two days before the end of the transfer window, Etebo appeared all set for a permanent move to Belgium's Genk, according to reports in the Nigerian media.

Then things went ominously quiet.

Suddenly phone calls were not being returned, messages went unattended, and within the blink of an eye, he had joined Las Palmas on a three-month loan deal.

Even some of his advisers were stunned by the turn and direction of events, with one describing it as a 'strange situation' considering the difference in fortunes of both clubs

In hindsight, it looks likely that Feirense didn't want to completely let go of their exciting young talent, and may rather prefer to cash-in post-World Cup.

So far, the deal appears to be working out perfectly for Etebo.

Not only does he get a chance to play against some of the world's top players, honing his craft along the way, but he is not under the same pressure as some if his teammates who would go down with the team in the event that Las Palmas are relegated.

The move may also prompt Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr to reconsider his first-choice midfield options, with the trio of captain John Mikel Obi, Ogenyi Onazi and Wilfred Ndidi looking likely to be his first-choice three in Russia.

Etebo may be only a back-up for now, but he will at least travel to the World Cup as an invaluable back-up option, considering his versatility, energy and dynamism.

That means he can cover for any of the starting three in midfield, as an anchorman, a more mobile retriever, or as an advanced, more attacking player, supporting the forwards.

There are still some rough edges about his play, several of which were exposed when the Super Eagles crumbled to South Africa last year, but playing regularly against quality opposition in one of the top three leagues in the world will help iron out those kinks.

Expect Etebo's stay in Spain, even if it may ultimately be brief, to put him in a position to mount a credible challenge to Ndidi and Onazi's starting spots, while Mikel may also be looking over his shoulder.

If he continues with his strong recent performances, Rohr may yet have a big decision to make.