Etebo's progress continues with outstanding La Liga debut

Oghenekaro Etebo of Las Palmas EPA/Elvira Urquijo A.

Oghenekaro Etebo was the standout player at the Estadio Gran Canaria on his La Liga debut for Las Palmas against Malaga in Monday night's relegation battle.

The Nigeria international midfielder stood out in the middle of the park with his dynamic movement, effective ball distribution, tactical discipline and his high energy levels.

Furthermore, he almost capped a memorable debut with a long-range strike, which would have been the icing on the cake after an exceptional performance in the Canary Islanders' 1-0 triumph.

Speaking to the press in the aftermath of completing his six-month loan switch to the Canary Islands-based team from CD Feirense of Portugal, the 22-year-old didn't mince words as to his objectives at La Union Deportiva.

"I'm ready to play, but it all depends on the coach," he told Las Palmas' website. "I'm ready, I'm fit, I did not come to be on the bench, but it all depends on the coach.

"I am comfortable as an extreme. I came to help the team.

"I do not care if I score or if I assist what I want is for my team to get the three points."

A series of young and talented African starlets have made the move to La Liga in recent months, with the likes of Michael Olunga, Emmanuel Boateng and now Etebo making big contributions for modest teams.

In the cases of Olunga and Etebo, both were playing in their home nation's top flight as recently as 2015.

Etebo has regularly caught the eye throughout his career, right from making his professional debut for Warri Wolves in the 2012/13 Nigeria Professional Football League season, and it was only a case of keeping him on the right track and ensuring he remained focused on the bigger picture ahead.

Then a teenager, Etebo dazzled during his debut season in the NPFL.

He scored two hat-tricks on his way to bagging 17 goals, including the first hat-trick of the league season against El-Kanemi Warriors and the fastest hat-trick of the campaign, within 22 first-half minutes, in a 3-1 victory against Wikki Tourists.

By the end of the season, Etebo had achieved the second best goal tally by any player in the debut campaign in Nigeria, with the wonderkid bested only by Ahmed Musa's return of 18 goals in 2010.

Despite experiencing two major setbacks in his young career - failure to make the Super Eagles' 23-man squad for the 2014 African Nations Championship and to complete a transfer to Udinese of Italy in 2014 - Etebo has not been deterred.

Instead, he continued to improve.

He received the Glo wondergoal award for the best goal of the season during the 2014-15 campaign, and made giant strides on the international scene with the U-23 national team, scoring five goals en route to a winner's medal at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

He was ultimately crowned as CAF's Most Promising African Talent in 2015, following an unforgettable breakout year.

A move to Portuguese side Feirense in January 2016 always appeared likely to be a stepping stone to greater things in Europe, and Etebo duly played a critical role as the Azuis da Feira secured promotion.

International recognition duly followed, while Etebo's four-goal showing against Japan at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was one of the most outstanding performances by a player wearing the green of Nigeria in recent years.

For a player who has consistently scored goals in his career regardless of whatever position he found himself, the timing of his temporary switch to a Las Palmas side struggling for goals and form couldn't have been better.

The next couple of weeks and months could be crucial in shaping Etebo's promising career on a bigger stage and in one of the world's major leagues, particularly with massive home games against the giant duo of Barcelona and Real Madrid fast approaching on the horizon.

The journey to the top for Etebo from his humble beginning in Warri, where the locals pride themselves on all-round success, has been a fine demonstration of how hard work and determination can lead to sustained progression.

Expect his move to Las Palmas to represent another key chapter in his climb to the top.