The Nigeria international was disappointing on his return to the top flight, reopening an old debate about his aptitude for this level
If Crotone were under any illusions as to the sort of waters they would be swimming in following their promotion from Serie B, they were swiftly dispelled last Sunday.
Against Genoa, who last season finished just a place above the relegation zone, the Serie A returnees were hammered 4-1 in what was the rudest welcome since Little Red Riding Hood found a ravenous wolf lurking where her grandmother should have been.
Sure, Rolando Maran’s side have made some astute additions in the transfer window, with the likes of Milan Badelj, Davide Zappacosta and Mattia Destro (among others) arriving at the Luigi Ferraris. Still though, the gulf in quality Crotone found on the opening day was, in itself, a primer for a long, and possibly dreary, season ahead.
On the visitors’ part, Giovanni Stroppa’s options have not undergone a significant overhaul.
Ultimately, it appears the plan coming into this season was to lean on their strengths in Serie B, specifically an attack that got them 63 goals, a tally only bettered by titlists Benevento.
Central to that idea is Simy Nwankwo, who accounted for 24 of those directly – 20 goals and 4 assists – and whose 29 percent conversion rate (of goals to shots) marked him out as one of the finest marksmen in Europe; for context, European Golden Boot winner Ciro Immobile’s conversion rate of 30 percent was significantly boosted by 14 penalties, whereas Simy scored all but four of his total from open play.
That plan may, however, prove inadequate, especially in light of events against Genoa.
While debuting striker Emmanuel Riviere pulled one back to lend a semblance of competitiveness to the encounter before the hosts ran away with it in the second half, Simy endured a frustrating time back in the top-flight.
After meeting a teasing cross with a weak poke to fritter away a gilt-edged opportunity at 2-0, he planted a header against the upright from a free-kick before fading from view for the rest of the game; the second may be ascribed to bad fortune, but the former seemed to conjure up old questions surrounding his aptitude for the highest level.
With Crotone in 2017/18, the giant centre-forward also had to grapple with those very concerns. Although he finished the season with seven goals and an assist, six of those came in a purple patch at the tail end of the season. That streak that was enough to earn him a place with the Nigeria squad at that summer’s World Cup, although he has not been involved in the national team selection since.
On the whole, he only started 11 games as the Pythagoreans missed out on safety by three points.
That neatly summarizes the concerns around Simy: for all that he has proven quite prolific over the last two seasons, he is a streakier scorer than he is a consistent one; and even that volume seems to not translate very well at a level higher than Serie B.
In lower divisions, his 6ft 6in frame makes him an awkward customer to get to grips with, but as the quality and experience is raised – as at the World Cup and during his last stint in Serie A – the novelty factor wears off a little and his flaws become more apparent.
Of course, there is no law against exploiting every possible advantage (including lolloping awkwardness), and for all his foibles he is still coming off a 20-goal season. He remains a handful in the air, whence he headed home six of his goals last term, and he does possess the ability to bring his team mates into play with his back to goal. However, it is worth noting that last season he attempted fewer than two shots a game and missed 14 big chances in Serie B, hardly the sort of tallies to inspire great optimism or suggest repeatability at a more onerous level.
If a markdown is to be expected based on the transition to a tougher division, then a higher volume in terms of shots would be a handy predictor of better things.
At 28, Simy clearly has a lot still to prove. With the hopes of a modest clubside resting on his ability to rise to the occasion, it is even more imperative that Simy proves himself capable of carrying that expectation; only then will that lingering seed of doubt be extinguished.