Nigeria international striker Paul Onuachu has been named the Belgian Professional Footballer of the Year for 2020-21.
The Super Eagles star has also ended the year as the top-scoring African in Europe’s top 10 leagues, which is an extremely commendable feat.
The 26-year-old scored 33 league goals to claim the top scorer award as his most productive season helped KRC Genk win the Belgian Cup and secure a UEFA Champions League spot for next season.
Onuachu has also been nominated for the Ebony Shoe, which is awarded to Belgium’s best African player/player of African descent, with the winner all set to be announced on 7th June.
“I would like to dedicate both awards to everyone at Genk and our fans who have supported me since I got here,” the striker said.
“This is for the fans because I’ve missed you all in the stadium and I hope to see you all soon.”
Onuachu, with 29 goals in the regular season and another four in Belgium’s play-offs, emerged as the top African goalscorer in Europe (based on the top 10 leagues as per UEFA’s coefficient rankings) this season, ahead of Zambia‘s Patson Daka.
Daka helped RB Salzburg win the Austrian Bundesliga title as he scored 27 goals (23 during the season and four in the playoffs).
The Nigerian’s 33 goals this season makes him the first African in the 118-year history of the Belgian top-flight to surpass the 30-goal mark. He also beat the record held by Tunisia’s Hamdi Harbaoui, who scored 25 goals for Zulte Waregem in the 2018/19 season.
Jupiler Pro League organisers also noted that his impressive season has seen him break the 30-goal mark for the first time since another Genk player, Wesley Sonck, scored 30 in the 2001/02 season so the records have come tumbling down for the Nigerian.
Onuachu could also become the first Nigerian to win the Ebony Shoe since Celestine Babayaro’s success way back in 1996 with Anderlecht.
The other names on the shortlist are Onuachu’s teammate Theo Bongonda, the Anderlecht duo of Albert Sambi Lokonga and Lukas Nmecha as well as Clinton Mata from Club Brugge. It is hard to admit that Onuachu will be a favourite to win the award given that 30+ goals in a season is no easy feat.
It is not surprising that Onuachu has been linked with several clubs in Europe, and the striker who joined Genk from Danish club Midtjylland in summer 2019 says winning the top two awards in Belgium will keep him motivated for the future.
“Rewards like this will always give me the extra motivation and encouragement to go much further as a footballer,” he added.
He then had to wait two years for his second goal for his country but it was a big goal as netted Nigeria’s winner deep into injury time as they beat Benin 1-0 in Porto Novo to secure qualification to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations to be held in Cameroon.
Three days later, he scored his third goal international goal in 10 appearances and helped Nigeria coast to a 3-0 win over Lesotho as the three-time African Champions ended their Nations Cup qualifying campaign unbeaten and on top of Group L.