Gift Orban: Why is the Super Eagles and Gent attacker struggling?

Why has Gift Orban stopped scoring? (Credit: IMAGO)

Gift Orban: Why is the Super Eagles and Gent attacker struggling?

Seye Omidiora 06:55 - 30.09.2023

A sending-off for Orban last weekend was the latest disappointment for the young striker, who has struggled to hit the heights of his breakthrough season.

This is all pretty new to Gift Orban.

By the Nigerian’s lofty standards, two goals in six games is a deviation from the norm after a meteoric rise from the Norwegian second tier with Stabaek in the second half of 2022 and the first half of 2023 with Belgian outfit Gent.

Gift Orban’s impressive stats at Stabaek and Gent

The 21-year-old netted 19 times in 24 appearances in all competitions for Stabaek in the Norwegian second division to assist the club's promotion to the Eliteserien, ending joint-top scorer with 16 goals. It was a commendable return for a player who did not play until the seventh gameweek and netted his first league goal six rounds later.

Gift Orban
Gift Orban has had an amazing 12 months with Stabaek and Gent. Photo Credit: (Imago)

That impressive trajectory continued for Orban, whose 20 strikes in 22 matches in all competitions for Gent was admirable for someone participating in a top-flight league for the first time. Orban’s 20 goals included a three-minute European hat-trick against Istanbul Basaksehir in last season’s Europa Conference League.

Orban’s drop-off

Fast forward a few months, and the Nigerian has not had the brightest start to the season, with only two league goals scored in six appearances. 

That ideally should not be a big deal for a player who turned 21 in July, but the performances and end product in 12 months while playing for two clubs across leagues with different levels of difficulty created an expectation of Orban.

Four games have passed in all competitions for Gent since the young forward netted his last goal for the club against Sint-Truiden on August 20.

However, a closer look shows that the Nigerian got 20 minutes against Club Brugge, 68 minutes in the fixture at Leuven and was on the pitch for 45 minutes before the red card for violent conduct. 

Throw in European action since Orban’s last goal in August, and both games against APOEL Nicosia in the Conference League Qualifying Round take the striker’s run to five appearances. The striker got 149 minutes in the tie.

Gift Orban
Gift Orban has not scored for Gent since August 20. (photo credit: imago)

According to Transfermarkt, Orban has played 282 minutes of football in the five games he failed to find the back of the net — around three games worth of match action.

Be that as it may, this is not the 21-year-old’s longest drought. The forward went 336 minutes without scoring in Norway’s second tier, a run that stretched four games. That scoreless run was followed by seven goals in the league’s final eight rounds, helping to seal Stabaek’s promotion.

So why is Orban not scoring?

What Orban’s numbers reveal

One suggestion to swiftly dismiss is the sale of Orban’s strike partner from last season — Hugo Cuypers. The 26-year-old Belgian was typically paired with the young forward in the second half of last term, and little has changed in their first full season together.

Instead, the underlying numbers reveal a dip in Orban’s shooting. The 21-year-old packs a punch, as evidenced by his shooting technique, meaning several low-percentage efforts are bound to find the back of the net.

According to Opta Analyst, the Nigerian netted 15 league goals from expected goals (xG) of 8.4 and outperforming his anticipated numbers by 6.55 is doubly impressive when you consider Erling Haaland’s overperformance of 7.41 was the second-best in European leagues.

Gift Orban
Gift Orban's xG map, showing the forward's inclination to get shots away at will (Opta Analyst)

This term’s dearth of goals has unsurprisingly led to suggestions of a mean reversal, but the comparison with last season and this term’s small sample could have divergent interpretations.

Gift Orban
Gift Orban is shooting less and his accuracy has dropped off (Source: Sofascore)

Instantly apparent is the dip in goal conversion and the slide in average shots taken, consequently causing a decrease in the mean attempts that have been on target. Considering volume, it is notable that only seven of Orban’s 16 shots have been on target (44%), a decrease from last term when 53% (31) of his 59 attempts either scored or made the goalkeeper work.

The forward is still shooting from low-value areas in 2023-24, but the accuracy is not as precise. Despite the small sample size, also notable in the aforementioned table is the increase in blocked shots this term, suggesting that opponents are doubly aware of Orban’s threat from high-value shooting areas and positions with seemingly minimal danger.

Could all this analysis be overthinking, and is Orban’s seeming dip an upshot of not getting a move in the summer?

Orban and a failed big-money move to a top-five league

A storming 12 months, with most observers unaware of the youngster until his move to Gent, meant transfer reports were rife in the summer window.

Bundesliga sides Union Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt were linked with Orban, as were Ligue 1 teams Lille and Lens. 

Galatasaray reportedly had a bid turned down by Gent, but Premier League interest in late August could have materialised with Tottenham Hotspur’s interest in the player. London rivals Fulham were said to be in the mix, while new boys Burnley reportedly wanted the youngster.

It seemed destined that Orban would play this season in one of Europe’s top divisions, but he has been left disappointed by that transfer failing to materialise.

Whether this has played a significant part in the 21-year-old’s drop-off is uncertain. However, the disappointment cannot be played down either. 

There is also a feeling among observers that having seen Victor Boniface light up the Bundesliga after switching from Union Saint-Gilloise in the summer, Orban could have been doing the same in a top division this term.

Gift Orban
Unlike Victor Boniface, Gift Orban could not get a move to one of Europe's top-five leagues.

Be that as it may, it is far too early to raise eyebrows about Orban’s form. 

He is not less talented, and his ability to score from nothing puts him in good stead to hit a rich vein of scoring form sooner rather than later. Patience.