Nigerian Football in need of tenacity of Purpose

Sports

BY AFOLABI GAMBARI

Some football fans in Nigeria who have expressed dismay at the development that has seen more foreign based-cum foreign born players literally flood the Super Eagles may have more worries to endure in the years ahead. Not only would they not see players in the Nigerian league put on the Eagles’ shirt, but they would in fact soon witness the era where no domestic player would make the senior national team, safe for the Super Eagles B team that is exclusive to the players plying their trade at home.

Explanation for the foregoing is not far-fetched. Hear the Super Eagles Team Coordinator and former Nigeria international, Pascal Patrick: “We are in a new dawn at the moment and we are busy building the Super Eagles’ team of our dream, the one that Nigerians will be proud of.”

However, the Eagles have always been built. This is the impression we have always been getting from the national camp. So, what can be special about the ‘building’ that Patrick espouses at this time? Hear him again: “We are focusing on the youngsters who have got what it takes to get the Eagles to the next level in view of happenings around the world. I am talking about players who average 20-22 years and who have garnered considerable experience playing abroad.”

How and why can’t the same players be found in the Nigerian league, if indeed football is being played locally? Must they necessarily be playing or born abroad? Patrick shrugged, but nonetheless offered explanation: “The best players at home are far older than the players who are already regulars in the Super Eagles A team. At the moment we have Tyrone Ebuehi, Samuel Chukwueze, Semi Ajayi, Joseph Aribo, Victor Usimhen, Paul Onuachu, Samuel Kalu, Moses Simon, Ola Aina, Bryan Idowu and goalkeepers Francis Uzoho and Maduka Okoye who have had Eagles’ caps and who can hold their own any day. All of them fall below 25 years. So, logically how can older players in the Nigerian league supplant these youngsters?”

Patrick had more to say. Hear him yet again: “There is also the problem of indiscipline among the local players. Some of them carry on with the air of success that they feel they cannot be controlled and in the process jeopardize their professionalism. There is no such indiscipline in the Super Eagles and it cannot even be condoned.”

Interestingly, Patrick played in the local league where he first starred for his home town Bauchi club Wikki Tourists before he proceeded to Shooting Stars of Ibadan onward the Turkish league where he also played for top division side Genclebirligi. 

He was asked, were the local players not easily making the Super Eagles’ team at that time and was he not a beneficiary? He could not but concur, yet he turned the heat on the sports journalists as chief culprits on the fate that has made the home players fallen out of favour with the Eagles’ selectors in recent years. “In our days, journalists did their job of fishing the right players professionally and the coaches couldn’t but see the players as desirable. Today, self-interest has taken over professionalism and journalists have turned marketers whereby they sometimes attempt to offer undesirable players to the national team coaches, therefore shifting emphasis from the players who genuinely deserve invitation.” 

As tenable as Patrick’s argument that the best players in the local league are ageing, it however lacks the capacity to endure a hard test. A core term had been clearly spelt out to especially all the clubs in Nigeria’s professional cadre that each must have a feeder’s team to be populated by players of the academy level who would graduate to the senior teams. So, how is it that the clubs cannot boast of a large pool of young players over the years? This is where maladministration of the league comes into consideration. For if there are rules there must of necessity be enforcement and, in this case, the fact that the rules are not being enforced is just too obvious. Essentially, those who would replace the aforementioned Super Eagles’ youngsters from the Nigerian league must logically be younger than older.To be fair, though, it would be a tall order for particularly professional clubs in Nigeria to run proper feeders’ teams in view of nearly all of them being run with government funds that are hardly enough to meet running costs, let alone have some left to plan for the future. But still, a league can be worth its name only if it can meet statutory requirements. There must be conscious and concerted efforts to achieve those requirements. The Nigerian league cannot continue to under perform while its counterparts around the world are perpetually aiming higher.

Afolabi Gambari, Journalist, Environmentalist, Social Commentator writes from Lagos, Nigeria
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