Nigerian football is a source of joy, frustration and confusion, on and off the pitch. Bursting onto the global stage during the 1994 World Cup, the Super Eagles featured players such as Stephen Keshi (RIP), Finidi George, Rashidi Yekini (RIP), Jay- Jay Okocha, Emmanuel Amuneke, Daniel Amokachi and Sunday Oliseh. Since then Nigeria has gone on to provide highs and lows, more recently Nigeria won the 2013 Nations Cup and in 2015, but in 2017, Nigeria did not even qualify.
Nigeria’s failure to not quality for the African Cup Of Nations in back to back years has caused the ever going coaching carousel to continue. Nigerians are seemingly learning from the adage, “In order to create, you must first destroy.” Of the 23 players who won the 2013 Nations Cup, 6 of them still get called up.
If the team for the friendlies against Burkina Faso and Senegal were any indication into the future, Nigeria is shining bright; despite no call-ups for captain John Mikel Obi, Odion Ighalo and Brown Ideye, players who have just joined new clubs in China.
Goalkeepers: Carl Ikeme (Wolverhampton Wanderers, England); Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United, South Africa); Ikechukwu Ezenwa (FC Ifeanyi Ubah)
Defenders: Leon Balogun (FSV Mainz 05, Germany); William Paul Ekong 8(KAA Gent, Belgium); Kenneth Omeruo (Alanyaspor FC, Turkey); Uche Henry Agbo (Granada FC, Spain); Abdullahi Shehu (Anorthosis Famagusta, Cyprus); Musa Muhammed (FC Zeljeznicar, Bosnia Herzegovina); Tyronne Ebuehi (ADO Den Haag, The Netherlands); Elderson Echiejile (Sporting Gijon, Spain); Kingsley Madu (Zulte Waregem, Belgium); Chidozie Awaziem (FC Porto, Portugal)
Midfielders: Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor FC, Turkey); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Oghenekaro Etebo (CD Feirense, Portugal); John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Israel)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Leicester City, England); Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City, England); Moses Simon (KAA Gent, Belgium); Victor Moses (Chelsea FC, England)*; Alex Iwobi (Arsenal FC, England); Isaac Success (Watford FC, England); Noah Joel Bazee (Hannover 96, Germany); Victor Osimhen (Wolfsburg FC, Germany)*; Tobi Olarenwaju “Larry” Ayobami Kayode (FK Austria Wien, Austria)
Nigeria played a friendly vs Senegal on March 23rd, and had another the following Monday vs Burkina Faso but was cancelled and an inter-squad friendly was played.
These are matches were tests for new and old players alike. Nigeria called up a handful of players, including Larry Kayode, Noah Bazeem, Isaac Success, Chidozie Awziem, Uche Agbo, Tyronne Ebuehi, who have never played for Nigeria. This is a young but very talented side, many of who play in major European leagues and these players will be building the core of the national team.
There are complaints that Nigeria has gone for too many European based players and have not looked to players who play in the Nigerian leagues. While that is fair and understandable, Nigeria’s 1994 World Cup team featured zero players who played in the Nigerian leagues. In this day of globalization, more and more players will be seeking to play their trade in Europe. Albeit, Nigeria should find a balance between the players based in Europe and players who play in Nigeria.
Also, there are many Nigerian’s who are born in the Western world and those who have one Nigerian parent, who are just as passionate about the country and the national team (See Fabian Senninger).
Credit has to be given to Amaju Pinnick, the Nigerian Football Federation’s president (who recently won a seat into the executive committee of the Confederation of African Football). Mr. Pinnick won his position in 2014, after doing very well in Delta State. His efforts with Delta State led to the set up of Delta State’s Sports Commission in 2007, giving it a professional and institutional platform. Ever since Delta State has regularly emerged as the champions of the National Sports Festival.
Mr. Pinnick is not just focused on the Nigerian senior national team but all aspects of Nigerian football as well as African football as a whole, playing a role in the ousting of former CAF president, Issa Hayatou.
Mr. Pinnick wants to continue to mix European born players in the senior team, he has said Tammy Abraham (Chelsea), Ola Aina (Chelsea) and Ovie Ejaria (Liverpool) will play for Nigeria. There are other talented Western born Nigerian’s such as Ademola Lookman (Everton), Dominic Iorfa (Wolves), Mandela Egbo (Borussia Monchengladbach), Tosin Adarabioyo (Man City); in addition to a host of talented players who play in the Nigerian Premier League.
There are other talented young Nigerian born players such as Samuel Kalu, Stanley Amuzie, Umar Sadiq, Taiwo Awoniyi, Kelechi Nwakali, Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze, Henry Onyekuru, Dele Alampasu, for example.
With an overabundance of talent and Nigeria finally using players who excelled in youth tournaments (Watford’s Isaac Success, Leicester’s Ndidi, Gent’s Moses Simon and City’s Iheanacho were part of U20 team at 2015 U20 World Cup) in the senior team, the future is looking very bright, Nigerian football fans are in for a treat.
All we can do is hope that the NFF allows this generation to grow together and pay them on time.