The composition of the Super Eagles of Nigeria has been an on-going conversation, with some arguing that the team needs more local-based players and others suggesting that the players here are not good enough to play for the national team.
In recent years, Super Eagles managers have consistently overlooked players from the Nigeria Professional Football League, preferring to go with those based in Europe.
Even when former handler, Augustine Eguavoen had the opportunity to include up to 28 players on his squad for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, he enlisted only one home-based player, Enyimba goalkeeper, John Noble. This was heavily criticised by pro-NPFL observers, especially as Eguavoen was himself an indigenous manager.
Another former manager, Gernot Rohr hardly gave local-based players any look-in, often suggesting that they were not good enough to play for the Eagles at major tournaments.
But are these managers right in their assessment of local players, or do these guys deserve better opportunities to prove themselves?
Considering that many of our greatest footballers, from Segun Odegbami to Jay Jay Okocha, began their careers playing for local clubs, it is hard to believe that talents have suddenly disappeared from the home front.
Nigerians still love their football. Youngsters still play on the streets. Talents still abound in this country. It smacks a bit of laziness and disingenuity to suggest otherwise.
It is now very convenient for our administrators and coaches to tap up foreign-born players and present them as the best we have to offer in this country. Since we have been parading these players in diaspora, what exactly have we won? Which of these players can we truly say has become legendary or indispensable to our national team?
Instead, the fear factor we once had on the continent has slowly eroded, with continental minnows now believing that they can get results off the Super Eagles.
Sierra Leone recently came here and fought back from a 4-0 deficit to earn a 4-4 draw, while the Central African Republic went even further, inflicting a 1-0 defeat on the Eagles in Lagos.
Normally, the Super Eagles would be the overwhelming bookmakers’ favourites to take down these sorts of opponents, but many bookies around the world, including the best betting sites we have in Nigeria, aren’t so confident in the Eagles’ abilities anymore!
Why do we constantly ignore players from the Nigeria Professional Football League and rather call up players from lower divisions in Malta and Bulgaria?
If we are claiming our NPFL players are not better, someone is clearly lying or not doing his job in the federation and the coaching crew.
No one is saying that home-based players will be the saviour of the national team, it is only fair that they are given proper opportunities to show what they can do. It’s not enough to give them five-minute cameos in meaningless friendly matches, let them have consistent runs in competitive encounters.
We play a lot of Nations Cup and World Cup qualifiers these days, against the likes of Sierra Leone and Mauritius. That would be a good starting point.
That NPFL players are being overlooked is not entirely the fault of the national coaches. The organisers of the league also have to take a big part of the blame. The state of league football is so bad that no serious-minded person would want any association with it.
The pitches are still well below par, security isn’t top notch, professionalism is crude (both from the League Management Company and the clubs themselves), and general organisation is just laughable.
As much as this is the case, it is not the fault of the players.
One of the highest points of professional football is turning out for your country, and NPFL players also deserve a fair shot at this.