Fans of local football in Nigeria have enjoyed themselves like never before in the manner they have trooped to match venues to see the NPFL clubs do battle twice-a-week since the new season kicked.
The fans always knew a reward was waiting for them somewhere along the line as the season cruised on. What reward, anyway, could be more befitting than seeing some of the NPFL players starring in the Super Eagles as Nigeria continued preparation towards Russia 2018 World Cup?
They got a jolt, however, when the NFF released the list of Super Eagles’ players to engage Senegal and Burkina Faso in friendly games last month. Only one NPFL player, Ikechukwu Ezenwa of FC IfeanyiUbah, was invited.
Not even the NPFL’s free-scoring MFM FC striker, Stephen Odey, was considered as a fringe invitee among the 24 listed, although Odey had scored more than ten goals as at the time.
Blue murder, the local fans cried. But they were ignored by the NFF which seemed to declare a no-going-back stand. It should have been thought that the Super Eagles’ performance against Senegal would justify the NFF’s stand on shutting out the NPFL players.
But the “star-studded” team could only get a 1-1 result against the Senegalese in a scrappy game that the Eagles’ gaffer Gernot Rohr would describe as “eye-opener”, although he was only being economical with words after he virtually threw the team open to several new Europe-based entrants whom he hoped to give playing time in order to dissuade the countries of their residence from capping them.
It was just as unfortunate that the “new discoveries” could not be tested further as the second game against Burkina Faso was cancelled over logistic reasons.
But it did not stop Rohr from dropping a bomb shell that tended to foreclose invitation of the NPFL players to the Eagles in the near future, no matter how many Stephen Odeys continue to lighten up the league.
“Our best players are in Europe,” Rohr declared according to various reports.
Not that the Franco-German offered any cogent argument, anyway. Hear him: “The Lions of Senegal that we played had no single player based in the local league.”
He must have reckoned that the leagues in Senegal and Nigeria are at par in terms of talent and organisation, in addition to the fact that none of the Europe-based players he invited was a fringe player at his club. But, was this the case?
The London camping offered an incredibly free entry into the Eagles’ team such that top ranking journalist and columnist, Mumini Alao, titled a piece that address the loose arrangement “Super Eagles of England”.
El-Kanemi coach, Issa Ladan Bosso, not a man to mince words when the issue is the development of local players, expressed dismay last week on the shut-out of the MFM’s star forward, Odey.
“No matter that Stephen wouldn’t be fielded in the London friendly games, he still deserved to be invited as I believe it would spur him to excel further in the NPFL,” Bosso stated, although he knew he was little reckoned by the Nigeria football authorities.
Perhaps, as a face-saving move, Rohr arrived in Nigeria early in the first week of this month “to monitor players in the NPFL with a view to determining their suitability for the Super Eagles ahead of the Nations Cup 2019 qualifier with South Africa in June.”
He was also reported to have met with Odey, whereupon he assured the MFM forward of an invitation to the Eagles. But everyone knows that this is a ruse. The same Rohr had earlier been quoted to have said in London during the recent friendly games that he had listed a total of 40 European-born Nigerian players to be drafted in the months ahead as he continued to build what he called a formidable Eagles’ squad.
Without doubt, the onus rests on the NFF to draw a policy that would guarantee adequate representation of NPFL players in the Eagles’ team, moving forward, while also drawing measures at ensuring strict adherence to the policy.
In the meantime, it is either that the NPFL players settle for the lot at their disposal, that is, the Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) or hop overseas in order to be considered for invitation to Eagles. Whether the Europe-based Eagles have real quality to compete is another matter entirely.