BY KUNLE SOLAJA
The rating of the Nigerian League with the rest of the world, especially on the African continent, will always be a contentious issue.
It is an argument that can never be effectively settled. But one fact is certain: a league’s product defines its quality.
In that wise, the Nigerian league can be evaluated by the results obtained by the league’s champions in Africa’s inter clubs’ competitions as well as the quota it contributes to the national team and continental competitions.
Also, the grip it has on the populace is another factor to evaluate the efficacy of the league in Nigeria.
In terms of popularity, the league, undoubtedly, has waned in importance.
Paradoxically, before the advent of professional football in 1990, the stadiums were often overfilled, especially in crackers involving clubs like the IICC Shooting Stars, Enugu Rangers, Super Stores, Bendel Insurance among others.
Now, the league venues are becoming emptier with every passing season, while the English Premiership and other leagues of Europe continue their stranglehold on the Nigerian populace.
That way, the English Premiership for instance continues to wax stronger with ever increasing television viewing figures around the globe and also massive and foreign investors are falling over themselves to get a piece of the action.
In Europe, the leagues, clubs and players can be choosy in sponsorship and endorsements. Not so with the Nigerian league and the clubs as well as the players whose lifelines depend almost solely on government subventions.
For the three decades of the introduction of professional league to Nigeria, the bulk of national team players were drawn from leagues in Europe.
The trend appears will persist for years to come. Even when an African nations’ football championship was introduced by the Confederation of African Football, (CAF), for players domiciled in the respective African countries, Nigeria’s home-based players could not qualify for the first two editions held in Cote d’Ivoire in 2009 and Sudan in 2011.
The Nigerian side was knocked out in 2009 by Ghana and for the 2011 edition by even a lesser football power, Niger Republic, in the first round of the qualifying series.
In the first 20 years of professional league in Nigeria, the country’s clubsides only won the continent’s premier inter clubs competition, the CAF Champions League twice.
In comparison within the same period, Egyptian clubs won the Champions League eight times.
Overall, in 46 editions of the African premier clubs competition from 1965 to 2010, Egyptian clubs won 12 times, followed by clubs from Cameroon, Congo DR and Morocco with five victories each. Algeria have won four times and are followed by Ghana, Guinea and Tunisia. The Nigerian league produced African champions only twice in 46 years.
In the next level of African clubs competition, the African Winners Cup which ran from 1975 to 2003, Nigeria won three times in 29 editions of the competition.
Products of the Egyptian league on the other hand have won eight times. Tunisian clubs had four victories.
In 12 editions of 12 CAF Cup competition, Tunisian clubs led the pack, winning four times and followed by Algeria with three victories. Nigerian clubs won twice.
The International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) is an organisation recognised by FIFA.
It chronicles the history and records of football. Over the years, its ranking of African leagues persistently put the Egyptian league top in Africa.
The Tunisian league often followed, while Nigeria ranked third. The statistics also reflected the results obtained in the CAF Champions League which the North Africans dominate.
In terms of contribution to national team, the Egyptian league again soars above that of Nigeria. For instance, while Egypt’s 23-man squad to the 2010 African Nations Cup had 19 home boys, Nigeria’s entire squad was drawn from abroad.
There were six other players from the Egyptian league in other squads, making a total 25 players from that league.
In contrast, Nigeria’s league only contributed two out of the 368 players of the the 2010 Africa Cup of Cup.
They were Chitou Rachad, a goalkeeper of Wikki Tourists and Akinsola Boussari of Enugu Rangers who was to play for Togo before the country’s eventual withdrawal.
The leagues of other African countries also contributed significantly to the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations .
The Tunisian league had 16 products at the tournament; Angolan league had 10 players while Algeria had nine.
It is even worse since the 2013 edition that the late Stephen Keshi had a handful of home-based players in the winning side of the AFCON.
In 2019 and 2021, Nigeria did not have any of its home based players in the squad.