Why Nigerian Players Don’t make Big Moves to Europe?

No sooner had the FIFA Brazil World Cup 2014 drawn its curtains than the insatiable eyes of football fans shifted attention to the ins and outs of the summer transfer window of Europe’s ‘Big Five’, comprising Spain, England, Germany, Italy and France, the ultimate destination of every footballer.


Super Eagles Player


Incidentally, the just concluded mundial, which tied France 1998 world cup on most goals scored (171), has provided those markets with the right impetus for transfer business. The 2014 edition of the world cup produced a record 121 scorers, making it unarguably a tournament for attackers. A few of the world’s biggest stars turned up with stellar performances to reaffirm their reputation, while a new generation of youngsters was discovered. This also bodes well for the transfer window, which serve as a veritable platform for players to relaunch their careers, and get bigger challenges.


Countries such as Columbia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, and even Algeria can look up with pride at not only their team’s spirited performance at the mundial, but also the attention and deals being lavishly splashed on their players by top clubs in Europe.


Though the same cannot be said of Nigeria. The Super Eagles with an average age of 25.3 paraded the most youthful side at the 2014 world cup, only behind Ghana. Therefore, the world cup could not have come at a better time for the lads to sell themselves to European suitors. The fact that only eight members of the squad ply their trade in Europe’s Big Five puts the picture in clearer perspective. Not to mention the limited roles almost all squad members play in their respective club.


It is still fresh memory that each outing of the Super Eagles at the world cup was heralded by European clubs chasing for the signature of our players. Take for example in 1994, Emmanuel Emenike moved from Zamalek SC to Sporting Clube de Portugal after a good showing in USA. His team mate, Daniel ‘The Bull’ Amokachi also signed for Everton, thanks to his exploits in the same tournament.


There was a repeat scenario in 1998 when PSG splashed around $24 million on Jay Jay Okocha following his dazzling performance in France ’98 world cup.


The trend continued in 2002 with Joseph Yobo earning a move to Everton after an impressive display in South Korea/Japan, which he capped with an assist to Julius Aghahowa against Sweden.


Super Eagles Player


In a rather bizarre year for Nigeria, the Super Eagles failed to qualify for the 2006 edition that was hosted by Germany. However, the team secured ticket for South Africa 2010 world cup, but the ignominy suffered due to first round elimination perhaps ensured that no member of that ill-fated squad got big suitors.


There is a general consensus amongst football administrators and fans that Nigeria is richly blessed with an abundance of footballing talents. From the swampy marshes of the Niger Delta groove to the street sides of Jos Metropolis, down to the hoods in Lagos, Nigeria possesses an amazing pool of real talents ready for harnessing and utilization.


Then, what is responsible for the paradoxical dearth of top Nigerian players?


A cross-section of stakeholders share the view that the existing structure and modus operandi of football academies in the country (Dare Football Wears, Anfield Lane Sport Promotion, Samuel Jones Jerseys, L And M Football Academy, Scan Soccer Football Academy, Star Football Academy, Peace World Football Academy, Kwara Football Academy, Pepsi Football Academy, etc) are not properly tailored to ‘catch them young’. The problem seems to stem from inadequate funding, with most of them surviving on the generosity of their benefactors, which may not be adequate for their programmes. So what we term ‘football academy’ in Nigeria is no more than a ‘clearing house’ of half-baked footballers, who are only fit for the leagues in Cyprus, India, Israel, Denmark.


There is also the issue of mismanagement of player transition in the national team cadre (U17, U20, U23, Senior Team). Unlike what is obtainable in Spain, Germany and other football developed nations where a successful team at youth level is properly managed along the various grades until graduation into the senior team, Nigeria is yet to successfully achieve that. The closest we got was the glorious ’94 set which had been together since 1988. Coincidentally, Steven Keshi, in the aftermath of the Golden Eaglets triumph at the U17 World Cup 2013, advised the team to focus on making gradual promotion up the hierarchy. In this wise, the Nigeria Football Federation must carry the can for its insensitiveness and lack of attention to the budding careers of our boys. Where are the Rabiu Ibrahims, Macauley Chrisantus’, Lukman Harunas, Yakubu Alfas, Edafe Egbedis, Ramon Azeez’ and the Stanley Okoros? It’s time we started getting answers from the NFF.


Where perhaps has been our greatest undoing in football is in the area of systematic age cheat in FIFA age-grade competitions. Factors attributable to this perennial and nagging issue are, our win-at-all-cost mentality, non-implementation of blue-print for our national team, especially age-grades, amongst others. That today Nigeria is the most successful nation in the history of FIFA U17 competition, yet cannot boast of a single FIFA world cup medal tells the story that cheating pays in the short run but hurts in the long run. As the Poet would write, O dearth, where is thy sting?


By Da Epic Pen

You can follow Da Epic Pen on his twitter handle @IMELIKACHIEKENE; email: ekene.imelikachi@gmail.com

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