The development or growth of any National team(s); cannot be fully achieved or actualized without the enlistment or involvement of all and sundry. So I was greeted with a huge shock when I received as it has become customary a Press release from the Media Director of the NFF; Mr. Demola Olajire; the list of invitees to the Super Eagles for the forthcoming friendlies against Senegal and Burkina Faso in London and it had only one NPFL player in the entire list.
Now my problem with that is that it is fast becoming a pattern to invite only Ikechukwu Ezenwa to the National Camp under the guise of inviting an NPFL player. Ezenwa is not even the best Goalie in the League as we speak; he won’t even sit on the bench on match days; serves as training material, coupled with the fact that he even needs to put an object in goal to face/save penalties as the case may be. Where are the stars of our League?
The Nigerian Professional Football League is enjoying so much goodwill today from every corner of the globe; fans are gradually returning to the stadium; Social Media is playing a huge role in not only pushing the agenda locally, but internationally. Are there any match days; the NPFLLive hashtag doesn’t trend on Twitter. The world has started taking notice that we are building something special; just look at the level of response Sikiru Olatubosun’s strike last Friday at the Agege Stadium has gotten the World over; it was on Fox Soccer, L’Equipe and nominated for Goal of the Week on CNN alongside goals for renowned international stars like Radja Nainggolan and as at the last time I checked had gotten 85% of the votes. Who are we deceiving here? How can we release a list for two friendlies in London for March and we do not have at least 5 NPFL players on the list; It is impossible.
The NFF, Its Technical committee and the Gernot Rohr should cut the cow dung and be real with us; if you do not require or will not use the NPFL players leave them out completely; focus on your so called foreign based players who either are sited on the bench or in the crowd; but when time comes for the CHAN tournament; just write to CAF to pull out because there is no point at all to consider them for that if they can not make the main Super Eagles Team.
For the full national team to be successful it has to embrace the products of the Local league; past happenings have shown this clearly. Lets go back a little into history; our triumphs on the international stage have been when we have ensured we have a good mix of local and foreign based players. South Africa 2013; Late Stephen Keshi took the likes of Sunday Mba, Chigozie Agbim, Godfrey Oboabona, Azubuike Egwuekwe etc with at least two making the starting line up; en route to that same tournament; Keshi had a center back pairing of Oboabona and Egwuekwe which got us qualification. When Westerhof took over in 1989; he saw the potential in having a mix of home based and foreign players; that period from 1989 to 1994 remains our most successful period as a national team and in the production of individual players.
Lets move away from the past and look at the present; a careful review of the statistics proves that some of the invitees could have been left out to develop their game at club level considering someone like Issac Success had just returned from injury and had also dropped lower in the pecking order at Watford. Success has scored one goal in his twelve appearances for Watford; Moses Simon, Three in Twenty-Two appearances for Gent so far this season; Has Victor Osimhen even made a start for the main Wolfsburg Team? Who is Noah Joel Bazee? Well he plays for Hannover ’96 and has scored a goal in his ten appearances playing as an Attacking midfielder.
Now; Gernot Rohr saw some NPFL games over the last few weeks; I believe members of the Technical Committee watch these games weekly or Bi-Weekly; can they comfortably tell me that Stephen Odey of MFM FC cannot be called up to replace Issac Success? Odey has scored six goals in ten matches so far; top scorer in the NPFL along side Victor Mboama (Remo Stars) and Mathias Samuel (El-Kanemi); these are better goal returns than any of those mentioned above. Note that I did not add Ahmed Musa’s poor run of two goals in eighteen games for Leicester City so far; because he is vice captain. Why do we keep calling up Tyronne Ebuehi; a player who turned down a call up some months back; when we have Elisha Golbe of table topping Plateau United; who interestingly for a defender has scored three goals all from free-kicks (we know how poor the Super Eagles are with Free Kicks).
Our NPFL Players need to be embraced; given a sense of belonging; shown that hard-work and dedication pays; it is only when we give them the exposure they desire and require our game at both local and international level can develop to the levels we desire. It is time to stop the undermining of our NPFL players; give them the respect they deserve; one consistent call up of Ezenwa is an affront on the hardworking NPFL Player who turns out week in week out; some are owed salaries, travel via our treacherous road network to give their best every week in different centers across the country; the least we can do is to make call ups to the National Team open to all and sundry with equal opportunities available to all; whether local or foreign based.
*** Pictures Coutesy Plateauunited.com; soccernet.com.ng, twitter.com, footballlive.ng, connectnigeria.com