The fact that Asisat Oshoala’s move to Arsenal Ladies from Liverpool was Nigeria’s highest profile transfer news of this season perfectly sums up the state of our football and nicely explains why Nigerian players missed out of the whopping £1.045billion (Premier League only) paid in transfer fees in the 2015/16 season.
My attention was drawn, although inadvertently, to a feature story in Complete Sports of February 2, 2016 with the following headline “12 Nigerian players in the January Transfer“.
Written by Johnny Edward, the article went on to list the dozen Nigerian players who changed clubs during the winter (January) window.
My first reaction, after reading the report, was to ask in wonderment if these 12, comprising players with varied pedigree and a potpourri of backgrounds are the best we could come up with in a period when players from Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroun, Ghana et al are constantly making big-money moves to decent clubs all across the globe.
In the list, as per the Complete Sports story, was a player who’d moved to England on a six-month loan for a ‘princely’ sum of £730,000 and another who left Europe to team up with a club in North Africa for reasons best known to him.
There was one who, at age 19, went to America’s Major League Soccer, usually the retirement home for players twice his age and another one who made a return to Spain for probably his last hurray before calling time on his career.
The questions that popped out, almost unbidden, were: are these our top-most players? If these are our top transfers, what does that say about our football and what is the correlation between the movement of our players to mid-table teams in obscure leagues and the pitiful state of our national team which, at the last count, was adjudged 63rd in the latest FIFA rankings of national teams.
If the players in the list are not our very best, then you want to ask why our best players are not being sought after by the super-powers in Europe? One can recall, with nostalgia I daresay, a long-gone era when you find one Nigerian player in at least one of the top four teams in each of Europe’s big leagues.
That was the period you find Nigerian players occupying five or more of the top 10 places in the best African players roll call. Now, sadly, players from Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali and other African countries have taken over while our players are moving from Tajikistan to Vietnam.
And, lest I forget, Finland. Yes, Finland seem to hold a new attraction for our players with the increasing number of Nigerians moving to the Scandinavian country. Pray, which serious football is being played in Finland.
Without trying to denigrate the effort of these players who, I must admit, have to go through hell and high water to even move to these obscure leagues but I don’t recall any player of repute going to Finland to play.
It may sound harsh but that’s just about the truth and I want to hazard a guess as to why Nigerian players have consistently failed to attract the attention of Europe’s super-powers.
One factor, and this is often a fact many people usually are not ready to countenance, is that the production line from which we produced a long list of home-baked but nonetheless talented players has dried off in the past decade or so.
Therefore, the era when Nigeria had the Kanus, Finidis, Okochas, Babangidas, Oliseh, Taribo etc who placed Nigeria on the highest pedestal are no longer coming through the ranks.
We abandoned the processes and developmental plans through which players were discovered, nurtured and prepared for the demands of top-flight football in favour of quick-fixes for immediate gains and we are now reaping the results.
Secondly, because the current generation of players hardly goes through the fiery furnace of the Nigerian league, they’re often not grounded in the rudiments of the game like their predecessors and so are often not able to command the respect and fees of the bigwigs in international club football.
Thus the days when Ajax Amsterdam came to scout Kanu Nwankwo and Finidi George from the domestic league are gone forever and now our players must be pawned like cheap articles of clothings to medium and small clubs abroad.
Thirdly, the lifestyle of some Nigerian players is the greatest impediment to making it big in Europe and I have a few tear-jerking stories of missed opportunities to tell.
Former youth international, Olumide Harris told me of a Nigerian player in Europe who, despite his immense talent, spent the better part of his waking hours patronizing pubs and drinking himself to stupor and would usually stumble to training in the mornings.
The club tolerated him for a while because of his immense talent but, definitely, there’s a limit to how far talent can carry you. Needless to say he was soon declared surplus to requirements at the club and was released.
Today, the said player roams the streets of Europe without a club at the age of 28, with only himself to blame for his predicament.
Fourthly, where the player is hardworking, he could be unfortunate enough to fall into the hands of rouge agents who would not think twice before milking him for whatever he’s worth before moving to the next cash-cow.
Another case that was brought to my attention was that of two Nigerian youngsters who went on trials at a major European club and impressed the club officials who wanted to sign them on immediately.
However, because they were underage, the club offered them a youth contract pending when they came of age and are able to sign a proper deal.
The agents, sensing an opportunity to make some megabucks, met the club officials and gave them a long list of people who they claimed are entitled to a share of the players’ signing-on fee.
The club president reportedly took a look at the list and, sensing a scam, refused to pay such an outrageous amount on youth players who wouldn’t have been eligible to play for the club for another 18 months or thereabouts.
Today, four years after, those players are sadly at home, club less and with a very bleak future in the game.
In conclusion, Nigeria’s best hope of having players like Kelechi Iheanacho, Samuel Chukwueze, Kelechi Nwakali and perhaps Victor Osihmen et al play at the highest levels with the biggest clubs lay in their ability to avoid all the pitfalls mentioned above.
Only then can the nation reap the benefits of dominating age-grade competitions over the years.
Until then, we may have to make do with our players plying their trade in far-flung corners of the globe in obscure leagues with the concomitant adverse effect on our football.
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