Articles written by Balogun Rilwan Adetayo
It was a cold, chilly night in the city of Johannesburg; up came Nigeria against one of Africa’s most underrated sides, Burkina Faso, who against all odds, were playing in the final. We had players sweating profusely under that cold atmosphere, under immense pressure not to disappoint Nigerians after a 19-year hiatus. We played absolutely well and the foreign based pros were excellent as usual, but in two of our best legs on the home front came our historical victory. Sunday Mba got the beautiful winner and once again, Godfrey Oboabona was very excellent at the back. Each time I remember his goal against Ivory Coast, I build a hope for Nigerian talents, too.
Sadly, none of these two guys have gone on to recapitulate the form that made them Nigerians’ taste at the 2013 African Cup of Nations; a phenomenon very common with local based Nigeria internationals. The issue of consistency and suspect European deals, big contributions to the emanation of these problems. Time and again, Nigeria have failed to pin down good talents to help her cause, especially when they are home-based yet these are footballers that could have gone places to achieve greatness. Mba was the heart of Rangers International then, while Oboabona plied his trade at Sunshine Stars before making the move to Turkish club, Çaykur Rizespor in 2013.
Years back, Nigeria had a core of its players from the local league and her greatest players have at one time or the other represented a local team in the league. The years of the Lagos ’80 Nations Cup where we had Christian Chukwu, Segun Odegbami, Henry Nwosu, Emmanuel Okala e.t.c rings a bell and Chief Adegboye Onigbinde’s extraordinary love for the grassroots sounds its alarm again. Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha played for Enugu Rangers, Kanu Nwankwo played for Iwuanyanwu Nationale (now Heartland FC) Mutiu Adepoju played for Shooting Stars (3SC), Rashidi Yekini played for Julius Berger, 3SC and Gateway, and many more players of the past generations who reached a respectable level in their careers played for local teams.
There is undoubtedly a large crop of talents in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) waiting to be harnessed and all these players need is good management and wise representation by their agents. The more they avoid throw-it-at-me kind of agents, the better it is for their careers. It is pertinent to note that the likes of Emmanuel Emenike, Brown Ideye, Kenneth Omeruo, Vincent Enyeama and Ahmed Musa, that were mainstays of our continental conquest of Africa in 2013, are all players who have had their boots laced for one NPFL side or the other at different periods.
Today, in the Super Eagles, Oghenekaro Etebo stands as one of the best players in the team and it is noteworthy to remember that he represented Warri Wolves with colour, guile and finesse and has improved since his move more than a year ago. These are good moves for a player’s right development. For now, I can’t cite another vintage example. Sad!
We’ve had the likes of Obinna Nwaneri, Seyi Olajengbesi, Romanus Orjinta, Chukwu Ndukwe, Furo Iyeneme, Yusuf Mohammed, Gege Soriola, Dele Aiyenugba and many more who have had chances to represent the Super Eagles at different times. It’s high times tides changed. These guys got their careers wound up once they get a very mediocre European deal foiled by silky lies. This is where players’ education comes in!
Our players need to be given good contracts here and paid at appropriate times and also, be made to understand the rudiments of professionalism. Being a professional goes beyond the boots and the stadia, it goes to the last detail of their contractual agreements. A situation where once promising players like Emmanuel Sarki who at a time was under Chelsea’s books ended up playing for the Haiti national team is not the best for our football and we have to tie this down.
Players’ treatment must be highly respected and things must be done appropriately and statutorily, we can be a great footballing nation, greater than our greatest achievements if we can for once put things in place and make home a Mecca for our boys. Running to second division teams in Norway and third division teams in France has failed to help any of our players and if the future must be different and players from the NPFL will get equal respect as their European counterparts, there must be a holistic difference in the running of things, so these players will have reasons to stay behind. It takes no rocket science to know there is real promise in our league but it will take sacrifice in its abundance, if we must achieve greatness.
Meanwhile, we must support the Shehu Dikko-led League Management Company (LMC) as for now, they are our biggest source of rejuvenation and a body that has shown the resolve to put things in order once and for all.