Ukraine v Nigeria: Not every club player can be an Eagle

Super Eagles Coach, Gernot Rohr
Super Eagles Coach, Gernot Rohr

They say present form is the currency for an invitation to the national teams but that is really not the whole truth.

There are players whose only criteria for an invitation are being healthy enough to play.

Don’t wince, coaches have not stopped being human beings and they are continuously governed by emotions, which could be logical but could also be illogical.

Gernot Rohr in his capacity as the Eagles’ coach, has called up players like Josh Maja, who just moved from England’s third division club, Sunderland, to Bordeaux in France’s Ligue 1.

There is also Joe Aribo from Glasgow Rangers in Scotland and Maduka Okoye from Germany’s Regionalliga West side, Fortuna Dusseldorf II – playing in the fourth tier of the German football league.

While improvement and good results are the bywords for longevity as a football manager, there is also the added incentive of discovering new talents to wean out the older ones who should retire or be retired.

A glaring example of why club and form at club level do not necessarily translate to becoming a national team star would be the case of Rashidi Yekini and Richard Owubokiri.

While Yekini never played for a truly great European team, he was and is still the most potent striker, the Super Eagles have ever produced.

When Richard Owubokiri was the goal king at Boavista in the Portuguese league, he could not dislodge Yekini from Clemens Westerhof’s team. His 23 appearances for the Eagles fetched a solitary goal.

The argument thus swings both ways –the players invited from the lower leagues could become Eagles’ mainstay.

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But it could also be a waste of time and space because they would never make the grade of being Eagles but these are the basis for conjecture.

AFCON: Super Eagles training alongside its head coach, Gernot Rohr. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official Twitter handle of the Super Eagles.]
Super Eagles training alongside its head coach, Gernot Rohr. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official Twitter handle of the Super Eagles.]
When preparing for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, Rohr bemoaned the situation where no Nigerian player featured in the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League.

“We have to be optimistic, but if you look at our players, how many of them are playing for big clubs? Who among them is playing in the Champions League,” Rohr asked.

“I watched the last champions’ league games and no Nigerian players,” Rohr added.

But he has invited players that have no scent of first division football not to talk of playing in the UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds.

Thus, if talent is the main criteria for an invitation, why are players not invited from the Nigeria Professional League (NPFL)?

A curt answer would be the league is inactive and non-competitive though the other side would say that the majority of those playing for the Eagles started in the same NPFL.

In the updated 23-man list released for the upcoming friendly match with Ukraine on September 10, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and Rohr sent out a clear message – the NPFL does not matter.

There are new names on the list and that in itself is not wrong. It buttresses the assertion that friendly matches are supposed to help unearth new players for the country.

But really, why are there no outfield players from the NPFL on this list?

The NFF president stated in a tweet that the friendly match against Ukraine “is part of our ongoing drive to expose as many players as we can to global football, so this should be another springboard for our young stars.”

But Ikechukwu Ezenwa is the only home-based player on that list.

He is not an unknown and he is no longer a young talent whilst the jury is still out on the major reason he continues to make the list.

He is certainly not the best goalkeeper in the NPFL.

The argument that will subsist is he has never disappointed the Eagles whenever he has been called upon.

This shows that a great club career is not the main criteria in becoming a Super Eagle.

As qualification for the next AFCON and Qatar 2022 enter the final phases and with Rohr looking for replacements for the retired Mikel Obi and Odion Ighalo, new invitees are welcome.

But what is good for the goose must also be good for the gander.

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