In another two weeks, the Super Eagles will fly out to Dnipro to confront Andriy Shevchenko and the men in Yellow in the first-ever matchup between the two senior international sides but controversies continue to trail the list of players the Nigeria manager released a fortnight ago to prosecute the game.
In the first squad list put together since the Super Eagles participated in and won bronze medal at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, Gernot Rohr recalled the bulk of the players who did well in that tournament. William Troost-Ekong, Kenneth Omeruo, Wilfred Ndidi, Ahmed Musa, and Alex Iwobi were all pillars of the team that did so well at Egypt 2019 until the semifinal match and have also been invited for the Ukraine tie.
However, the German manager had holes to fill in the team, holes created by the expected retirement of team captain John Obi Mikel who had rendered a distinguished service for the nation side for more than a decade; Odion Ighalo’s sudden withdrawal from the national team; and the urgent need to find a long-term replacement for the seemingly regressing Daniel Akpeyi.
To take their vacant seats, Rangers’ young creative midfielder Joe Aribo and Fortuna Dusseldorf B’s shot-stopper Maduka Okoye were sent their first-ever invitations, while there were recalls for Kelechi Iheanacho and Semi Ajayi who just missed the AFCON plane at the very last minute.
And on that last statement rests the ultimate controversy: With as many as four slots to refill in a squad of 23, why would Rohr not make room for at least one other NPFL player to join Heartland’s Ikechukwu Ezenwa?
Former internationals including but not limited to Peter Rufai, Mutiu Adepoju and Daniel ‘the Bull’ Amokachi have all voiced out their reservations about one or two individuals whose name surprisingly appeared on Rohr’s roll call.
It can be argued that Gernot Rohr raised himself up to be roasted as he had never shown even the slightest of affections towards players plying their trade in the local league but then who can blame the former Bordeaux manager judging by the present stinking state of the Nigeria Professional Football League.
The NPFL has been on break since mid-June. The regular season ended for most clubs at the end of May. There are no indications to suggest that the NPFL will resume any time soon. Four months is too long a time for any serious league to keep players out of competitive action. When did the national team – a pool of any country’s best of the best – become the untidy platform for players to come clear their cobwebs and sharpen their rustiness?
Even in peak season, the league has got not much to excite even the most easily excitable of fans. The much that was observed about the state of the NPFL last season stank to the highest heavens. Many pitches across the federation are still in such sorry state that other nations would not even consider them for horse-racing.
Not much has improved about player welfare compared to a decade ago. A lot of coaches have done little to increase their knowledge of the game and most still rely on state-sponsorship – that may never come – to add more qualifications to the rudimentary certificates, if any, that got them the job in the first place.
Little wonder then that most of the local coaches refuse to focus on the technical development of the players and the team, the effect of which are clear even for the blind to see: a hideous display when one watches from the stands and an even uglier sight to behold when seen on screen.
Referees are still the targets of bribes from club administrators or attacks from club fans, as the case may be, to earn points to win the league or to avoid relegation. And Rohr’s critics expect that players from this disgusting set-up would make any impact with the national team.
Why has this same set of players not make any meaningful impact with their clubs outside the immediate shores of this country?
Take a look at the African Nations Championship popularly tagged CHAN which commenced in 2009 in which national teams exclusively feature players who ply their trades in the domestic league of their home country.
The self-styled Giant of Africa could not even crawl her way to qualify for the first two editions. Till date Nigeria has not been able to lift that trophy once when DR Congo – backed by a solid league framework – have already been crowned champions.
Maybe the CHAN is a step too far. How about the continental club competitions?
No Nigeria club has won the CAF Champions League since Enyimba romped to consecutive victories 15 years ago. Last year, only Lobi Stars made it to the group stages of the competition, none made it out. In fact, no Nigeria club has made it past the group stage of Africa’s premier club competition since Sunshine Stars 7 years ago.
The same appalling story is unfolding in the CAF Confederations Cup where no Nigerian side has reached the final of Africa’s second-tier competition since Dolphins lost 3-0 to Morocco’s FAR Rabat 14 years ago. Let’s not get started about winning it.
It is these continuous terrible performances that compelled CAF, last year, to reduce Nigeria’s slot in the Champions League and Confederations Cup from two to one. Mind you, ‘celebrated minnows’ like Sudan, Libya and Mozambique continue to enjoy their double slots.
It is either there is something wrong with the quality of our players or the system. The fact that these players, when granted the opportunities abroad, usually excel attests to the conclusion that the system is faulty.
If any player is able to escape the local league, hone his skills and excel abroad, he will most likely get his chance – look at Ahmed Musa, Oghenekaro Etebo and Julius Aghahowa – to represent his fatherland. Just as much as being born overseas does not make the likes of Leon Balogun, Tyronne Ebuehi and Williams Troost-Ekong any less Nigerian.
It is not the gaffer’s job to raise the standard of the local league, that’s why officials of the NFF and the NPFL’s LMC earn their monthly pay. Therefore, Gernot Rohr is right to ignore a dreadful system coughing out half-baked products. Many of his critics would do the same if they find themselves in his shoes, if not worse.