Nigeria is one of Africa’s powerhouses when it comes to international football. A survey into the Africa cup of Nations history shows that Nigeria has won three AFCON titles and finished in second place four times.
Record goal scorer for the Super Eagles, late Rashidi Yekini, sits third when it comes to all-time scorer chart in Afcon history with 13 goals. However, the storyline is different when it comes to club football in Nigeria.
Although Nigeria as a country has never been short of supply when it comes to talents and prospects, there’s always been with the organisation and structure of her football league in recent years.
In the 80s, the likes of mathematical Segun Odegbami, chairman Christian Chukwu, best Ogedengbe, Emmanuel Okala, Mudashiru Lawal and a host of others who became football legends for Nigeria experienced every of their football career in Nigeria.
In fact, Odegbami has always reiterated how he never saw the need of taking offers from Europe as he felt fulfilled playing for Shooting Stars of Ibadan.
Even though Nigerian clubs never really dominated African club football until Enyimba of Aba won the CAF Champions League twice 2003/2004, the league was very organised than what we have today.
In 1990 the Nigerian league was tailored or modelled towards being professional but only on paper as year in year out, it didn’t match what is obtainable in a serious professional football league.
This explains why players in Nigerian professional football league (NPFL) are always eager to play in either Europe, Asia or other top African leagues in Egypt, South Africa, Morroco, Tunisia, Algeria and even Sudan.
The underlying effects are that every national team manager will always have to depend on a pool of foreign-based stars to pick players for the national team.
In instances where the home-based players are called up to the national team, it is mainly as a backup or to fill up necessary spaces available.
The arguments amongst adherents of the Nigerian professional football league (NPFL) is that the players on the home front are good enough as their counterparts abroad.
Previous coaches like Clemens Westerhof, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi and even Otto Gloria who led Nigeria to international glory did with a good number of home-based players.
The era of Otto Gloria 1980 afcon winning mostly home-based team, can be better understood because very few Nigerians went outside Nigeria to play professional football.
The moment Westerhof took charge and won AFCON 1994, only two home-based players Edema Fuludu of then Bcc lions of Gboko and Isaac Semitoje of then Iwuanyanwu Nationale now heartland of Owerri were part of the team.
The previous AFCON of 1992 had about eight home-based players which included Ike Shorumu and Finidi George who would become foreign-based by time Nigeria won AFCON 1994.
Stephen Keshi who led Nigeria to her third AFCON glory in 2013 took six home-based players to the tournament of which only two Sunday Mba and Godfrey Oboabona were part of the starting eleven who eventually won the trophy.
There’s been so much clamour for Gernot Rohr current super eagles manager to give more chances to home-based players as against just one Ikechukwu Ezenwawho was part of the 2018 world cup and 2019 AFCON squads.
The reality before us is that a large number of our top football stars are based abroad in England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, China, Saudi Arabia etc.
Even the very few home-based players who had the chance to play for Nigeria or others who have positive reviews in the league end up moving outside Nigeria to continue their football careers.
Oghenekaro Etebo made his debut in 2013 as a home-based player with Warri wolves but would later move to Portugal and now plays in Spanish la Liga for Getafe.
Stephen Odey was hot property for MFM FC in NPFL but moved to FC Zurich, Switzerland after scoring 16 goals in 2015/16 season and is now with Belgium side Genk.
Junior Lokosa had a good season with Kano pillars scoring 19 goals in the 2018 season that was suspended. Still, he later secured a move to Esperance in Tunisia after series of failed trials in Europe and Asia.
Many adherents who faults Gernot Rohr attitude towards home-based players despite the few call up he has given some of them feel he surely has his eyes fixated on anything foreign when the chips are down.
Gernot Rohr has always reiterated he invites players on merit and club form. But advocates of NPFL have criticised him for inviting Maduka Okoye who plays semi-professional soccer in Germany for Fortuna Dusseldorf ahead of Nigerian goalkeepers playing top-flight football in Nigeria.
Does it mean that only Ikechukwu Ezenwa is the only goalkeeper worth consistent invitation by Gernot Rohr among 19 and More other goalkeepers in the top flight of NPFL?
Has Rohr proven his word that players are invited to a national team based on merit and form in their clubs?
Those who says Gernot Rohr is on track with his management believe that the Nigerian league lacks real visibility, organisation and structure to determine how possible it is to measure the capacity of players.
It is easier to monitor the performance of players in Europe or even those playing in other African leagues like Egypt, Morroco, South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria than in Nigeria.
To understand the above position stems from how Daniel Akpeyi who had lost his number one position both to Francis Uzoho and Ikechukwu Ezenwa got back the praises of Nigerian fans with a spirited performance in the PSL for Kaizer chiefs.
The fact that chiefs are on the verge of winning the 2019/2020 football season in South Africa is down to Akpeyi performances which have seen him win some man of matches in South Africa.
Some analysts and individuals believe it will be easier to argue for home-based players if some of these situations become the norm:
A proper organisation of the league with visibility not just to fans in Nigeria but other parts of the world.
When NPFL clubs begin to dominate African club tournaments like Enyimba, Kano Pillars, Heartland, and Sunshine stars have done recently.
The need for home-based players to dominate international competitions like West African football Union championship (WAFU) and CAF African Nations Championship (CHAN).
It’s important to note that, even if the NPFL becomes the Eldorado that many projects it becomes, it will not translate to it being a pool for selection of national team players.
Top football countries like Argentina, Brazil, France, Portugal and others with well-established football leagues depends mostly on foreign-based stars as against home-based players.
In fact, the French 2018 world cup winning team had only nine out of the 23 man squad playing in France with only Kylian Mbappe in the lineup.
Although other top football countries like England, Germany, Spain have always seen their national team dominated by home-based players, this is because very few top players in these countries go outside to play professional soccer.
The 2018 world cup squads of Germany had just seven players as foreign-based while Spain had six and the three lions of England had no foreign-based player.
The more top players move from Nigeria to play in foreign leagues; the more dependent Nigerian national team will be on foreign-based stars.
The glory days of Enyimba’s dominance of African football saw just a few players like Dele Aiyenugba, Vincent Enyeama, and late Romanus Orjinta play for the national team before they all went to play abroad except for Orjinta who went to Norway and came back to Nigeria to continue playing.
It’s important to note that, the prerogative of who plays in a team whether it is for club or country rest sorely on a coach or manager who is judged based on results and performances of their teams and squads.