The call for local league players representation in the Super Eagles squad is a polarising topic in the Nigerian football sphere.
Many ex-internationals have come out in the past to criticise Super Eagles manager Gernot Rohr for his treatment of players in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
Recently, former Nigerian winger Tijani Babangida urged the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to have a quota for home-based players in the national team.
“First of all, the NFF must come up with a programme where they can assemble home-based players for three weeks before the players go back to their clubs, Babangida said.
“From there, you can have more players and add 11 or so from Europe because those abroad can only train for one or two days when they come for matches. Then when we were here, that was what was done.”
However, despite the shouts for local league players representation in the national team, Rohr has always stuck with the foreign professionals.
Last year, the former Bordeaux manager told ESPN that Nigeria’s best talents are in Europe, and he would always continue to invite the top players.
“Everybody knows, not only in Nigeria, that the big players are in Europe or somewhere else in professional league. We cannot find all the time players in the local league who are better than the other ones. That is the fact.”
And in fairness to Rohr, his comments are facts, even though it may be a truth too difficult to swallow for the local league players.
It is hard to make a case for the home-based players, given how the league is being run and the quality of play in the league.
Since 2016, the NPFL has run its full course just twice, with other seasons ending abruptly due to one reason or the other.
Although the last campaign ended prematurely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it took forever for the new season to kick off. The players were inactive for over nine months while other leagues found a way to adjust to the new normal.
During the period these players were inactive, the foreign professionals were playing actively at their respective clubs.
With such a situation, it is only logical for Rohr to choose players that have been active at club duty as national team call-up should be based on merit and not feelings.
Aside from how the league is being run, the difference in quality between the foreign professionals and home-based players is evident.
While the home-based players may have the talents, they are yet to be exposed to the modern-day coaching methods that foreign professionals go through every day.
The quality of play in the league is low, and it shows in their performances on the continental stage. This season, there won’t be a Nigerian club in the group stages of the CAF Champions League.
Plateau United, who finished in first position last season as per Point Per Game (PPG) rules, failed to make it past the first qualifying round. Enyimba, who are two-time former champions, lost in the last qualifying round to AL-Merreikh.
In fact, since 2013, Nigerian clubs have only made the group stages of the Champions League on two occasions- Enyimba in 2016 and Lobi Stars in 2019. Performances like this on the continental stage do not help their cause and prove Rohr is right.
It is not just the NPFL clubs alone as the Chan Eagles- who are the home-based national team- have failed to qualify for the Africa Nations Championship in the last two years.
Last year also saw the Flying Eagles crashed out in the group stages at the WAFU-B tournament- which also serves as qualification for the Africa U-20 Nations championship.
The failures on the continent make it difficult to make a case for local league players representation in the national team.
However, what’s the way forward?
It’s simple- The NFF should focus on the development of the league. As stated earlier, national team invitations should only be handed out on merit and not just because a player is home-based.
The likes of Egypt, Tunisia and South Africa have almost 90% of their national team players playing domestically, but that’s because they have a well-functioning league.
If former Nigerian internationals and the NFF want to see NPFL players given more opportunities in the Super Eagles squad, the league’s development should be their number one priority.
It’s important the league run its full course without interruptions. At the same time, they must also mandate coaches to undergo training courses as this would expose them to modern coaching methods and improve the quality of play in the league.
The welfare of players is also paramount as it is inhumane for clubs to owe some of these players a backlog of salaries.
While it would be good to see NPFL players get more opportunities in the Super Eagles squad, it can only happen if there’s a massive change in how the league is being run.