On Saturday night, England take on Ukraine at the Stadio Olimpico for a place in the semifinal of the ongoing Euro 2020.
The Three Lions have a large fan following in the competition, but for Nigerian fans, there is a special interest in Bukayo Saka, given his Nigerian roots.
Saka was born in England but to Nigerian parents and could’ve represented the Super Eagles. However, the Arsenal star chose the Three Lions, and it has paid off, even though it did not go down well with Nigerians.
Over the years, Nigeria and England have been involved in a battle for players born or raised in England but with Nigerian roots.
In the past, players like John Fashanu, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Carlton Cole and many others have played for England despite having Nigerian roots.
More recently, Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham and AC Milan’s Fikayo Tomori have also chosen the Three Lions ahead of the African giants.
However, former England youth players like Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Ola Aina all chose to represent the three-time African champions.
While these players who chose the Super Eagles have all gone to become established internationals, the same cannot be said for the ones that picked England.
Saka was the latest player to be a subject of a battle between the two nations, and Nigerian fans had hoped the youngster would select his parents country of birth, given how previous players who chose England had fared.
But the youngster still decided to represent his birth country at the international level, which has turned out to be the right decision.
The 19-year-old only made his debut in October 2020, but he is already one of England’s best players, which could be seen at Euro 2020.
Saka is just 19, but his performance for Arsenal last season was beyond his age. The youngster has carried that form into Euro 2020.
After missing the first two games, Saka was handed a start by England’s manager Gareth Southgate in the third game against the Czech Republic.
And he rewarded his manager’s trust in him with a brilliant performance in his first appearance in a major tournament.
One of the qualities of Saka is his ability to remain calm even on the biggest stage, and he showed that in the game against Czech.
The Arsenal star was composed in possession while he was also a thorn in the flesh of the Czech defenders. He capped up a brilliant performance by setting up the pre-assist for Raheem Sterling’s winner.
Saka’s exceptional display that night earned him praises from fans, pundits and critics. It also impressed Southgate, who handed Saka another start in the round of 16 clash against Germany.
England have several talented players like Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford in their attack, yet Saka still managed to find his way into the starting lineup in the last two games.
Although he had a subdued performance against the four-time world champions, he has earned the trust of Southgate.
More importantly, it justified his decision to represent England. The youngster has now represented the Three Lions at a major tournament at 19 and will definitely play in more competitions, including the World Cup.
Nigerian fans may feel aggrieved over Saka’s choice, but it’s a wise decision on his part. In fairness, It would’ve been hard for him to choose the Super Eagles, given he has always been part of the English setup from the U-16 level.
Also, with how the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) runs football in the country, it’s only right for the youngster to represent a country where his efforts would be appreciated.
This is a country that hasn’t paid its coach over six months of salaries while the players are still owed their Africa Cup of Nations qualifying bonuses.
With the way Nigeria treat its athletes, Saka is better off representing England. And aside from that, these players brought up in the English culture, so it’s only fair they represent their country of birth.
In fact, most English-born Nigerian players who chose to represent the Super Eagles only did so because they had no chance of playing for the Three-Lions.
Nigerians might have had reservations over Saka’s choice because of what has happened in the past. In fact, not many who had the chance to play for Nigeria but chose England got to play for the 1966 World Cup winners at a major tournament.
However, with the way Saka’s situation has turned out, there’s no doubt that it’s the right decision. Saka is a big loss for the Super Eagles, but it should also serve as a lesson to the Nigerian football authorities.
It’s time to invest in the development of the country’s football from the grassroots level to the domestic league.
The three-time African champions do not need to rely on foreign-born players if football authorities in Nigeria focus on providing adequate support that could aid the development of talents.