The Europeanization of the Super Eagles

730 views | Victor Gai | June 8, 2020

The coming of Gernot Rohr to Nigeria has brought a tremendous change to the structure of the country’s national football team- the Super Eagles. It has also improved the rating of the team with successes at the African and world football stage.

However, the local football scene has deteriorated despite international successes.

One of the failures of the Franco-German coach might be his failure to discover and utilize local players for the national team. Rohr’s excuse is that the local players aren’t good enough for the task of rebuilding the national team. He may be right after all Nigerian club sides hardly go beyond the group stages of the various continental competitions over the years.

Besides that, the Nigerian league had been quite erratic, unlike the more organized Europe leagues. Therefore, it has been difficult to rely on players coming from such a league. Only Okechukwu Ezenwa, the third choice goalkeeper of the national team, plays in the Nigerian league.

Therefore, the loss of local league players is the gain of the foreign-based players, especially those of them with parents of European descent.

Gernot Rohr, having taken Nigeria to the World Cup in Russia and a third-place at the Egypt 2019 AFCON, has begun an aggressive hunt for players born in Europe with foreign parentage.

Already, the core of the Super Eagles is made up of such category of players which is a sharp contrast to the Super Eagles of the past which is made up of a good number of local players competing with their foreign counterparts. Local players like Ajibade Babalade, Duke Udi, Friday Ekpo, Sunday Mbah, were a huge success in the national team. In fact, the latter was the joker for Nigeria in the famous clash between Super Eagles and the Elephants of Ivory Coast at the AFCON 2013.

Under Rohr, a greater number of the first team is made up of the so-called ‘oyinbo club’. Players like Dutch-born Williams Troost Ekong, Leon Balogun, Maduka Okoye, Joe Aribo, Josh Maja, have either of their parents of European descent.

Even though FIFA allows players to switch allegiance at the senior level, experts warn that the over-reliance on such category of players by Nigeria might impact negatively on the prospects of producing local talents for the country.

A former Eagles coach and one that had a knack for using local players, Adegboye Onigbinde, once spoke on this issue.

“Every coach wants to succeed but they should also not forget that there is a need to develop and expose talents in the local league who have stood themselves out.

“At the 2002 World Cup, I went with two largely-unknown home-based players and the result is there for everyone to see after the tournament,” Onigbinde revealed.

Also, Friday Ekpo, a former Super Eagles player who played under Clemence Westerhoff as a locally based player, said the inability of the local players to break into the Super Eagles is due to their desperation to play abroad and that the coach can help out in that respect.

“Let Rohr try and get players from home. He should start building his players instead of waiting for youngsters from other countries to come and play for Nigeria. These players will keep thinking that if they don’t go abroad, they will never have a chance to play for Nigeria. No matter how bad we may think our league is, some players keep standing out every season and they deserve to be given a chance in the national team,” he advised.

As a matter of fact, these European born players were groomed and nurtured by their respective countries and Nigeria only preys on the finished product at the expense of local talents.

In fact, this new campaign by Rohr is gradually portraying the weakness of Nigeria in developing local talents to the extent that some of these players and their agents even have the effrontery to reject Nigeria’s offer in favour of their countries of birth. This has embarrassingly put Nigeria on the second fiddle.

Already, the coach has poached on Cyriel Desserts, a Dutch-born player of Heracles Almelo of Netherlands and Kingsley Ehizibue of Cologne Germany.

Others that are being pursued include: English born Bukayo Saka of Arsenal England, Ovie Ejaria of Reading FC England, Eberechi Eze of Queen’s Park Rangers, Chuba Akpom of POAK Greece, Ademola Lookman of RB Leipzig Germany and Kevin Akpoguma of Hoffenheim Germany.

These ones have played for almost all the youth teams of either England, Netherlands or Germany, but are eligible to play for Nigeria.

Suffice it to say, the seeming desperation of our national team officials to get these players, has got Nigeria already playing second fiddle to other European countries.

During a recent interview with the BBC, one of the most sought after brides of Gernot Rohr, Kevin Akpoguma, revealed that he did not ultimately turn down the chance of playing for Nigeria but he was only waiting for an invitation to the German national team.

According to the defender, he will consider Nigeria’s approach should he fail to receive a call-up to the German national team set-up anytime soon.

But it seems Gernot Rohr has changed his approach towards this set of players seeing that it was causing embarrassment to the nation. He would rather that the player indicate interest to play for Nigeria rather than Nigeria begging him to play for her.

But again, his new approach could also be a sign that he has poached enough talents for the national team that he is no more desperate as before.

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