Most Nigerians football fans may not know Nigeria has a match today against the Squirrels of Benin Republic.
Many of those who do don’t know further what tournament the match coming up this evening by 5.00 pm at Stade Charles de Gaulle in Porto-Novo stands for.
It has come that low, so much that Nigerian football fans who troupe out at various match viewing centres to watch their respective foreign clubs while besieging different betting spots for subsequent gambles, do not bother that far any more with their own senior national side.
If nothing else warns of the deteriorating standards in all facets of Nigerian life, nothing else ever will. Despite our nauseating tribal differences, football had remained the only unifying point of a country perpetually lacking in any other positive national identity.
With the Rashidi Yekinis, Daniel Amokachis, Samson Siasias, Finii Georges, Peter Rufais, Uche Okechukwus, Ben Irohas, Emmanuel Amunekes, etc hanging their boots, a dwindle was sparked off after the announcement of Nigeria’s unique brand of soccer at the World Cup in the United States tagged USA ’94.
Even though the Olympics gold followed two years later at Atlanta in the same United States, Nigeria never sustained the tempo that earned the Super Eagles the most entertaining side in the world behind only Brazil, the undisputed perennial masters of the game.
The Sunday Olisehs, Austin Okochas, Nwankwo Kanus, Vincent Enyeamas, Taribo Wests, Victor Agalis, Victor Ikpebas, Julius Ahaghohas, etc tried to sustain it into the 20th century, but our steady dwindle was characteristically managerial.
In 1995, two Nigerians in Goerge and Kanu won the ultimate UEFA Champions League crown with Ajax of Holland, a feat they narrowly missed to repeat against Italy’s Juventus via penalties in the final of 1996. It took 16 years later for another Nigerian, Mikel Obi to replicate that special accomplishment with Chelsea of England.
Then one could watch the UEFA Champions League with many Nigerians representing many clubs. Then Nigerian players went through different Nigerian club sides to big clubs in Europe. Then the National League was well-run that players from Rangers International, Shooting Stars, New Nigerian Bank, Stationery Stores, Iwuanyanwu, Enyimba, Calabar Rovers, Kano Pillars, Raccah Rovers, Mighty Jets, Udoji United, Jasper United, Abiola Babes, Leventis United, etc exported quality players to top European clubs. These players come back as more developed in all facets of quality to help the Super Eagles.
But like all things Nigerian, the Nigeria Football Association, NFA, rebaptized itself to Nigeria Football Federation, NFF and started its own alien football calendar and management that unwittingly stunted that chain of supply.
When clubs in Europe are at heat of their respective leagues, the NFF are debating kickoff date of the Nigerian season. When European leagues are into summer transfer season, Nigerian players are about picking up steam in their own awkward season. When they go to trials, the Nigerian players are not in their peaks and easily fail trials in European clubs preparing for a new season.
This awkward arrangement equally heavily affects the performances of Nigerian club sides in the continent. When last did a Nigerian club side play in the semi-finals of any continental competition?
Nigerian football fans used to watch Ajax, Barcelona, Arsenal, Chelsea, AC Milan, Inter Milan, etc to see their country men season after season in the UCL. But not anymore. Apart from Victor Osimhen at the early stages, no other Nigerian player participated in this season’s UCL.
The biggest clubs you see Nigerian players are Leicester City, Everton, Napoli, Villarreal and the likes.
Today, the Super Eagles will likely line-up for the fifth round qualifying match of the 2021 Nations Cup tournament with the following…
1.Maduka Okoye in goal, plays for Sparta Rotterdam in Holland.
2. William Troost-Ekong (centre-back), plays for Watford in England (not in EPL)
3. Leon Balogun (centre-back), plays for Rangers, Scotland.
4. Semi Ajayi (Centre-back), plays for WBA in the EPL
5. Ola Aina (right-back), plays for Fulham in the EPL.
6. Zaidu Sanusi (left-back), plays for FC Porto, Portugal.
7. Wilfred Ndidi (midfielder), plays for Leicester City in the EPL
8. Alex Iwobi (midfielder), plays for Everton in the EPL
9. Samuel Chukwueze (right wing), plays for Villarreal in Spain.
10. Kelechi Iheanacho (left wing), plays for Leicester City in the EPL.
11. Victor Osimhen (centre-forward), plays for Napoli in Italy. Or Paul Onuachu of Gent FC, Belgium.
There’s no denying the talents of these players, many of whom were born abroad and didn’t have to go through the NFF strangulation system while the rest luckily went through the Nigerian youth teams to different World Cup tournaments.
When will the NFF realign their very insane calendar and help talented Nigerian players actualise their dreams?
Destinies may be divine, still people contribute. The people at the NFF are killing destinies!