Thursday, 21 August 2014

Calling on the Diaspora [I]

The dream of every football player is to represent his fatherland at major football competitions. However, since Nigeria was not a force on the football scene at senior level in the 80s, many players dumped their fatherland to don the colours of other national teams. Unfortunately, due to series of intrigues, politicking and some level of racism, these players often failed to attain their potential playing for their adopted team.

John and Justin Fashanu were superstars in their era. While John came close to actualizing his England dream by featuring in an international friendly, their England dream ended in tragedy.
The attraction of playing for England also lured away Ugo Ehiogu. Sadly like those before him he never made it into the mainstream. John Salako was another great prospect for England, but his dream of making an impact turned to a nightmare as he too went into international oblivion. Gabriel Agbonlahor is the most recent on the English train to internationaloblivion, while Nedum Onuoha is still waiting for to be ‘devoured’ internationally by the Three Lions.
Other European countries have also lured away players like Emmanuel Olisadebe, Patrick Owomoyela, Chuka Okaka, Ugochukwu Onyewu, Angelo Ogbonna, David Alaba, Ruben Okotie, while Emmanuel Sarki was very recently cleared to feature for Haiti.  
Unfortunately, while Olisadebe flourished with Poland, as David Alaba is today with Austria, others have simply fizzled out.

The trend is still rife today and even took a new dimension in the not-too-recent-past as Nigerian players started defecting to African countries. Ordinarily, not much dust would have being raised if these players defected to countries with strong football traditions, but how do we explain the decision to play for Togo, Benin Republic and - wait for it – Sudan??
Seyi Emmanuel Adebayor opted for the Togolese national team (and he is probably the only one who has achieved anything by so doing). Others like Razaq Omotoyosi, Muri Ogunbiyi and Jonas Oketola have remained insignificant with Benin Republic. Kelechi Osunwa, Sherif Sule, Francis Ikechuwu and Isaac Malik were named in Sudan's provisional 2012 Nations cup squad but never made the competition cut.

Granted, it is a matter of choice and players are free to ply their international trade for any country of their choice, as long as they are eligible, but what are the real attractions for these players who would rather play for other countries instead of Nigeria?
Generally, being born and raised in the Diaspora, some players are quite understandably more inclined to feature for their “home” countries of birth, but for the larger majority, it is borne out of the frustration of being consistently left out of the national team over the years.
For others, it is the immense opportunities for exposure, for securing lucrative contract, and for getting better recompense available as a European international, as against Nigerian.

We can berate the players all we want for these choices, but aside those players who take the option due to their inability to make the national team, can we insist that players should not consider the option of playing for other countries when the "working conditions" are sometimes better there?

To evade this "capital flight", all the support, facilities and developmental programmes needed for the game to meet international standards must be put in place. This lies on our administrators, who must make the Nigerian terrain not just attractive, but enticing to our players born at home or abroad.

At a time when we are witnessing a decline in the quality of players in our National teams, due to a poor or non-existent talent developmental programme, there is a proliferation of young and talented players with Nigerian blood across various countries and leagues in Europe.
This is not to say that the Diaspora-born players are necessarily better than those groomed here (after all, logically if a player is not good enough for another country, he is probably not good enough for Nigeria, right?). However, there is all to gain and nothing to lose by inviting and assessing as many of these young players, if we are sincerely interested in having our very best in our various national team cadres.

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