Not being a force on the international football scene at senior level in the 80s, resulted in many players with Nigerian roots donning the colours of foreign national teams. Unfortunately, the larger majority of these players had negligible international careers. John and Justin Fashanu, Ugo Ehiogu, John Salako and very recently, Gabriel Agbonlahor, are classic examples.
The European lure also turned away players like Emmanuel Olisadebe, Patrick Owomoyela, Chuka Okaka, Ugochukwu Onyewu, Angelo Ogbonna, David Alaba, etc. While Olisadebe was a relative success with Poland, as is David Alaba with Austria today, others fizzled out.
In the not-too-recent past, the trend took a new dimension as Nigerian players started turning to other African countries in search of international football. Seyi Adebayor opted for the Togolese national team (and he is probably the only one who has achieved anything by so doing). Kelechi Osunwa, Sherif Sule, Francis Ikechukwu and Isaac Malik were named in Sudan's provisional 2012 nation’s cup squad but never made the cut eventually. Others like Razaq Omotoyosi, Muri Ogunbiyi and Jonas Oketola have enjoyed mixed fortunes with Benin Republic.
Many of these players are born and raised in these countries so it is understandable when they feel less Nigerian and pledge their allegiance to their countries of birth. Also, it is a matter of choice where any player decides to ply his international football trade, as long as he is eligible. There are other considerations, like the immense opportunities for exposure, for securing lucrative contracts, and for getting better recompense that avail as a European than a Nigerian international. For others, it is the sheer frustration of being left out of the national team consistently over the years.
But, seeing the predicament of others before them, are these convictions strong enough for these players to decide to lace their boots for other countries instead of Nigeria? Can we justifiably berate these players when the "working conditions" are better elsewhere?
To evade this "capital flight", all the support, facilities and developmental programmes needed for the game to meet professional standards internationally must be put in place. The onus is on our administrators, who must make the Nigerian terrain not just attractive, but enticing to our players born at home or abroad.
Currently, there is a pool of young eligible players (many with dual-nationality) who have considerable experience, knocking on the National team door. For instance, there is Hungarian-born Kenneth Otigba who has voiced his interest in playing for the Super Eagles though has yet to be invited to the National team.
Fortunately, many of these players with dual-nationality are eligible for the Under-23 (Olympic) team. This level, I am sure, will be a good launching pad to a viable international career as this team will most likely step up into the Super Eagles team for the 2018 World Cup.
The more prominent ones are Tiago Abiola Ilori, who is a very dependable and versatile defender, currently on loan from Liverpool to Bourdeaux. Derik Osede is touted as potentially the best young defender to come out of the Spanish youth ranks with Real Madrid’s Castilla. Kevin Troost Ekong is a defender in the Dutch league with Dordrecht.
Dominic Iorfa Jnr. and Moses Odubajo are playing regularly as wing backs with Wolverhampton and Brentford FC respectively, in the English Championship.
After the disappointment of 2012, I have faith that the country will qualify and do well in next year’s Olympics football event. I am certain these players would be useful additions to the national teams if Coach Siasia will look in their direction and give them a fair chance to prove themselves as he builds towards next year’s Olympics and beyond.
I would like to implore the players too, to be wise in their choices. Reuben Agboola had a somewhat fulfilled career with the Eagles, as did the not-too-spectacular Abbey George. Victor Anichebe boasts an Olympic Silver Medal while even late-comer Shola Amoebi has played at the World Cup. Victor Moses, Leon Balogun and Hope Akpan are currently in the mainstay of the Eagles when a certain Nedum Onuoha is still waiting for the Three Lions…