When Super Eagles’ coach, Gernot Rohr’s team take to the pitch against Senegal on Thursday, Nigerians will be watching to see how the team measures up, especially with important games against South Africa and Cameroon coming up later in the year.
To a group of Nigerians, they just want to watch the Super Eagles play and to another group they really want to see what the new additions will bring to the team.
Yet group of Nigerians really care about the results and how it affects the FIFA rankings while another set are bothered about the composition of the team.
The idea of an almost fully foreign based team matters to a lot of people and that has opened up heated debates since Rohr made the team for the friendly games public.
There are those who think players in the Nigerian League should be given more opportunities in the national team while others believe the best players are already in Europe anyway.
But does it really matter where the players are based?
In Gernot Rohr’s team of twenty five players invited two weeks ago, only one, goalkeeper, Ikechukwu Ezenwa plays in the Nigerian League with FC Ifeanyi Ubah.
Maybe, Rohr does not reckon with the Nigerian League or it is his policy to always pick from Europe, but I digress.
In the last game played by the national team in November, Rohr told the media that the Nigerian League ended a month earlier and there was no way he would have invited players who were on holidays for a game as important as the one against Algeria.
It made sense then and still makes sense now.
The current season was about eleven match days old when his team was named so the players are certainly not holidaying, but Rohr is yet to answer that question as to why he still neglected players from the league, or maybe, he has not been asked.
The German watched the game between Remo Stars and Niger Tornadoes while his assistant, Salisu Yusuf was in Port Harcourt for the Rivers United v AS Real Bamako encounter.
And while it is disheartening to note that in spite of these no outfield player from the League was invited, you cannot fault the man if the players did not perform on the day he was watching.
The Nigerian project
The argument for players from the League in the team is simple. The success of any country is measured from its league, at least that is what some people think.
The Nigerian League needs to have its pride of place and one way to do that is ensuring regular call ups to the National team.
Surely in a team of 25, at least five from the League should deserve a place.
Regular call ups to the national team means the players begin to believe they do not have to travel to obscure leagues in search of recognition from national selectors.
Sometimes there is an argument as to why players in the Nigerian League league travel to the most obscure of countries for their football.
There are Nigerian players in almost every league in the world from the Cambodian League to even Myanmar and the reason for this is simple.
They do not get any respect playing at home and sometimes think that playing abroad means you will get an invite to the National team and will probably play.
Recent examples are Emem Eduok who scored 20 goals season at Dolphins but the moment he left to Tunisian side, Esperance in 2015, he became a Super Eagles player.
There is the case of Daniel Akpeyi, now at Chippa United and of course, Dele Alampasu getting invites to the Eagles even when he plays for a 4th tier club in Portugal.
Oghenekaro Etebo covered every blade of grass while at Warri Wolves but was never Super Eagles material until he moved to CD Feirense in Portugal.
Onyekachi Okonkwo worked the midfield for Enyimba, winning the CAF Champions League and Super Cup twice but was never noticed by the Super Eagles handlers until he moved to Orlando Pirates.
Another former Enyimba boy, Yusuf Mohammed toiled for the Aba based side but it was only when he moved to Sudan with Al Hilal he was invited to the Super Eagles and even played at the AFCON in 2010.
If the only way to give the Nigerian League some respect is to have a quota of players invited from home, then maybe it should be done, just because it has to be done.
But who says on current form, players from the League do not deserve to play?
Certainly, not all twenty five invited players will see action in the UK. That could have easily been a Stephen Odey, Victor Mbaoma or Sikiru Olatunbosun.
Any player, anywhere in the world who scores 12 goals in 11 matches will certainly be recognised by his country but I guess Nigeria is different.
In a friendly match, you need to try out new players, try out new formations, new partnerships etc.
In other words you take risks in friendly games, risks you cannot take in real games against South Africa and Cameroon.
However, it does not seem that Gernot Rohr likes taking these risks.
Finally, some would argue that if people like Clemens Westerhof could do it successfully in the 90s and Stephen Keshi just a few years back, then Rohr should.
But do the Nigerian League players have the quality?
The more compelling argument is if the Nigerian League players have the quality to play for the Super Eagles and what they can actually bring to the table.
The League’s form players are no doubt Olatunbosun, Mbaoma and Odey, but doing a head to head against the likes of Iheanachor, Victor Moses and Isaac Success, how would they fare?
The people on the other side will bring the age long argument that the Nigerian League is not good enough and does not provide players of the quality of the national team.
There is the issue of poor coaching in the league and how it may take ages to measure up to standard and Rohr does not have the time, so maybe they wait for their turn which may be the CHAN Eagles.
Nigerian League players are certainly not ready for the big time as the league here cannot be compared to those in Europe and most of all their mentality may not be right.
The Buck also stops at Rohr’s table so it would be a good idea to let him be, pick whatever team he wants so he’ll have no excuses if he fails.
Coaches look at some of the following while naming their sides, – Reputation, current form, physical fitness, availability and in some cases the future.
Maybe, Rohr has decided to pick his team, first on reputation and if that is his philosophy, he cannot be faulted, unless of course, he fails to get to the World Cup and AFCON.
But the buck stops at Rohr’s table so he goes for who he wants. He will be judged by the performances of the team anyway.
Let us enjoy the Super Eagles
While, I believe that Gernot Rohr should invite more players from the Nigerian League to the national team and that the Nigeria Football Federation must make it a policy that the League should be represented in all invitations, the decisions of the coaches much be respected.
I enjoy the fact that there are lots of new faces in the national team; I enjoy the fact that these are kids who have all to play for; I also enjoy the fact that the team has done well in its last five or so matches.
The composition of the team, as regards where players are based is very important in developing your football, but I think Nigerians, and Rohr are under the pressure of having missed out of the last two AFCONS.
If Rohr gets the team to the next World Cup and AFCON, the decibel of these debates may go down a lot lower.
I will enjoy the Super Eagles… You better make the same decision.