Concerns as Rohr sticks to overseas-based stars

Coach Gernot Rohr came under scathing criticisms after the Super Eagles’ friendlies against Algeria and Tunisia on October 9 and 13 respectively.

The three-time African champions were beaten 1-0 by the African champions in the first game in Klagenfurt, Austria, with a display close followers described as lethargic.

Against the Tunisians, a 1-1 draw, the Eagles also struggled to assert themselves in the encounter, which sparked reactions among the country’s football faithful.

A major topic before and after both games was the exclusion of the home-based players, with the side having nine players with dual nationalities.

Notably, Genk striker Cyriel Dessers, who has a Belgian father and a Nigerian mother, and Hoffeinhem defender Kevin Akpoguma, who was born in Germany to a Nigerian father, were handed their international debuts in both games.

There were also goalkeeper Maduka Okoye, William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun, Semi Ajayi, Alex Iwobi, Ola Aina and the returning Tyronne Ebuehi, who all hold dual nationalities, for both games, while the remaining members of the 25-man squad, apart from captain Ahmed Musa, who features for Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr, all ply their trade in Europe.

The team’s lacklustre performance and the omission of players from the Nigeria Professional Football League sparked a mass reaction back home, with some irked by Rohr’s penchant for players born overseas, at the detriment of the local players.

While some feel the NPFL players were ignored due to inactivity following the outbreak of COVID-19 in March, statistics show that Rohr has never hidden his liking for players based abroad in his 42 (three unofficial) games in charge of the national team.

Heartland keeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa has been the only consistent home-based player in Rohr’s team since the Franco-German became coach of the side.

But the coach argues that any emerging talent on the domestic scene is eager to play abroad, majorly due to the economic crisis in the country, thus his inability to invite the NPFL players on a regular basis.

 “We cannot find all the time players in the local league who are better than the other ones. The criterion for us, the first is the quality of the players. Everybody knows, not only in Nigeria, that the best players are in Europe or somewhere else in professional leagues. That is the fact,” Rohr said.

“I invited already more than 23 or 24 local players since I have been in charge of the Super Eagles, but we invite them and immediately they are going to Europe. It is wonderful for them but maybe not for us.”

Former Eagles media officer, Ben Alaiya, insisted that Rohr must consider local players in his squad all the time, saying it would help develop the domestic league.

He said, “We have to accept that these players are Nigerians despite being born abroad, but what Rohr has refused to do is set up a home-based national team where they can pick few players from to join the overseas-based guys.

“We have too many talented players in the local league and it is not right to just pick 25 players abroad for the national team. When we won the Nations Cup in 2013, six players were picked from the local league.

“But we basically have none in the national team at the moment. We understand the fact that the league has been off but they can call top local players to camp and pick from them. We need to bring the league into focus.

“In the past, the Eagles were largely made up of home-based stars.

“The squad that won the 1980 AFCON on home soil was largely made up of local players. The then coach of the Eagles Otto Gloria’s 22-man squad had 21 players from the domestic league, with the exception of Godwin Odiye, who at the time played for San Francisco Dons in the US.”

“The Green Eagles that won the AFCON in 1980 is undoubtedly the best team in the history of Nigerian football and I stand to be corrected,” veteran journalist, Segun Adenuga, told CAFOnline.

“Over the years I have seen many Nigerians and indeed African national teams but the Green Eagles of 1980 was simply incomparable for so many reasons.”

Last year, former Wimbledon striker John Fashanu in an interview with our correspondent admitted that breaking into the national team was a herculean task during his time as a player, the reason he decided to play for England at international level.

“So many people believe that I turned down my country Nigeria to play for England but that wasn’t the case at all. The former Brazilian coach of the Green Eagles, Otto Gloria, invited me three times and on those three occasions I turned up to play for our country,”

Fashanu told SUNDAY PUNCH last year.

“Nigerian football is very skilful, played on the ground and very soft with lots of tricks. I was playing a type of football and in Nigeria they had a completely different style. As I said, I came on three different occasions to play for Nigeria and the coach noticed that the rest of the players didn’t want to play with me; they saw me as JJC (Johnny Just Come).

“They saw me as a boy who doesn’t eat eba, pounded yam and local dishes, who doesn’t speak Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa. That was my first coming to Nigeria. The coach was right, I did not fit in and the truth is, which I have said many times, I wasn’t anywhere good enough to play Nigerian football. The coach called me and said, ‘You go and try getting into England’s top team and being the first Nigerian to play for England.”

Local players dominating the national team continued as Nigeria reached the 1984 AFCON final with a full home-based side, while at the 1988 edition, where Nigeria also emerged second, with 13 players plying their trade in the domestic league, with only Peter Rufai, Augustine Eguavoen, Stephen Keshi, Samuel Okwaraji and Rashidi Yekini playing outside the country.

In 1990, the Eagles reached the AFCON final for the third time in Algiers, with another squad, made up mainly of local stars, with Yekini, Andrew Uwe and Friday Elaho the only overseas-based players included in the squad of 18 players by then Dutch coach Clemens Westerhof.

So, when did the reliance on the overseas-based stars begin?

Westerhof’s side at the next AFCON in 1992 in Senegal was a sharp contrast to the team of 1990, with the Dutchman picking 10 Europe-based stars and eight home-based players.

During this era, which began from the mid-1980s, many players from the Nigerian league had begun to travel abroad in the quest for exposure, wealth and fame.

Some of the players, who attended the 1984, 1988 and 1990 AFCONs while playing in the Nigerian league, went abroad for greener pastures but were still core members of the side.

These include Yekini, Eguavoen, Keshi, Samson Siasia, Ally Agu, Uche Okechukwu, Nduka Ugbade and Mutiu Adepoju amongst others.

But the Eagles, despite being dominated by players abroad, ended the competition with their worst performance in the tournament in eight years — a third-place finish.

This period opened the gate for the invitation of overseas-born players to the team. Westerhof invited England-born duo Reuben Agboola and Efan Ekoku, with the latter part of the 1994 AFCON-winning and the World Cup side.

The Eagles that conquered Africa in Tunisia had only two local players Edema Fuludu and Isaac Semitoje, a figure which showed a twist in the faith had in local players.

From former Sunderland right-back, Agboola in 1991 to Akpoguma and Dessers, the latest players with dual nationalities to feature for the national team, there’s no doubt that their emergence on the scene had changed the face and fortunes of the country’s game.

New Spartak Moscow man Victor Moses was pivotal to Nigeria’s 2013 AFCON success, while the country’s football faithful went into lamentations following the premature retirement of impressive keeper Carl Ikeme, after he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in 2018.

Ikeme had filled in perfectly the problematic goalkeeping position following the retirement of the iconic Vincent Enyeama.

Godwin Bamigboye, Chairman, FCT Football Coaches Association, believes if the home-based stars get the right attention from Rohr and his crew, they could play a pivotal role in bringing glory to the country.

“There is the need for us to have a home-based Super Eagles that meet at intervals for training and friendlies. If this is sustained and properly maintained, the home-based Eagles will in no distant future win AFCON and will develop the capacity to be more potent than the Super Eagles,” Bamigboye said.

Indeed, it was Sunday Mba, one of the six home-based players at the 2013 AFCON in South Africa that wreaked havoc on a star-studded and Didier Drogba-led Ivory Coast side in the quarter-finals with the back-breaking winning goal, before scoring the lone winner against Burkina Faso in the final, as Keshi’s team won a third AFCON title.



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