BY ISAAC ORIEKA, Mobile: 08027523483
Football is an exciting enterprise that involves mental alertness, physical fitness and athletic precision to achieve a limitless capacity to control the ball and win the game in the field of play.
It is therefore not a heart-warming news coming from two promising young Nigerian footballers. Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori who snubbed their native country (Nigeria), for England call-up. The Chelsea duo had a subject of debate concerning their preference for either England or Nigeria. For him Tomori, “what an honour to get my first call-up”. Tomori has established himself as one of the choice centre halves at Stamford Bridge starting the last four Premier League games. The striker has scored seven (7) goals in many Premier League appearances this season, one less than top scorer Sergio Aguero and has scored his first Champions League goal on his 22nd birthday.
Put in a proper perspective by any football follower, or analyst critically, a lot of these talented footballers have jettison the spirit of patriotism to serve their fatherland consciously or otherwise due to may be the option of a better career prospects abroad or whatever the reasons. One cannot tell what inspired the decision of these footballers to opt for other countries instead of Nigeria. Whether it is a result of lack of opportunities at home or dual nationalities favourable enough to deploy their raw talents for foreign nations. Although, some of them (footballers), have represented Nigeria before, but many of these talented footballers in diaspora have never played for the Nigerian National Team for honours. These skillful talents have tagged their names and nationalities to foreign countries where they ply their trade for daily livelihood and football future whatever the carrots dangled by Nigeria.
It would be churlish not to mention Nigerian golden generation of footballers gifted in the game, and other fascinating talents who are doing well around the world representing other countries. They have produced a gulf of class, remarkable performance for laurels and incredible moments to watch.
- Emmanuel Oluwaseyi Adebayor: Plays for the Togolese National Team. He was a former African footballer of the year in 2008. His parents are from Osun State and still consider himself a Nigerian. He confessed, he had a desire to play for Nigeria, then in 2007, while in Arsenal, but intimidation of other top Nigerian strikers made it impossible for him to have a chance so he opted to play for Togo for his career’s sake. His name Oluwaseyi means “God did this” which as a result of his inability to walk as a child.
- Sidney Sam: Is born to a German mother and Nigerian father. He represents Germany and has played for the German youth teams but not for the senior national team. Former Super Eagles Coach late Stephen Keshi considered him for the 2013 African Cup of Nations, but the midfielder reject such offer to represent Nigeria. Rather, Sam went on to play five times for the German senior national team and was in the 30-man pre World-Cup squad for Brazil 2014 but never made the final squad.
- Ross Barkley: Plays for England. The Chelsea midfielder, you may not know has Nigerian roots and connection. His father, Peter Effanga is a Nigerian but has been playing for the Tree Lions because his mother Dianne is English. Barkley’s parents divorced, and after the divorce, Ross went with his mother, and bore her surname and that was how Nigeria lost him. Though, he was eligible to play for Nigeria, but all that has now gone into history books.
- ANGELO Ogbonna: Plays for Italy. A defender with West Ham United, born to Nigerian parents who travelled to Italy from Nigeria in 1988. Ogbonna, made his debut for Italy in November 2011 in a friendly game against Poland where the Azurri won 2-0. Angelo, featured in the Italian 23-man final squad for UEFA Euro 2012, but never played any match during the competition.
- Another Nigerian born Footballer, DENNIS Aogo: Plays for Germany. Born to a Nigerian father and a German mother. Aogo, a versatile left-back or defensive midfielder was seen as an ideal choice for that position in the national team. He was penciled down to be part of the Eagles squad to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but shocked Nigeria prior to the tournament and opted to play for Germany instead.
- DAVID Alaba: Plays for Austria. Alaba was born in Vienna to a Filipino mother who is a nurse and a Nigerian father who is a DJ and former music rapper. He is a five time Austrian player of the year (2011 – 2015), and has a middle name ‘Olatokunbo’, which means “Wealth from a foreign land” in Yoruba Language. Alaba was keen to represent Nigeria at the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup but he was not considered as there was no formal approach for him to prove his worth.
Two years later, the rejected stone turned the chief cornerstone as Alaba made his debut for the senior Austria national team in a match against France. Thus, he became the youngest player in the history of the Austrian national team. Alaba has won the Bundesliga title five times as well as the DFB Pokal and the FIFA World Cup in 2013.
- EMMANUEL Olisadebe: Plays for Poland. The Olisadebe family are from Ubulu-Ukwu in Delta State. He began his football career with Jasper United of Onitsha. In year 2000, the player was granted Polish citizenship and was subsequently capped by the Polish national team World Cup. During the 2002 FIFA qualification matches for Poland to qualify for the Mundial, Olisadebe scored eight goals in ten qualification matches for Poland to qualify for the Mundial, their first breakthrough since 1986. He scored 11 international goals in 25 Caps between 2000 and 2004, and participated in the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where he donned the number 11 Jersey. The “Polish Bomber” had a successful career at Club level with Polania Warsaw, where in 2000, he won the Ekstralasa Cup and Polish Super Cup. He scored Poland’s first goal at the 2002 FIFA World Cup and Polish Super Cup in a 3 -1 victory against USA in Daejeon in the last group match, but failed to progress to the second round.
- Dele Alli: Plays for England. His full name is Bamidele Alli, a supremely talented midfielder who was snatched by England manager Roy Hodgson on October 1, 2015 to deprive Nigeria of one its best prospects. He named Alli his team for their UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying matches against Estonia and Lithuania.
Alli made his first appearance for England senior team, scoring the opening goal from a long range shot to beat Spurs team-mate, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris 2 – 0 against France at Wembley Stadium in the after match of the Paris bombing that shook world. His name Bamidele, means “Follow me to my House” in Yoruba, a name given to a child born outside the community, state or country.
- OGUCHI Onyewu: Adopted country, USA. Born Oguchialu Chijioke “Gooch” Onyewu on May 13, 1982. Onyewu’s parents moved to the United States from Nigeria to study in Washington, D.C.He is now a US Citizen. He made his first senior team appearance for the US 13, October, 2004 against Panama. Scored his first international goal in the 2005 Gold Cup in the Semi final against Honduras, and was later named to the tournament Best XI. He is now a free agent after his contract with Charlton Athletic, England.
- STEFANO Chuks Okaka: Plays for Italy. Born on August 9, 1989 in Castiglione del Lago, Perugia, in Italy to Nigerian parents who are from Onitsha, Anambra State. Okaka became a citizen of Italy due to his family gaining citizenship status. Okaka joined the Roma youth system in 2004. His Uncle, Uche Okaka confirmed that his Nephew was keen to play for the Super Eagles but the NFF did yield to any positive answer. He made his senior debut for the Italian national team on 18, November, 2014. Made his debut as a substitute in the second half, replacing Sebastian Giovinco and scored the winning goal at Sampdoria’s ground the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
- NEDUM Onuoha, plays for England:Onuoha received an International Call-up to play for Nigeria in March 2007. But waited rather for a chance to play for England. The defender was born in Warri, Delta State before his parents moved to England and has not been capped by successive managers of the English national team.
- UGO Ehiogu: Plays for England: Ugochukwu Ehiougu is a powerful defender who played for English Clubs like Middlesborough, Sheffield United, Aston Villa and Scottish Premier League side Rangers. Nigeria lost the chance to have Ehiogu play for Super Eagles, as he was capped by England due to his defensive skills where he got a place at the senior level four times and scored one goal. He also played for West Bromwich Albion, Leeds United and Sheffield United. He came out of retirement in 2012 by signing for a league side Wembley and took part in the Club’s FA Cup games alongside other retired veteran players. He died April 2017. In London, United Kingdom.
- Ikechi Anya, Adopted country Scotland; Scots don’t have names like “Ikechi” or “Anya” but he is a Nigerian. Anya’s parents moved to Scotland in the late 80’s so that his father could obtain his doctorate degree in Metallurgy. Anya decided to play for Scotland when grew up as well as Romania because he was eligible as his mother was a Romanian and an Economist.
- PATRICK Owomoyela: The dreadlock former Borussia Dortmund midfielder has a Nigerian father and a German mother. He adopted Germany as his country and won the German Bundesliga titles with Dortmund in the 2010 – 11 & 2011 – 12 seasons. Owomoyela, whose middle name, Olukayode means “God brings me joy” in Yoruba made his debut for Germany in Asian tournament played for 90 minutes in 3 – 0 win over Japan. Patrick Olukayode Olaiya Owomoyela had spells with Luneburger SK, VFL Osnabruk, SC Paderborn 07, Armonia Bielefeld, SV Werder Bremen and Hamburger SV II, Owomoyela’s international career only lasted for just two years as he was never invited for the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany.
- GABRIEL Agbolanhor, Country, England, Gabriel Imuetinyan Agbolanhor born on October 13, 1986 to a Nigerian father from Edo State and Scottish mother and lived all his life at Birmingham. On November 19, 2008, Agbolanhor made his international debut for England against Germany and played for 90 minutes. Since his debut for English national team. He appeared for the first time in International football competition on October 14, 2009. Playing 66 minutes in the 3 – 0 win over Belarus in the qualification for the 2010 World Cup.
- EMMANUEL Sarki, a former flying Eagles start shocked Nigerian football fans at NFA when he switched allegiance to Haiti, the country of his maternal grandmother. Sarki, was also Junior International who represented Nigeria at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2001 alongside Mikel Obi for the Super Eagles was dashed as he claimed that he was asked to part money, “bribe”, before he could play for Super Eagles of Nigeria. Na Wa !.
- INNOCENT Emeghara: Plays for Switzerland. His Nigerian names, Nkasiobi means “consolation” while Emeghara means “Willingness to Let Go”. Innocent Nkasiobi Emeghara, is a Nigerian born striker who moved to Switzerland as a teenager and started his football career for the reasons to cope with the language barrier and temperature.
- TIAGO Ilori: Plays for Portugal, the Liverpool young star hails from a Cosmopolitan Background, born in England with a Nigerian father and a Portuguese mother. His names are Tiago Abiola Delfim Almeida Ilori. He considers himself a Portuguese having lived in Portugal for more than a decade.
- MAURICE Edu; Plays for USA. Maurice (chin) Edu, spent several seasons abroad playing in Scotland, England and Turkey, before Jurgen Klinsmann called him to make his provisional 30-man squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil but did not make it past the final round. Edu’s father played football in Nigeria, while the former Stoke City midfielder’s parents lived in California. His parents played a huge role in his success on the pitch and in the classroom.
- CARLTON Cole; Plays for England. Carlton Okorie Cole’s father comes from Rivers State and his mother is from Sierra Leone. He was invited for Nigeria’s joint 2010 World Cup and African Nations Cup qualifiers against South Africa in September 2008, but failed to honour the call. Cole represented England at the U-21 level even not getting the choice to play for England at the senior level then. Though, he played few games for the England national team but his career has always been entangled in one controversy or the other. Again, Cole came under fire in one of his twitter rant, saying the game (football), was being used as a means for immigration agents to deport black people back to Africa. Though, he apologized and later donated to charity in Ghana, He made this comment while playing for the English national team in friendly against the Black Stars of Ghana. He is retired now.
Money and career prospects clearly talks in European and now Chinese football including other foreign footballing nations. They have been able to reap huge revenues from the television rights fees, commercial and broadcast revenues are now more important than ever to clubs to enable them to compete and put the best football talents on the pitch.
The fact is that the English Premier League; Spanish League (La Liga), German League (Bundelisga), French League, amongst others are rich, and wealthy leagues with a huge appeal globally, in terms of marketability largely because of the consistency and high levels of awareness people have around the world.
These foreign leagues have injected more flexibility into the game to attract football talents from around the globe with the aim of developing them through their football academies for utmost uncommon performance on the field of play.
Nigeria does not possesses any of these to lure our footballers of Nigerian decent abroad to call-ups for youth teams, senior national team (Super Eagles) because of inefficient administrative leadership, poor welfare packages, lack of a workable sports policy, bad playing pitches, and Nigeria’s inability to understand the value of tracking these footballers abroad, as a market brand which is vital in public perception e.g Christiano Ronaldo, and Lionel Messi. Both gifted footballers are sellable brands for marketers and sponsors and for promoting their countries image worldwide.
Our local Nigerian clubs are not well organized. The Nigerian local league is not rated among the top leagues in Europe and Africa despite the array of football talents in the Nigerian national team. Most or if not all our players get hooked to foreign nations due to bigger opportunities, and guaranteed regular playing time in their clubs. If not, John Fashanu never played for Nigeria, but he is the first Nigerian to play for England where he excelled. Fashanu revealed recently that he is paid N5m every month since he retired from the English national team. Can Nigeria pay her players such amount after retirement? No.
Another stumbling block for the country, is that Nigeria see sports (football), as just leisure and entertainment but advanced countries explore the business sides of the sector by creating wealth and employment for millions of people. We obviously need to tow their lines.
Nigeria broadcasters, sometimes clash or interested in sublicensed broadcast rights on to air television, inability to air live matches on terrestrial television and rights which is a problem for the league to become attractive to foreign players and global sponsors.
Many more young prolific Nigerian footballers will continue to snub Nigeria if adequate sports structures are not put in place. Anthony Joshua is ruling the world of Boxing because of his inbuilt energy as a black man. He reclaimed his title from Andy Ruiz in a technical and superb show of a professional who is ready to win which he did. Government though, is committing much funds into football we know, but it goes with Public Relations (PR), because it is the most popular and most followed sports in the world.