We all love to see the Super Eagles win. At least we can all agree on that; what we have failed to see eye-to-eye on however, is the way to go about ensuring that Nigeria has a senior men’s football team that will not only rule the continent, but also be a major force at the wider global level: do we hire a foreign coach? Do we rely on a Nigerian (or an African) manager? Do we make use of more players plying their trade in the Nigeria Professional Football League, or do we simply invite those who play in the better organized and more lucrative Leagues of Europe, and be done with it? After all, the aim is to win.
These questions, of course, have raised passionate arguments as there are as many camps – both for and against, as there are considerations. And sometimes, in the heat of these passionate arguments things are said – both assumed and faux-factual, that not only muddy the waters of the discourse, but also drives the discussion into a cul-de-sac that leaves all parties frustrated.
One of the major barbs thrown by those who want a Super Eagles filled with players from Europe is, “Why waste time with players from the NPFL when they can’t even qualify for, talk less of win the African Nations Championship?” That statement looks legitimate, until the facts are sifted. And it is that statement we are addressing today, so that it can be rested once and for all.
There have been FIVE of these Championships, the five held at two-year intervals between 2009 and 2018. The only time a three-year interval occurred were the 2011 and 2014 tournaments. Of these five times, Nigeria has qualified THREE times; which is the average for all the nations participating. Only three countries have qualified for every CHAN tournament: DR Congo, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Six countries have played at the CHAN Finals four times: Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mali, Morocco, Rwanda and Zambia. Nigeria is one of 10 countries that have been to the Finals of the competition three times, while eight countries have made a couple of appearances, and four others have appeared just once at the Finals.
Then, it gets more interesting.
Of these 31 countries that have graced the CHAN event in the past 11 years, only 11 have won medals. Of the 11 that have won medals, just four have won medals at multiple competitions: DR Congo, Ghana, Nigeria and Sudan. Of these four, it is only Sudan – who have qualified for CHAN just twice, have won a medal every time they have managed to make the finals. The pair of Nigeria and Ghana have qualified three times, while DR Congo is the only team that has been Champions of CHAN twice – the only two times they won medals.
There have been three hat tricks ever scored in the history of CHAN, the first was scored by Given Singuluma of Zambia, one other by Ayoub El Kaabi of Morocco…the third is by Chisom Chikatara of the Nigeria CHAN team of 2016.
In order to better understand these numbers, and appreciate what these players from the NPFL have achieved, it is important to look at the society that produced them. There is political interest in one form or another in almost, if not every football league in world; we all know about the ‘government protection’ Real Madrid enjoy, we know that it is more than likely there are government officials among the supporters of Yanga and Simba in Tanzania.
The El Ahly and Zamalek ‘wars’ in Egypt too, will likely have government officials in their corners, as would be in the Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs rivalry in South Africa and the Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko one in Ghana. Football is tainted by politics; but when its administration and results are affected by it, as it is in Nigeria, the effects can be far reaching.
The players in the Nigeria Professional Football League are constantly battling crippling mental conditions that have been formed and reinforced by years of playing in a League with shifting rules, almost unbridled violence and politics that shame the most slippery of full time political lobbyists.
That is why every coach and every team from the NPFL that makes a dent on the continent, whether in the CAF Champions League, the CAF Confederations Cup or the CHAN Championship, deserve accolades: the rules and environment they are used to, changes the moment they stray out of these shores. Simply put, the Nigerian teams of the early 21st Century, unlike their counterparts from the late 20th Century, are primed to fail on the continent.
No matter how much we wish and hope it, until the Nigeria Football Federation ceases to be a ‘qualify-for-Nations Cup-and-World Cup’ organization, and until our leagues stop parading teams that exist and are run solely with aim of ‘winning-the-next-three points’ and nothing else, Nigeria will not win the CHAN Championship.
But even that does not mean the country or the league is not producing players that can develop into exceptional stars: the continuing surge of players leaving these shores yearly is enough proof of that. The only difference between these players and say their mates from Egypt or South Africa is simply that while those ones are allowed to fully develop before being exported, the development of the Nigerian player is truncated because he is either rushed out for gain or he rushes himself out…for gain. And the economy, the league, the fans and the federation are the losers.
So, are there players in the NPFL who are talented enough to play for the Super Eagles? the answer is yes. The next question then should not be whether they are ready or not. they have done their bit simply by being talented enough. it is now up to those running the NFF and the LMC, to ensure that they are ready to be selected.