January 20, 2021
IKENWA NNABUOGOR takes a hard look at the performances of foreign-born Nigerian players and wonders what they have brought to the Super Eagles…
Not until former Super Eagles’ coach Clemens Westerhof succeeded in luring the then Sunderland defender Rueben Agboola, has the late trend of having players of Nigerian or mixed parentage born abroad play for Super Eagles sparked an unprecedented demand.
Agboola’s success put to bed the ghosts of John Fashanu, John Salako and Paul McGrath, who were fruitlessly chased by the authorities, but chose to play for England and Republic of Ireland, respectively.
Agboola, born of English mother and Nigerian father in 1962, who played at either the right or left back, went on to represent the country of his father at the African Nations Cup in Senegal in 1992 and ultimately signed off his international career, making only nine appearances.
Lately, the news of having diaspora players in the Super Eagles have continued to make headlines so much so that it could hit a fever pitch in near future.
With the rate of foreign players of Nigerian blood gushing in their veins are chased, discussed and wished by the NFF is getting interesting by day, it could get to a stage where a team of 11 diaspora players will represent Nigeria.
Since Agboola’s exit, quite a good number of these ‘Oyibo’ players have donned the national colours, while equally same good number were lost after a fruitless chase.
George Abbey, born of a Welsh mother and a Nigerian father in 1978, took Agboola’s baton in 2003 and played prominently under Christian Chukwu, earning an AFCON bronze medal before ending his international football with Nigeria with 18 caps.
Late coach Stephen Keshi convinced Victor Moses to dump England, who he played for at cadet level, to help Keshi win the AFCON title for the third time for Nigeria in South Africa in 2013.
He was also one of Rohr’s trusted players at Russia 2018 World Cup after which he turned off a shining international career.
As it is now, no fewer than six diaspora players are currently in Rohr’s Super Eagles and a host more are still being chased.
Added to the ones being chased at the moment notably Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and Crystal Palace exciting midfielder Eberechi Eze, plus Wandsworth London-born Ademola Lookman, the long list of players on Eagles’ wish list could form an Eagles starting team.
Have the authorities lost interest in the home-grown talents for these ready-made players, whose foreign roots have made them finished products to be poached by Nigeria?
Could it be that the Super Eagles handlers feel they have less work to do since these finished products are ready to be used?
It can be argued that Rohr and company may choose not to break so much sweat with these players since they were nurtured in top football countries like England and Germany and hence their high demand for them.
But what have these players brought to the table since they made their way to the team?
As it seems, they have brought a lot from the goal to attack.
Currently, Eagles’ central defence is manned by two astute diaspora players of mixed parentage – Glasgow Rangers’ Leon Balogun and Netherlands-born Watford star William Troost-Ekong – and both have not done badly judging by their last games.
Both have shared 76 appearances between them (Ekong, 44) and (Balogun, 32) – and they don’t look like they’re slowing down any time soon.
Rohr inherited the central defensive pair from departed coach Sunday Oliseh and have made them his mainstays in the heart of the back four.
He is planning a long term replacement in his preferred Germany-based defender Kevin Akpoguma, meaning Rohr isn’t even thinking of having home-grown players in that department.
Spain-based Kenneth Omeruo, who was the preferred choice pre-Rohr, has further gone down the pecking order following the arrival of Akpoguma.
Akpoguma, who is versatile as he can also be useful at right back, will be with the national team for a long time to come as long as Rohr remains in the saddle.
Ebuehi could have played for Holland where he was born but opted for Nigeria
Another diaspora player, Tyronne Ebuehi is holding out at right back, and with Fulham’s right back Ola Aina breathing down his neck, Eagles defenceline is all but manned by the boys from overseas.
Another Germany-based diaspora defender Kingsley Ehizibue, who plays at German Bundesliga side FC Koln, will soon join the fray as diaspora players conspire to completely lock down the entire Eagles back four.
Ehizibue, previously uncapped is all but certain to achieve his Eagles’ dreams and will join up soon.
Interestingly, the Eagles midfield and attack are not completely 100 percent home-grown as the diaspora players are gradually annihilating the areas.
Rangers’ Joe Aribo and Everton’s playmaker designate Alex Iwobi are currently in charge while FIFA clearances and England interests are stalling Eze’s and Lookman’s arrivals.
Reading young playmaker Michael Olise is also a top target and Rennes 17-year-old wonder kid Lesley Ugochukwu is equally seen as a long-term prospect.
By the time these targets team up, save for Leicester City holding midfielder Wilfred Ndidi and Galatasaray midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo, home-grown talents may have been completely shut out.
Dessers has already debuted for Nigeria
Further afield in Eagles attack is KRC Genk striker Cyriel Dessers, who had been chased for long and eventually captured but strangely eclipsed at club level by a home-grown talent, Paul Onuachu.
Dessers, finally capped by Rohr may not be firing at the moment but his predatory instincts have not deserted him and could resurrect it in future to lead the Eagles attack.
Rohr has also not hidden his love for PSV’s young striker Nonso Madueke, who has netted five times thus far for the Eindhoven side this season.
The 18-year-old England-born striker is also eyed by England and could still swell Rohr’s options in the attack should he accept to play for the country of his roots.
And not forgetting former Wolves goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, who would have been the undisputed Eagles No 1 goalkeeper had he not bowed to Leukemia that put paid to his career.
Oliseh had brought in the towering shot stopper after his celebrated bust-up with centurion Vincent Enyeama and the former Doncaster Rovers ‘keeper didn’t disappoint.
He would announce his retirement from football in July 2017 at the unripe age of 31 and shut the door on his Eagles journey abruptly after only 10 caps.
Joe Aribo has shone in the Eagles
For Rohr, players of the diaspora have relatively made his job easier, but has he completely achieved 100 percent success with them?
It can still be argued that the diaspora players have not fared badly in the relatively poor Eagles’ team compared to the standard the national team had set in the past.
In truth, building a formidable team with some exciting players from diaspora in his radar may not be completely ruled out but currently, it remains to be seen what becomes of the team in the face of the stuttering performances lately.
Nigeria have never been short of players born abroad and a lot more are being discovered everyday seemingly much more at the expense of home-grown talents who are equally doing well in Europe and elsewhere.
It appears, sadly though, that local boys will take the back seat in Rohr’s Eagles at least as things now stand.