It was late Shuaibu Amodu who as the Chief Coach of the Super Eagles declared that Nigeria’s super stars were average players. His position was heavily criticized by administrators, fans and the players.
He, however, took time to explain his position on the players. Not many liked his disposition especially because he was the head of the technical crew at the time.
About 10 years after, Amodu’s position is starring everyone in the face in the country. For example, it is difficult to believe no Nigerian has won the Africa Footballer of the Year award since 1999 when Nwankwo Kanu won it. We believe this is a disturbing situation due largely to the pedigree of the current Nigerian players as individuals and the teams they play for respectively.
At the recently staged Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) Awards, Egypt and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah retained the gong as the best on the continent. With 44 goals for the Reds last season and a final appearance in the UEFA Champions League, it is obvious he deserved the award as he also took Egypt to the World Cup in Russia. Runner up, Sadio Mane of Liverpool and Senegal, was also good in the season under review just as third placed Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang of Arsenal and Gabon. There was no controversy in this category and from the Nigerian perspective since most of the Super Eagles stars were just average in their respective clubs.
In the female version of the award, South Africa’s Thembi Kgatlana won CAF’s Women Footballer of the year award ahead of Asisat Oshoola and Fransisca Odega. We recall that it is the first time in recent years that a Nigerian will not win the award. It is on record that Perpetua Nwocha has won it four times while Oshoala won it thrice. At the AWCON tournament in Ghana last month, Kgatlana did very well and she deserved the award. She also emerged the scorer of the best goal for both male and female players for last season.
We frown at the absence of Eagles’ stars from the Africa’s Finest XI list. This speaks volume about the average level of the country’s super stars at global level. The best players on the continent, according to CAF, are Denis Onyango of Memelodi Sundown and South Africa; Serge Aurier of Tottenham and Cote d’Ivoire; Mehdi Benatia of Juventus and Morocco; Eric Bailly of Manchester United and Cote d’Ivoire; Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli and Senegal; Thomas Partey of Atletico Madrid and Ghana; Naby Keita of Liverpool and Guinea; Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City and Algeria; Sadio Mane of Liverpool and Senegal; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal and Gabon; Mohamed Salah of Liverpool and Egypt.
Followers of the game in Nigeria argued that Eagles midfielder, Wilfred Ndidi, should have made the list because of his consistency for his national team and Leicester, but Naby Keita, Benatia and Partey were preferred options because they featured in the finals of UEFA Champions League and Europa Cup.
We make bold to say most Nigerian footballers feature for middle of the range clubs and not A-list clubs. The Eagles should be playing in top clubs and they must raise their game, display enough quality to make them influential in these teams. We are happy with the recognition of four ex-players and ex-winners of the award as legends of the game. Late Rashidi Yekini, Nwankwo Kanu, Victor Ikpeba and Emmanuel Amuneke were in the list of the 11 legends honoured by CAF. That was fantastic, but the reverse is the case for the current players who are falling short in terms of rankings on the continent.
It is instructive to say that the ex-Eagles honoured were enough examples for current players. Amuneke played for Barcelona, Kanu won Champions League with Ajax and also prominent in Arsenal colours while Ikpeba was amazing for Monaco.
Current Eagles are playing in China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia while those in good clubs are not prominent regulars in their teams. This has to change and the onus is on the players to put themselves in better position for honours.
For example, Alex Iwobi, who emerged 6th overall in Africa, will have to perform better than Aubumeyang in same club to have the hope of emerging best in Africa.
Again, Odion Igalo is in China and Ahmed Musa in Saudi Arabia. These players should return to prominent teams in Europe to better the chances of having a Nigerian emerge best in Africa again after 20 years of waiting.
The current players in the national team must be wise enough to think more about lifting their careers in their prime rather than money.
We charge the players to get good agents and all compliments of a good team around them to enable them to play in prominent teams that could boost their talents. It is also important for them to work hard and be ambitious to be among the best in the world.
We believe CAF Awards should be an event in which the country’s players, clubs and national teams should be dominant. Nigeria should take its rightful place in the round leather game on the continent.