By Fred Edoreh
It is understandable that all football fans want their team to win every game and there has been some hue about El Tri, the full fledged, star-studded Mexican senior national team handing Nigeria a 4-0 defeat in a recent friendly in Los Angeles.
However, those who know know that the Nigerian side wasn’t actually the Super Eagles in the true sense. It wasn’t even the CHAN team. It was just an ad-hoc selection of home based players from the Nigeria Professional Football League.
With the conclusion of the European league, most of the senior Super Eagles players were taking time off to rest and recover and, as such, they couldn’t show up for the earlier two-legged friendly with Cameroon in Austria. Coach Gernot Rohr had to invite mostly new, young players for the friendly.
Even at that, a number of the players in the matches with Cameroon cupped injuries which made it even more difficult to assemble a full and stronger squad against Mexico.
The Nigeria Football Federation therefore decided to present the home based players for the Mexico encounter. The limitation of time did not give enough window for the assemblage and blending of the players from different clubs. They had just about two weeks to come together.
Even still, Coach Austin Eguavoen who assembled them had visa grant issues and could not properly continue the lead.
Fact is the odds all were on the side of the Mexican team. They are ranked 11th in the world and they were complete on the day. A couple of the regulars had had a many as 60 caps for El Tri. In comparison, even the senior Super Eagles are ranked 28th in the world, not to talk of a hurried selection of home based players with just about four matches for the highest capped player.
Though, while these statistics don’t necessarily determine the outcome of every game, they show that Mexico surely was on wide advantage.
The stage was big for the home boys. The attendance was about 53,000. Not sure if any of our home based players have filed out before such crowd and ambience. Understandably, before they could catch their breath Mexico struck twice.
The boys recovered to stave off but there was just how far they could stand ground against the more experienced, more prepared Mexican side heading on a continental mission.
But, it is all part of the necessary nurturing process. If we don’t dare big odds we would never build up. The other alternatives would be to not have our home boys engage big teams or arrange smaller teams they would easily defeat and we would all rejoice in pretentious strength.
With the so much talk about infusing home based players in the senior national team, the Mexico friendly was an opportunity for bigger exposure for them and despite the score line, they sure have come out more enriched by the experience.
Not many African country home based players have had such opportunity. In fact, in some situations, the Mexicans could have objected to playing the Nigerian assemblage without the top players which sure was against their expectation. They are preparing for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and they needed the challenge from Nigeria’s real team. But trust the President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Melvin Pinnick, to manage such situation to project the interest of the home game.
While the the players should be expected to bring the experience to count for their local clubs, it also means forward planning for the strengthening of the CHAN team.
Interestingly, Pinnick has further assured that the process of providing such big exposure through top grade friendlies for the domestic players will be continued.
“There is nothing that has happened here (in the match) that will discourage us from
pushing ahead with the plan we have for the team…We will go ahead and deliver on the programme we have for them to be a much stronger team, as we look forward to the next African Nations Championships,” he assured.
Besides this effort however, it must be said that much of improving the quality of our home based players reside with the club sides. They own and train the players and it is in their interest to raise their prospects for inclusion in the senior Super Eagles or the CHAN team and their eligibility for transfers to top world clubs which is a major source of revenue in the business of club football.
Those who clamour for the inclusion of home based players must also see that once they go on transfer overseas, which is the aspiration of most of them, they become foreign based. This indicates that the senior national team coach cannot and should not be bound by any article of faith for the use of home based players. He just has to select the best Nigerian players from wherever they are, home or away.
This also means that the talk of assembling and keeping a full home based team is neither here nor there in value and sustainability.
Still, it would be interesting to see a good number of our domestic league players in the senior national team, but that would take an improvement in the robustness of the home professional league.
A lot of things out of the control of the NFF have to come into play. There has to be a rethinking and re-tooling of the structure, management, corporate and economic objectives of the club sides.
Obviously, the various state governments that own clubs do not run them with the same mindset and input with which the foreign clubs which we celebrate are run.
Even with the club licensing regime, caution is also needed not to throw the baby and the dish water.
Football is money and the huge chunk of it comes from from visibility and broadcast rights fees. Worrisomely, Nigerian indigenous broadcast organisations have not shown capacity to play in this field.
Perhaps, if the government can understand the league as a national asset and the huge economic opportunities that flow from football, a support policy for the broadcast industry can be worked out in national interest.
The Honourable Minister of Information and National Orientation has seemed to understand this. There however has to be a more realistic sector engagement.
Also, the relations and connections between the clubs and their communities need to be deepened to generate an assuring fans base for the attraction of sponsorship brands and interactivity for club merchandising.
With these, the clubs can invest more input to improve the quality of their players and their fortune. It is gratifying though that Pinnick is not waiting.
Fred Edoreh, a public affairs analyst and former chairman of Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) Lagos chapter wrote this piece from Lagos