The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) President, Amaju Pinnick, has certainly carved out a remarkable definition of his tenure as President.
No Nigerian federation President has sought out foreign-developed talent for Nigeria’s football as much and as fervently as Amaju. I choose the term “foreign-developed” instead of “foreign-born” because it is the place of skill development that is central and the fact that players like Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi certainly are not foreign-born and yet are quickly classified as that by analysts who argue on this quest that has defined Pinnick’s tenure.
Well, with that out of the way, let us continue. Pinnick was not the first to have a foreign-developed player run out with the Nigerian national team. That record goes to Sunday Dankaro who was President when John Chiedozie became the first foreign-developed player to play for Nigeria in 1980.
However, no one has sought out as many players as Amaju’s federation has. Think of this, it is under Amaju’s tenure that players such as Steven Ukoh, Semi Ajayi, Chuba Akpom, William Troost-Ekong, Carl Ikeme, Alex Iwobi, Tyronne Ebuehi, Noah Bazee, and Ola Aina, among others were first called to the national team. Moreover, Pinnick has never hidden his preference for such players.
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Maduwuba, writing in Pulse in 2015, reiterated a speech given by Pinnick to parents of foreign-developed players in England. Maduwuba credited Pinnick with stating that he would rather these players that “have been exposed to the scientific methods of football in terms of coaching style, amenities and equipment as well as discipline in areas of fitness and nutrition” to build a new-look Super Eagles than the hungry local players still scratching the ground.
His opinion about the locally-developed coaches and players has attracted severe criticisms. But is he correct? Should he continue his pursuit of a great Nigerian soccer team made up of foreign-developed players or at least dominated by players with such backgrounds?
It appears too early to judge Pinnick’s efforts. However, with this policy, he has now built a national team that is at the doorstep of the 2018 World Cup. Though, it is what the team does at the World Cup that will ultimately serve as a logical measure of the utility of his strategy.
Nigeria has been to five previous World Cup finals without applying that policy and, thus, it is how far Nigeria progresses at the World Cup that will be a measure of significance. In any case, one believes that Pinnick’s strategy is to do better than Nigeria had ever done at a World Cup final. In that sense, it is too early to speak of evaluation results.
Does he then have the basis to continue his project given severe criticisms that stand in his way? Lets examine the points advanced in criticism of Pinnick’s strategy.
The first is that there is no need to invite foreign-developed players since Nigeria has more than enough locally based players to choose from. This point seems, at least to me, retrogressive and self-defeating. First, the Nigerian national team should be accessible to every player who is eligible based on current FIFA rules. Pinnick’s strategy does not violate those rules and surely a player who has received a significant part of his football education outside Nigeria but is eligible to play for Nigeria should not be discriminated against.
Bear in mind that one of the best Nigerian players, currently, is Victor Moses whose football education was largely outside Nigeria. So goes for Leon Balogun.
The second is that most of these foreign developed players are not prepared physically for the African game. Surely, being prepared for the African game is very important because Nigeria, statistically, plays most of its games against African opposition. However, while some foreign-developed players may not be prepared, that is certainly not true for all such players. Leon Balogun is a classic example. He is just as physical as any player playing in Africa. Make no mistake about that.
But supporters of Amaju’s project have also raised some issues that are worth examining. First is that locally-based players are not properly educated in football and, thus, Nigeria’s only effective recourse is to use players that are foreign-developed. This is a weak argument if ever there is one.
Football education is varied. The fact that local players get to Europe and begin to play in first teams in the first tier of European league speaks volumes. In many of those cases, are they not being selected ahead of the local European player with vaunted football education? The point is that while some local players have learned the game well enough in Nigeria, there are others who have not. Do not paint a pool of players with one brush.
Second, it makes little sense to call up players from the Nigerian league or other ‘weaker’ leagues when Nigeria has players playing in more popular European leagues. Again, this is not a strong argument. Pinnick upon his arrival as President in 2014 came up with the idea of a database of Tier 1 to 3 and mentioned that players playing in China should not be called up because in his mind China was not tier one. Well, two of Nigeria’s best players v Cameroon play in China. Moreover, that theory of Tier 1-3 went burst rather quickly when Oliseh called up Carl Ikeme from the Championship in England and subsequently Oliseh had to spin his way around the idea of tier 1 versus the rest.
The reality is that a good player can be found in all national leagues and coaches should not be recruiting leagues but players.
Invariably, these arguments have been advanced and certainly others will be developed. However, the issue is squarely one of fairness. From the point of view of the proponents it is about not creating a quota system that allows a poor performing local player to get to the national camp. From the opponents is the fact that a poor quality foreign-developed player should not be rushed to camp just to win a dual citizen war.
It is a matter of fairness.