his time every year, stakeholders in Nigerian football evaluate the performances of the country’s players and sadly, the results are always unpleasant.
National teams, clubs and individual footballers are rated for their performances in the 12-month calendar year by world governing body, FIFA and the continental body, Confederation of Africa Football (CAF).
Nigerian top footballers have been second best in Africa over the years and this is contrary to the expectations of fans and lovers of the game in the country.
We recall that for over two decades, no Nigerian player has won the CAF’s African Footballer of The Year Award and this is so bad. Victor Ikpeba won in 1997 in the colours of Monaco and Nwankwo Kanu won in 1999. Since then, no other Nigerian has won the award. Austin Okocha was unlucky on three occasions as he lost the award to Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon. Today, it is obvious from the start of 2019 that no Nigerian stands a chance. This is contrary to the pedigree of the Super Eagles stars in the past. Then, Nigeria do produce two of the three finalists for the continental award, three or four of the Top Five and six or seven players in the Top 10. Now, this has changed and we want the country back to the rightful place on the continent.
There is something wrong with the attitude of the players and their hunger for success. The fans and other stakeholders seem to be more pressed for success than the players themselves.
Only last week, CAF released the list of final three contenders for the 2019 African Footballer of the Year gong. The continental body confirmed the trio of Sadio Mane, Mohammed Salah and Riyad Mahrez as the players that made the final Top Three list. We believe the choice of the trio was perfect based on the current form and impact of these players in the year under review.
Salah and Mane have been instrumental in the exploits of Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League, where they emerged champions of Europe and in the league, where the club has been unbeaten in over 34 games from last season till date. Mahrez has also been in consistent form for Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League and the EPL. He was a key figure in Algeria’s run to clinch the AFCON title earlier this year in Egypt.
Odion Ighalo, 2019 AFCON top scorer, was the only Nigerian in the Top 10 stage but he missed out as the race became tougher for the prestigious award. Wilfred Ndidi and Victor Osimhen were also listed in the initial Top 30 shortlist but they lost out along the line. It is a sad commentary.
Nigeria, however, has representation in the other categories like the Women’s Best Player, where Asisat Oshoala is in the final Top Three for the award.
The duo of Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze are in contention for the Youth Player of The Year award along with Morocco’s Achraf Hakimi.
We make bold to say that the transfer of the players is one of the problems reducing the chances of Nigeria in the competition and this should be corrected for better development of the players.
Osimhen and Chukwueze, competing for the Best Young Player award, are among the ones that should break the jinx of winning the Africa Footballer of the Year gong.
A former winner of the award and former Golden Eaglets coach, Emmanuel Amuneke, has tipped Osimhen and Chukwueze to make waves in the nearest future.
Apart from these two, there is Wilfred Ndidi, whose consistency is supreme in the EPL.
Another area of concern is the African interclub award where no Nigerian footballer is on the list as a result of poor showing of Nigerian clubs in the continent. The CHAN event was also a disaster as home-based Eagles failed to make it to the finals.
Let us stress that there should be a deliberate effort to make the league better so that quality players can emerge to boost the country’s fortunes on the continent.
For example, the transition of age-group players must be well monitored along with the league because these are the yardsticks to measure the growth of the game in concrete terms.
After 20 years, Nigeria can only hope that the younger generation led by Osimhen, Chukwueze and Ndidi will rise up to challenge other players on the continent for individual honours.
We frown at the fact that Nigerian players are not currently among the very best on the continent. It is so sad that when people evaluate African players based on form, Nigerians are not in the fore front. We charge the players to work towards getting the right contract in the right club to increase their prospects of being counted among the best. They should be influential at club and continental levels.
Nigerians have waited enough and going forward we expect the NFF to monitor the progress of these players and give them direction that could boost their chances of being among the best stars in the world. This will be a plus also to the national team to rise and be among the best in the world.