I would so much like to take you down memory lane as to how we lost and won the battle to have players of Nigerian decent commit to the Green-White-Green. One could easily take a laid back approach and subscribe to the saying, “you win some; you lose some”. However, what is particularly heartbreaking is when our authorities who are saddled with the task of protecting our national sports assets take a lackadaisical approach when talents stare at their face begging to commit to Nigeria. Yes, we have had cases like this where our football administrators and sometimes coaches turned a blind eye to precociousness, egoistically. For those who agree with me that we need to cap any leg that has a Nigerian root as long as that would fortify our darling Super Eagles, the thought of the loss of world class players like David Alaba to Austria, has been haunting us at least subconsciously.
However, permit me to subscribe to the other school of thought for a moment. Because the counter view really does exist among some of us Nigerians, that we must rely on our home grown talents, for it is only in the home soil we can find truly patriotic sportsmen that would commit and play their hearts out for the only country they can identify with. This argument clearly brings to mind the sojourn of Jurgen Klinsmann during his tenure as the United States’ soccer team manager. Since Nigerians are always in the custom of using the United States as a reference in almost every national matter, I will take this same typical-Nigerian approach, by examining the impact of Jurgen Klinsman’s craze for good players with dual nationality while he served as coach of the Stars and Stripes . A philosophy which his compatriot, and Super Eagles manager, Gernot Rohr also share. Maybe, just maybe, if we looked at the impact of that philosophy on American Soccer, we would be able to foretell the state of the Super Eagles at least two years from now.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s reign as technical director of the Stars and Stripes from the year 2011 to 2016 can be said to have come with mixed results. Looking at United States soccer team’s performance closely during Klinsmann’s long spell as coach, there were certainly positive results, such as getting out of the Group of Death at the 2014 World Cup, finishing 4th at the Copa America in 2016, winning 12 straight games in 2013 (the longest winning streak in American soccer history) including that year’s Gold Cup. The team also posted historic friendly wins away from home at Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Germany. But there were also bad results such as failing to qualify for the 2017 Confederations Cup, and a loss in the CONCACAF Cup to Mexico, and failing twice to qualify for the Olympics. Beyond those mixed results, pundits also questioned his tactics and risky lineups in important matches.
Just as so much was expected of him due to his rich curriculum vitae, Americans were unrealistic — in my opinion — to have expected him to perform magic with the limited talents (relatively speaking) at his disposal. Most of America’s best sports talents are discovered at infancy in schools, and they tend to tilt towards other more lucrative sports in line with America’s rich sports history, namely; American Football, Basketball and Baseball. Such that a child is most likely to choose the aforementioned sports above football (soccer), should they be good in all. You will hardly find an American child say he or she wants to become like London Donovan, Bruce Arena and the likes of other American top footballers. Names like Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Walter Payton and the likes are national idols in other sports, and no child can aspire to be like them while playing soccer. Hence, the reality on ground is that the US team always only had a couple special players in the midst of average players, talent wise. The USMNT (United States men’s national soccer team) has always relied heavily on tactics. But here, you have a coach in Klinsmann, who has seen football at the highest standards and played alongside top talents like himself during his playing days. It is only natural that he would always seek other options in terms of foreign born players that are eligible to play for the United States, and that can bring more ability to the team. The most notable ones included Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), and Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur) among others.
Likewise, in the case of Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr, we also need to look at the reality on ground here in Nigeria. If we were to take a thorough statistics from the Super Eagles hey days of the early 90s, looking at every department of the game, Nigeria has produced lots of forwards and midfielders that can be classified in the range of above average to world class. Since the Clemence Westerhof era, we can probably boast of only two very good goalkeepers — Peter Rufai and Vincent Enyeama — talking about netminders at their prime, who could hold their own in the highest stage. But of all the mentioned positions, our left full back position especially has suffered from lack of personnel. Celestine Babayaro was the only player that can be categorized as World Class during his prime. Taye Taiwo was never a natural left full back player in my opinion. In right full back, maybe only Chidi Odiah. In central defense, Taribo West. The reality on ground is that Nigeria for the most part has always lacked quality full back players and central defenders. No wonder it always seemed that we have the culture of conceding easily. We concede far more easily than our opponents let us score against them, putting pressure on our advanced players to start the game all over. Therefore, what we have before us at the moment is a reality check. Explains why Gernot Rohr has been building his Oyinbo wall.
Oyinbo in this context, means players with dual nationality that were born abroad. From goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme, to central defenders Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong — although he cannot take the credits for bringing these players to the Super Eagles fold — Gernot Rohr can be credited for establishing a place for them in the team, and has gone ahead in making moves to fortify this wall with more foreign-born Nigerians. Defensive players that have been rumored to be under Rohr’s consideration are: Brian Idowu (Amkar Perm, Russia), Tyronne Ebuehi (Ado den Haag, Holland), Jordan Torunarigha (Hertha Berlin, Germany), Felix Uduokhai (1860 Munich, Germany), Fabian Senninger (Hannover 96, Germany) among others. For those who are of the opinion, that we need only homegrown players in our team, please leave a comment with your suggested home grown defenders (especially) in mind.