To play or not to play for Nigeria: Why Nigeria is bound to lose young talents to other countries

Young players who have never played for any Nigerian national team are thinking of playing for their countries of abode because of the


Babajide Alaka | Deputy Editor

The news broke early this week that Standard Liege’s Nigerian striker, Imoh Ezekiel was desirous of changing nationality to Belgium. The 19-year old former 36 Lions striker has scored 15 goals for Liege this season and his team is almost sure to be playing in Europe next season as their playoff form has been very good. sought out diverse opinions on why such a promising youngster would have decided to pledge his allegiance to Belgium and not Nigeria, his country of birth.

The first question that was asked was – are there more benefits to be gained playing for the ‘Red Devils’ as the Belgian national team is called than playing for the Super Eagles, who just became African champions once again last February?

The answer that we got was multi-faceted. And as in this kind of situations, questions were also posed. “If the boy was your brother, what would you advise him to do? And the honest answer to that question is – looking at the bigger picture will be to advise him to change nationality. So where does that leave Nigeria? My argument will be that Nigeria is a country of over 160 million people and the probability that there are more Ezekiels waiting to be discovered and nurtured is great compared to a country like Belgium that has about 11 million.

So that brings us to youth discovery and nurture which we are not famed for. We are more readily used to finding out that a player can do something for any of the national teams after he has been discovered, nurtured and given his chance by another system that is set up for such. So we then need to ask ourselves why we have not put that kind of system in place so that more of the talented players that the national teams need will be produced.

Informed sources in Belgium also added some arguments. If Ezekiel gets naturalised, he will free up space in his team – which pays the team and can confirm that the youngster has been under pressure to change nationality for the last six months even though he got to Belgium last January. Nigeria’s U-21 coach, John Obuh has forwarded an invitation to the striker to be part of the Fifa World Cup that will take place in Turkey from June to July, even though he had a first glance at the player in 2011, before he travelled and Obuh dropped him. The national coach did not see the boy’s potential – a trait which is supposed to be the guiding factor for youth coaches.

Two years down the line after the boy’s potential was discovered and is being honed, Obuh is expecting him to run back and play for him – how feasible is that considering human nature?

Another angle is that if his team qualifies for the Uefa Champions League, they will have to play the qualifying stage which will start in July, at about the same time that the U-21 World Cup will be taking place, so who is he supposed to give priority to?

I know that many will argue that he should be patriotic but the fact is that he must first be true to himself before his country especially if he believes that his country has never been there for him and he wants to reciprocate the ‘love and attention’ that he has been showed in another country.

It is now left to the Nigeria Football Federation to find a way of discovering and mining the numerous talents that abound on these shores because if we have a hand in their getting on in their football career, then we can expect something in return – it is just being human.