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Does Mexico thrashing prove NPFL players are not good enough for Super Eagles?

23:10 BST 05/07/2021
Anayo Iwuala, Efrain Alvarez
A humbling defeat at the hands of El Tri did little to make the case for the home-based contingent breaking into Gernot Rohr's main squad

There is no more polarizing discussion in Nigerian football than that surrounding the aptitude (or otherwise) of locally based players for the senior national team.

Like for most differences of opinion in this present day and age, the battleground is digital, and with this comes the unspeakable principle that seems to govern disagreement on the internet: no one learns anything, and no one shifts ground.

No matter what. To yield ground is to lose face.

So it is that, whenever unfortunate events like Sunday morning’s 4-0 humbling of an NPFL selection by Mexico take place, it is rather predictably used as fodder for those who believe that little of note can come out of the Nigeria Professional Football League.

In a vacuum, it is difficult to protest too much at the summation.

To observe proceedings in Los Angeles was to bear witness to a brutal lesson, so total was the superiority the Mexican side enjoyed.

For this paddling though, the Nigerian side on the night were also kind enough to pull down their own slacks and expose their rear ends: missed passes, poor controls and laughable decision-making were the order of the day.

With such willing cooperation, El Tri must have wondered at the utility of the exercise—while they are comfortably the top-ranked side in Concacaf, the opposition at the upcoming Gold Cup will not be quite so supine.

So, was this proof positive then that players of an NPFL extraction are not fit for purpose under any circumstance? Not quite.

Make no mistake, some of the errors bordered on puerile, and it was disturbing that the very best players the league can produce were made to look hapless under the hot lights.

It should not be too much to expect at least a decent grasp of the basics. Even granting that though, any fair assessment must take into account the manner in which this team was assembled and prepared for their day out stateside.

This is a team ostensibly being put together for the purpose of prosecuting the African Nations Championship in early 2023.

However, the training camp for Sunday’s engagement was the first time this group had convened, and their preparation was fraught from the start: frequent and often impromptu changes of training venue, as well as confusion over who precisely was supposed to be in charge of the entire rodeo.

The custodianship of the CHAN is usually the preserve of the Super Eagles assistant coach, but during the entire process Joseph Yobo was curiously absent.

He would later surface on TV doing punditry for the ongoing European Championships, and there have been no explanations put forward as to what exactly is going on. (It is worth noting that Yobo does not, at this time, having the required coaching certifications to coach the side, which then brings us right back to the question that was raised at the time of his appointment: on what basis was he handed the role to begin with? But that’s a different matter entirely)

Instead, Paul Aigbogun and Austin Eguavoen, both officials of the Technical Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) held sway during the period of training in Abuja, culminating in the cringe-worthy intervention by the Minister of Sport Sunday Dare, who effectively ordered Gernot Rohr to take charge of the team on the eve of their travel.

Against this backdrop of disarray, is it any surprise that the team mirrored the dysfunction of their administrators on the night?

This is not, of course, a treatise for the NPFL players to be imported wholesale into the main Super Eagles squad.

That would be naïve in the extreme, and unrealistic to boot. If there is one thing both sides seem capable of agreeing on, it is that the talent within the local league (where it can be found) is essentially in a raw state, and needs a mix of exposure, competitive matches, work in training and patience in order to be ready for use at the top level.

As such, however one feels about essentially setting these lads up for a fall in the City of Angels, it is imperative that the NFF make scheduling these matches a point of duty.

Perhaps be a little more careful with the matchmaking, and try not to treat the exercise as an afterthought. Also, make a clear decision on who is in charge, so the players can knuckle down to a specific style of play and understand what is required of them; they have enough to grapple with without their own Federation making them jump through needless hoops.

Rohr has been clear that, in order for any of the locally based players to stake a serious claim with the main Super Eagles, he must first of all be a standout performer at the CHAN.

The logic may be a little less than watertight, but it is his requirement; rather than take him to task for not selecting players from the NPFL, it would make more sense to give those players the best avenue by which to catch his eye, and then hold him to his own criteria.

Then, and only then, will the interminable debate reach any sort of resolution.