With the 2018 World Cup barely a year from now, footballers from various countries, especially those who enjoyed lesser playing time last season have continued to change clubs in order to boost their chances of travelling with their national teams to Russia.
Not left out of such movement, otherwise known as suffer transfer, are Nigerian players, who particularly were starved of playing time in their previous teams. Incidentally, there have been only two major routes for Nigerian players; Turkey and Belgium, ever since the summer transfer window opened in June.
Going down memory lane, Dominic Iorfa was the first Nigerian to play in the league when he represented Galatasaray in 1991. He was to be joined in Turkey by the likes of Edema Fuludu (Altay, 1994-1997), Thompson Oliha (Antalyaspor, 1995), Uche Okechukwu (1994), Austin Okocha (1996), and Daniel Amokachi (1996).
Over a decade ago, Nigerian players used to be the toast of major clubs in Europe with some of the nation’s talents turning out for such clubs as Paris Saint Germaine, Monaco, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Chelsea and Ajax but not anymore.
In the early 90s, Finidi George, Kanu Nwankwo and later Sunday Oliseh and Tijani Babangida won the UEFA Champions League and domestic trophies in the Netherlands with Ajax under the highly influential Luis Van Gaal. Oliseh went on to play for leading Serie A club, Juventus and also Borrusia Dortmund in Germany before his career nosedived.
Also, Victor Ikpeba enjoyed a fruitful long spanning spell at French club, AS Monaco and was even dubbed ‘The Prince of Monaco’ while playing alongside the legendary Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet in the team.
There is also a rugged defender, called Taribo West who broke into the Auxerre team at a young age under coach Guy Roux before securing a move to Inter Milan where he played alongside Ivan Zanetti, Diego Simone, Roberto Baggio, Youri Djorkaef, Ivan Zamorano and the free scoring forward, Ronaldo de Lima, winning the UEFA Cup and other domestic trophies. Taribo was to later enjoy a short spell at Inter’s city neighbours, AC Milan.
For Austin Jay Jay Okocha, he was a delight to watch in the colours of PSG, the biggest club he ever played for in Europe. Okocha’s former teammate at the French club, Ronaldinho recently attested to the deftness of the former Super Eagles captain. The player went on to play for a handful of less fancied clubs in Europe and Qatar before finally hanging his boots in the English Championship. The list of Nigerian players that represented top clubs in Europe is endless.
Those days, there was scarcely any Champions League or UEFA Cup match without Nigerian players in the starting line-up or on substitutes’ bench. The experience of playing for those high profile clubs and in the major leagues of Europe could be largely ascribed to the success of the Super Eagles under Clemens Westerhof and the Atlanta 96 U-23 football team.
Nowadays, the latest career destination of our players has been Turkey and perhaps Belgium.
In the season just ended, no fewer than 20 notable Nigerians played in the Turkish elite and lower leagues with the trio of Elderson Echiejile, William Troost-Ekong and Imoh Ezekiel swelling that list of late.
While Turkish clubs can match other top European leagues in terms of salary, the league is however not as competitive as that of Spain, England, Germany, Italy and France. For former Premier League stars like Robin Van Persie and Nani who made the switch to Turkey, they were left with no other option after their career nosedived. At their prime, they would never have considered moving to Fenerbahce.
For many players in Europe, Turkey is another option for them to retire instead of the lucrative Chinese league or MLS.
While it is important for our inactive players to enjoy regular playing time in the coming season, the fact that the Turkish league is not being shown on television in this part of the world should be a source of concern for Coach Gernot Rohr and officials of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). Monitoring those players’ performance week-in week out will be very difficult for the Eagles’ manager.
The grave danger of such development is that Rohr will most likely ended up handing call-ups to players that may not be good enough to prosecute matches but have enough funds to dangle before the media to hype their (non) performance on pages of newspapers or online.