Penultimate week, Trust Sports published its own findings as to why over time, players from the northern part of Nigeria have failed to feature prominently in the Super Eagles.
A cross section of former football stars and football administrators in the region shared their views on the topic that is generating more interest now that only a single player from the north, Shehu Abdullahi is certain to be at the 2019 AFCON with the Super Eagles.
Interestingly, most of those who spoke to Trust Sports blamed northerners’ failure to feature prominently in the Super Eagles on player’s lack of commitment and cultural inhibitions.
This week, our reporter spoke to some of the best footballers to have emerged from the core north to share their experiences in the Super Eagles.
It will be recalled that at different times, Hassan Abd’Allah, now an assistant coach with the Flying Eagles, Abubakar Balarabe who made a name playing for Ranchers Bees and Eeklo in Belgium, Usman Salihu who starred for the once dreaded BCC Lions of Gboko, Haruna Babangida, a former Ajax of Holland and Barcelona B player and Kano Pillars legend, Ahmed Garba ‘Yaro Yaro’a featured briefly in the Super Eagles.
They shared their stories with Trust Sports and were also unanimous in their submission that talented football players still abound in the north but they must be ready to change their attitude, break religious as well as cultural barriers to reach the top.
Many have described him as the most skillful player to come out of northern Nigeria, Abd’Allah blamed his short spell in the Super Eagles on laziness.
He confessed to Trust Sports that in as much as he was exceptionally talented, he detested hard work which contributed to making his stay in the Super Eagles a brief one.
He, however, said he was satisfied with his achievement as a player who represented his country at the highest level.
“When I was playing, I was highly talented but I was also lazy. I was so talented and skillful that people compared me with Jay Jay Okocha. Some said I was more skillful, some said we were at par.
“However, sometimes, after training for forty minutes, I would just lose interest. I didn’t like training but I always made the team because I was good and I was loved by the fans.
“I believe if I were hard working and committed, I would have gone far beyond where I stopped. However, I am happy with what I was able to achieve at club and national level” he confessed.
Abd’Allah therefore urged upcoming football players in the north to cultivate the good habit of hard work and commitment as he said so many of them are highly talented.
“Players in the north are highly talented but they do not want to endure hardship. One of the main reasons Southerners go very far in football is because they persevere. They are ready to endure hardship. They struggle a lot even, if they don’t know how to play,” observed the former Sharks of Port-Harcourt player.
Also speaking on his brief stay in the Super Eagles, ex-Ranchers Bees burly striker, Abubakar Balarabe said he didn’t play up to his potentials because he was discriminated against by some bigwigs in the then NFA and the national team.
According to him, he was one of those consumed by the overbearing influence on the team by Late Stephen Keshi, ‘the Big Boss’ who allegedly decided the fate of most of the players in the then Super Eagles.
“I was supposed to be in the Algiers 1990 squad because I played actively in the qualifying series. I scored some of the goals.
“However, during that time Late Stephen Keshi was the link between the then NFA and those of us who were playing in Belgium. Unfortunately, players who refused to bow to the ‘big Boss’ as Keshi was called faced serious obstacles.
“Most times, the NFA would contact him concerning our invitations but he would not inform me that I was invited. I would hear later that they had left for Nigeria. And the NFA too never asked why I didn’t come to Nigeria.
Balarabe said the last straw the broke the camel’s back was when he was dropped for Owubokiri when Eagles were to prosecute an AFCON qualifying match.
“What made me to give up any hope of playing for the Super Eagles again was when I was dropped from starting line up for Richard Owubokiri. We were to play the AFCON qualifier in Ibadan against Cameroon.
“I had arrived very early in camp and was well prepared but I was asked to drop to the bench for a player who just came into the camp from Portugal. From that day, I knew I wasn’t needed any more in the team,” he explained.
Balarabe, however, said he is surprised that northern players are still in the periphery of the Super Eagles. He said they are not yet playing in some of the big clubs in Europe.
“I am not surprised that northerners are not in the Super Eagles because not many of them are playing in Europe. This is part of the problem. They have to work harder to get in some of the big clubs in Europe,” he said.
Also speaking Salihu who played four times for the Super Eagles under Coach Amodu Shuaibu said although he didn’t last long, he was quite satisfied with what he achieved with the national team.
“I played under Late Amodu Shaibu in the Super Eagles. I played like four matches for the senior national team. I featured more prominently in the national U-23 team.
“I didn’t play for long in the Super Eagles because there were lot of quality and experienced players in the team at that time. However, it was a privilege playing for the Super Eagles,” he stated.
However, for Haruna, the younger of the two Babangidas who played for the Super Eagles, he made only one appearance for the national team because he was not ready to offer bribe to be invited.
The former Shooting Stars of Ibadan petit striker who played for over eleven clubs in Europe said he didn’t understand why he should bribe to serve his fatherland.
“I don’t know about other northern players but my own case is a funny one. I was playing in good European teams but anytime they were to invite players to the national team, they were asking me to send some money to the coaches before I would be invited.
“I refused to do that because I preferred to be invited on merit. I didn’t understand why someone would sit in Nigeria and ask me to send him $10,000 or $20,000 to be invited to the Super Eagles.
“I wanted to play for Nigeria but I wasn’t ready to go to that extent because it didn’t make sense to me,” he said.
‘Yaro Yaro’, another exceptionally talented footballer of his generation from the north who didn’t last long in the Super Eagles said he never experienced any discrimination in the national team.
He said what he achieved was willed by God so he will forever be grateful. “I first played for the Super Eagles in the 1998 Lunar New Year Cup, also known as Carlsberg Cup in Hong Kong. I scored the goal that gave Nigeria 1-0 victory over Iran in the semi-finals. The Super Eagles went on to beat the host 2-0 to lift the trophy for the first time.
“I went on to play few more matches for the Super Eagles but my stay was not very long because Nigeria is blessed with so many talents. It is always a privilege to play for the Super Eagles,” said the assistant coach of Kano Pillars FC.
The former football stars from the north were however unanimous in their conviction that the region is blessed with talented footballers who only need a change in attitude and orientation in order to secure juicy deals in Europe and possible invitations to the Super Eagles.
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