In as much as football players from northern Nigeria have never featured prominently in the senior national team, beginning from the Green Eagles to now Super Eagles, the situation is clearly going from bad to worse.
Available records have shown that from 1963 to date, only seven players from the core-north have featured for the senior national team in the Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON. This definitely does not reflect the talents that abound in the region.
Players from the north who have been to the AFCON with the Eagles are Annas Ahmed , Racca Rovers (1978), Shefiu Mohammed, Racca Rovers, Kano (1980), Ibrahim Mohammed and Ali Baba (1984), Abdul Aminu, El-Kanemi Warriors (1990 & 1992).
Others are Garba Lawal (2000, 2002, 2004 &2006), Tijani Babangida (2000 &2002), Sani Kaita (2006 &2010). Although some like Ahmed Yaro Yaro, the Kano Pillars legend, Dahiru Sadi, and a host of others featured for the Super Eagles, they didn’t make it to any of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Unlike the 1980 squad that had Shefiu Mohammed, no player from the north was a member of the victorious Super Eagles team at the 1994 and 2013 editions of the AFCON in Tunisia and South Africa.
At the moment, Shehu Abdullahi who plays for Bursaspor in the Turkish league is the only player from the core-north who is an integral member of the present Super Eagles squad. He is poised to make his AFCON debut in June.
It may be argued that Ahmed Musa, the newly announced substantive captain of the Super Eagles should make the list of northerners in the team but it is an open secret that even as he was born and bred in the north, Musa has Edo blood flowing in his veins.
Thus, Abdullahi, a former junior international and former Kano Pillars defensive midfielder who hails from Sokoto State is a lone ranger ‘representing’ the core-north in the Super Eagles.
Unless another northerner miraculously sneaks into the team between now and June, Shehu will be the only player from the north with the Super Eagles for the 2019 AFCON in Egypt.
Trust Sports, therefore, investigated to unravel the reasons behind the continued absence of northern players in the Super Eagles. There is no denying the fact that the north is blessed with talented football players with the game enjoying massive followership.
Several reasons given by former internationals from the north and other football analysts revolved around religious and cultural inhibitions, absence of powerful football agents, unprofessional attitude and failure of successive national team coaches to beam their searchlights up north.
According to them, these factors have combined effectively to impede the progress of talented players like Alhaji Gero, Sadiq Umar, Usman Mohammed, Aminu Umar, Musa Mohammed, Gambo Mohammed, Rabiu Ali and a host of others who are still struggling to play their ways into the mainstream Super Eagles, Daily Trust reports.
A former international and present Coordinator of the National U-23 Eagles, Dahiru Sadi said it has been hard for many northerners to make it to the Super Eagles because they don’t have powerful agents who would market them to the top clubs in Europe.
“One of the factors is that there are no influential football agents in the north to push our players into European markets. For instance, agents in the south can spend as much as N1m to N2million to get their players into the junior national teams.
“In the north, even N10,000 can stop a player from attending a scouting programme because the parents don’t see the need to spend such money. They do not know that it is big business. There is more awareness about this in the south.
“The truth is that when players get professional contracts in Europe, it becomes easier for them to play in the national teams.”
Sadi also noted that most players from the north are easily contented and hardly accept to leave their familiar terrains to face life elsewhere.
“There is also the ‘I don’t care attitude’ of the Hausa man. Let me give you an example. I once took a very good player to Lobi Stars. Although they had completed their registration for the season, he was asked to stay and wait for mid-season.
“There was arrangement for him to be collecting N30 per month for his upkeep. This boy didn’t stay. When I met him in Kaduna, he told me that his mother was building a house and asked him to come back and monitor the construction work. I asked him, won’t you work so that you can build your own house?.
“So the players are talented but they must change their mentality and be ready to face challenges outside their immediate environment. And they need agents to push them,” concluded the former Ranchers Bees and Abiola Babes midfield maestro.
Garba Lawal is inarguably the most successful player in the north. He won an Olympic gold medal in 1996, represented Nigeria at two editions of the FIFA World Cup (1998 &2002), and featured at four editions of the AFCON from 2000 to 2006.
He said players from the north are not in the mainstream of the Super Eagles because they are not playing for some of the big clubs in the top football leagues in Europe.
The former Julius Berger of Lagos and Roda JC of Holland player also said most northern players lack the required discipline, commitment and fighting spirit to compete at the highest level.
“I always take out sentiments when discussing this topic. Where are the players playing? Once they are not playing in the top leagues, you don’t expect them to make the national team.
“If you check in England, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Holland, Italy, who is playing there? They are not there. So I keep asking where are the northern players? What are they doing?.
“Some are highly talented but lack discipline and patience to overcome difficult times. I may be right, I may be wrong. When I was in the national U-20, I faced a lot of challenges but I perserevered.
“For the three seasons I spent in Julius Berger, there was no season we had less than 60 registered players. As a teenager, I faced challenges but with determination and self discipline, I succeeded. I believed in myself.
“There will be change only if our boys learn how to be patient, courageous and disciplined. Patience is an important virtue in life. You may be doing your best but if the coach decides not to use you, you must be patient,” he advised.
Lawal also disagreed with Sadi on his position that northern players are not thriving due to lack of ‘influential football agents’.
He said “During our time, we had no football agents yet we were able to play at the highest level. Most times, the clubs’ agent will see you and tell the club chairman that a good player is there.
“Despite the odds, some of us were committed and determined to succeed. It is not all about agents,” he opined.
A former NFF presidential aspirant and proprietor of the defunct Jos City Raiders, Hon. Lumumba Dah Adeh also expressed concern that despite the talents that abound in the north, players from the region hardly last, not to talk of playing for the Super Eagles.
He recalled with nostalgia that while growing up in Jos, he played alongside northern youths who had amazing football skills but didn’t last the distance.
Lumumba said most times, religious and cultural beliefs combine to kill such talents.
“I also wonder why the north despite the abundant talents has consistently failed to produce quality players for the Super Eagles.
“When we were growing up, it was common to see Hausa/Fulani boys with the most incredible football skills. But all of a sudden, they would stop playing.
“Sometimes, it is as a result of cultural or religious beliefs. Marriage alone is enough to stop someone from playing football.
“As a married man, wearing shorts to play football might be seen as degrading,” he noted.
On his part, Kano Pillars legend, Gambo Mohammed said talented players in the north will continue to be shut out of the Super Eagles as long as national team coaches over depend on foreign based players.
A former Super Eagles player, Gambo represented Nigeria at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil under late coach Stephen Keshi.
“It is not that some of us are not willing to leave the north to play elsewhere. We are interested. I have played for the Eagles and Rabiu Ali has done same.
“The problem is that most of the coaches prefer to make use of foreign based players. They don’t have confidence in home-based players.
“Late Stephen Keshi gave some of us the chance to play for the Super Eagles. He even took some home-based players to the 2014 World Cup.
Gambo, therefore, advised that national team coaches should try to comb the north in search of talented players and also encourage them to play for the Super Eagles.