The Nigeria national team might not have reached the highs of the 1990s in recent times, but one thing is clear in the plethora of talent raised both and home and abroad.
Ike Ugbo's allegiance to Nigeria, a new headache for Gernot Rohr[Pulse Contributor Opinion]
The Anglo-Nigerian forward has hinted at his intentions to play for the Super Eagles.
Indeed, under coach Gernot Rohr, there's been a wide mix of players, some who have been mainstays such as Maduka Okoye, William Troost-Ekong, Wilfred Ndidi, Alex Iwobi and Victor Osimhen. While others like Jamilu Collins, Chidozie Awaziem and Ola Aina, have been in and out. For some like Peter Olayinka and Cyriel Dessers, it's just one or two caps to their name and there hasn't been any other invite ever since.
The number of players eligible to play for Nigeria now is at an all-time high especially those born and raised abroad, in particular the United Kingdom. One just has to look at Arsenal’s academy and find out up to 11 names of Nigerian origin in Bukayo Saka, Folarin Balogun,
Arthur Okonkwo, Miguel Azeez, Tim Akinola, Ryan Alebiosu, Nathan Butler-Oyedeji, Joel Ideho, Mazeed Ogungbo, James Olayinka and Zach Awe. Move to Chelsea and there's Tino Anjorin. In Liverpool, we have got Sheyi Ojo. At Manchester United, it’s Shola Shoretire, Ma Oyedele and Habeeb Ogunneye. West Ham United has Mipo Odubeko, Aji Alese and Armstrong Oko-Flex.
It's really an exhaustive list.
Not all can play for Nigeria and some will take the path of playing for England as recently seen with Dele Alli, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Saka.
Some are genuinely interested in playing for the three-time African champions, one of which is Ike Ugbo. The 22-year-year-old was on the ranks of Chelsea from youth before spending time out on loan at Barnsley, Milton Keynes Dons, Scunthorpe United, Roda JC in the Netherlands and Cercle Brugge in Belgium, finally settling permanently at Genk this summer.
He teams up with lanky forward Paul Onuachu and Ugbo has already made a good account of himself by scoring on his debut in a 1-0 win over Anderlecht in the Belgian Jupiler League.
Now that he looks settled in his career, Ugbo has given an indication that he is in the process of pledging allegiance to the play for Nigeria.
“I chose Nigeria and right now, we're getting the papers in order,” Ugbo said.
“The chance of playing at the Fifa World Cup is part of it. I think I have more chances with Nigeria than with England.
“Also, I grew up with images of the [Nigeria] national team and always followed their strikers, especially the guys who came to England".
It is nice that Ugbo wants to play for Nigeria, joining the likes of British-raised players like Iwobi, Semi Ajayi, Aina, Joe Aribo and Michael Olise, who took that bold decision.
Ugbo's decision however creates a bit of a headache for Rohr as he has a number of forwards on his plate. There's Kelechi Iheanacho, Osimhen, Onuachu, Terem Moffi, and not forgetting Simy Nwankwo who is hardly called up, likewise Peter Olayinka, Emmanuel Dennis and Cyriel Dessers. There's even former Under-17 star Taiwo Awoniyi - who is blazing hot with Union Berlin, waiting in the ranks. He is constantly overlooked by Rohr with the Franco-German tactician admitting there are just too many names to pick from.
“There are people calling for Awoniyi and other players. We can only invite three strikers. We already have Osimhen, Onuachu & Moffi,” Rohr said prior to Nigeria’s World Cup qualifier against Liberia.
“There’s also Kelechi Iheanacho, which makes it difficult for Awoniyi. He’s a good player, he will surely get his chance.”
How then does Ugbo fit in once he is eligible to play for Nigeria?
It's going to be one hell of a task for Rohr especially as the 2021 African Cup of Nations is on the horizon and the 2022 World Cup qualifiers is in full swing already. Rohr will need his strongest, fittest and trusted squad available. He can't be experimenting with players as it has tendency to backfire and cost valuable points and results.
Ugbo might therefore not be an instant fixture once he's available for call-up. There are presently more experienced and established names in front of him, hence he might just have to wait on the queue for his turn, when it is right and ripe.
Kunle is an avid writer with interest in topics on sports, politics and health. His articles have featured in Goal.com, Opera News and Vanguard News. He holds a Bachelors and Masters degree in International Relations and is an advocate for people living with Hydrocephalus and other neurological conditions.
Pulse Contributors is an initiative to highlight diverse journalistic voices. Pulse Contributors do not represent the company Pulse and contribute on their own behalf.
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