Iwuala’s move to Esperance shows that home-based players advocates are fighting a lost battle against Rohr

In early August, the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) lost the services of arguably its best player to the Tunisian Ligue Professionnelle 1.

Anayo Iwuala left Enyimba to sign for Tunisian against Esperance on a three-year deal worth up to $50,000 per month.

The move is a good one for Anayo, not just for his playing career but also financially, as he was earning $1,000 at Enyimba.

However, while this is a fantastic move for the 22-year-old, it also shows the faults in the calls for more local league players in the Nigeria National team.

Since he assumed the role in 2016, Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr has had to deal with critics, who have consistently accused him of not giving NPFL players a chance in the national team.

Rohr has always maintained Nigeria’s best players are in Europe, but his critics believe home-based players should also be called up for national team games as that will develop the local league.

In fairness, Rohr has always been the right as the national team is not a charity place where invitations are sent out just because a player plays in the NPFL.

But despite the criticism, the former Burkina Faso manager has always stuck to his guns. But the more he remained defiant, the more the criticism grew.

It even got worse when the Sports Minister Sunday Dare criticised the German publicly. While the criticisms didn’t move Rohr, he did invite two NPFL players for Nigeria’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Benin and Lesotho in March.

The players were Anayo Iwuala, who was still with Enyimba then, and Adekunle Adeleke of Abia Warriors. It’s important to note that they were both called up because some European clubs failed to release their players due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Of the two home-based players invited, only Anayo got the chance to play in both games. The 22-year-old came on as a late substitute in both matches.

Three months later, Anayo was once again called up for the friendly matches against Cameroon, playing in both games, while he also led the home-based team in the loss to Mexico on July 4.

What followed after his back-to-back appearances is a move to Esperance. While it’ll be naive to suggest that his national team display is why he got signed, it played a role.

Anayo is actually a talented player and was one of Enyimba’s best players, but his appearance in the national team introduced him to a larger audience.

While that’s good for his career, it does not benefit the NPFL in any way. Although he hasn’t been invited to the latest squad, possible future invitations mean he won’t fall into the home-based category again.

What good is it if the NPFL cannot hold on to its best players? Anayo’s transfer proves that the Super Eagles team is simply an avenue for the home-based players to get a move abroad.

It’s a transit camp. If the home-based players use the Super Eagles as an avenue to seek a move abroad, how does it benefit the growth of the domestic league?

Now that Anayo is no longer a home-based player, Rohr has to invite another NPFL player if he wants to satisfy the critics.

Once he invites them and they also leave for better leagues, he calls up another set, which is an unending process that doesn’t develop the NPFL in any way.

It’s important to note Anayo moved to Tunisia, which means NPFL clubs cannot even stop their players from moving to fellow African teams.

Anayo is not the only player to leave the league in the last few weeks. Recently, Olisa Ndah also signed for Orlando Pirates from Akwa United. 

It’s more ironic that it came after the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick revealed the federation would only allow home-based players to leave for top leagues in Europe.

However, the recent developments have shown that they’ve no power to do that, and home-based players advocates are fighting a lost battle against Rohr.

Instead, the energy should be channelled into coming up with ways on how to develop the league, which is not rocket science.

Firstly, the NFF should find a way to make the games available on TV. Although they came up with the idea of the NPFL TV, it died a natural death.

However, ahead of next season, the focus should be on having the games broadcasted on national television. It’s hard to create value in something fans cannot see, which is why having the games on tv is really important.

Also, the players’ welfare needs to be an utmost priority. The league body needs to provide better working conditions for these players because without this, players will continue to seek moves to leagues where the conditions are favourable.

If the league body and NFF do not fix these problems, the league will always continue to deteriorate, and criticism of Rohr’s treatment of the home-based players won’t change that.

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