Akwa United’s emergence as champions of the 2020/21 season of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) for the first time in their history was met with wild celebrations. As they performed their victory parade on the streets of Uyo, they left some fans wondering how many players in the history-making squad will be at the club when they start their CAF Champions League campaign.
Nigerians love football, and they support their local leagues. This can be seen in how they follow the local teams’ performances. They also wager on many of the local matches on the top sports betting sites in the country. This trend has also seen competition among the betting sites become very stiff. As a result, they have introduced exclusive promotions, like the sign up bonuses, to attract new bettors to the site. Meanwhile, the fans are worried about the rate at which the league is losing players to foreign clubs.
The fans have every right to worry. As we speak, at least four players in the squad have already left the country to search for greener pastures abroad. This is a common trend in most clubs in the NPFL as most of their players move abroad. Some players even go to remote places like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar to pursue their professional careers.
A recent report by FIFA revealed that Nigerian clubs sold 1904 players in international transfers in the last 10 years. The report also ranked Nigeria 17th globally and first in Africa for the number of players moving abroad in the past decade.
Why do the players prefer foreign leagues?
Some Nigerian football pundits argue that the NFF shares responsibility for the current situation. For instance, some players in the local league are owed a backlog of salaries and benefits. At the same time, they see their mates who went abroad return home in better circumstances which harden their resolve to go and play overseas.
The NFF responded by stating that they wanted to stop players from joining lower-ranked leagues to save the NPFL. But, unless they can sort out the economic issues of the league, their attempts may not bear any fruits.
Playing for the National Team
Many Nigerian players believe that playing in the home league will not earn them calls to the National Team. Players playing in European Leagues seem to be given priority when the Super Eagles coach is making his team selection.
In this sense, players who want to play for the Super Eagles want to play abroad to improve their chances of getting a call up to the national team.
The Influence of Football Agents
Nowadays, most players have agents. The responsibility of these agents is to get the best deal for their clients. As a result, they are always searching for the next best deal for the footballers they represent. Their influence has played a key role in increasing the number of Nigerian players going abroad. Sometimes they even advice their clients to go to lower-ranked leagues as a pathway to top European Leagues.
The bottom line is that Nigerian players will continue moving abroad as long as the NPFL continues being mismanaged and clubs fail to honor player contracts. As things stand, they are still a long way from achieving this. Therefore, more Nigerian players will still be moving abroad in the foreseeable future.