KESHI: Champion of the local boys

KESHI: Champion of the local boys
Sunday Mba celebrates the goal that wins Nigeria the 2013 AFCON

by Samm Audu

Wednesday Jun 08, 2016. 15:02

For Stephen Keshi, the players in the domestic league ought to be given a decent run in the national team and not be mere training materials to be used and dumped as soon as their overseas-based counterparts hit training camp.

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“It is a crime to overlook the players in the local league and depend on only those who have just gone beyond a country’s airport. If we only have to work with the foreign pros, then we could as well stop playing football,” he argued.

“I was a product of the league, so too players like (Daniel) Amokachi, Nwankwo Kanu and Jay Jay Okocha, and that is to show there is talent locally.”

It was this strong belief that helped him to qualify a predominately home-based Togo team to a first-ever 2006 World Cup.

And it was the core of the team of Nigeria league players – Sunday Mba, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Godfrey Oboabona, Ejike Uzoeneyi  and Reuben Gabriel – who will win the country a third AFCON crown in South Africa, 19 years since Nigeria’s last triumph in Tunisia.

Fittingly so, it was Mba, then playing for Warri Wolves, who fired home the championship winner against surprise package Burkina Faso to install himself as a household name in Nigeria.

It was not just the result, but the sheer commitment and risk Mba took upon himself to ensure Nigeria rule Africa again must be commended.

He simply put his body and soul on the line to spark off a victory party across a country of 170 million people.

All these came at a time when the debate was raging about the lack of commitment by the foreign pros to the national cause.

Keshi will again return to South Africa with a team of home-based players for the 2014 CHAN, where Nigeria finished third.

Rangers winger Uzoenyi, who did not get any playing time at the AFCON the previous, was the star of the tournament after which he signed a lucrative contract with top South African club Mamelodi Sundowns.

National team selectors will do well to continue to give players in the domestic championship like Ifeanyi Matthew (Kano Pillars), Chisom Chikatara (Abia Warriors), Ezekiel Bassey, Chima Akas (Enyimba) and Godwin Obaje (Wikki Tourists) a decent chance with the big boys.

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