By Alexander Johnson Adejoh
Young, talented, able to slot into multiple positions on the pitch, Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka is the perfect example of the foreign-born player of Nigerian origins that the Super Eagles need.
But in what has become a change in approach, the Nigeria Football Federation says it will be up the player and others with dual nationality who are eligible to represent Nigeria to decide whether to represent the country.
NFF President, Amaju Pinnick said in an Instagram Live chat with the federation’s official channel, that players would not be begged to represent Nigeria.
‘There are many players that play like Bukayo Saka in Nigeria. We don’t want to go begging any player,’ Pinnick said.
Pinnick’s statement is indicative of the NFF’s new strategy, following criticism of their methods of approaching dual nationals and elevating them over home-grown players.
Fides gathered that the new policy is simple: Talented dual nationals who have the required quality would be informed that they are welcome to play for Nigeria if they so choose.
But after that initial approach, the choice of representing Nigeria will be down to them. And the NFF will only engage again if the player reaches out, especially those like England-born Saka who have already represented one country at junior level and are looking to switch.
Fides recalls that teenager Bukayo Saka was born in England and has represented the Three Lions at youth level. Will he pick Nigeria in the long term? Nigerians wonder.
Pinnick added, ‘The Super Eagles is a very prestigious brand and we need to keep it that way. Just because a player is born or raised abroad does not mean they should automatically be invited.
‘We will monitor them, and those who are good enough and fit into the areas that the team needs will be approached, but after that, it all be up to them to come back to us if they are interested.
‘If they do, we all work with them through the process of change of nationality. If they don’t, we will wish them well,’.
Saka is one such player who ticks every single box. Over and above his quality and versatility, the teen also fits perfectly into a position of need for the Super Eagles, at left back, Fides discovered.
In his four years as Super Eagles coach, the left back position is one that Gernot Rohr has struggled to fill. Elderson Echiejile, Bryan Idowu, and lately Jamilu Collins have all had shots at being the regular occupants of the position.
So far, Collins is the only one who has gained some measure of the German’s trust, with Ola Aina filling in when needed. However, Fides noticed that the coach continues to explore options.
And this is where Saka would fit in. Not only has he shown great defensive ability in his breakout season with Arsenal, the 18-year-old has also shown offensive capabilities, with four goals and 18 assists.
Nigeria team sources told Newsmen that Saka has been approached, and it is now up to him to decide. It is a decision that the youngster is currently wrestling with.
Bukayo Saka, who played for England’s under 19 side as recently as 2019 at the European Championships, has not had a senior call up foremother England or Nigeria.
Reacting to the development, Saka noted that it was a tough choice, ‘I’m happy to have represented England at youth level but I’m also proud of my Nigerian heritage from my parents.
‘We haven’t been picked by any team so it’s about staying humble and when the time comes we’ll make the decision.’