Why Nigerian players are not involved in the big transfer moves

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Despite extensive rumours, Nigeria’s high-profile players are largely still at the clubs they were at last season. Why have so few deals been done?
African players have largely been out of the transfer headlines this summer.

There was Serge Aurier’s move to Paris Saint-Germain, of course, while Didier Drogba has returned to Chelsea, but largely, the gossip columns have been dominated by the likes of Luis Suarez, James Rodriguez, Diego Costa and Alexis Sanchez.

When the news of Ideye Brown’s move to English Premier League side West Bromwich Albion was revealed, many Nigerian fans celebrated it as a good move. Others, however, considered it demotion—Ideye was, after all, leaving Dynamo Kyiv, domestic giants and regular European competitors for a team that struggled to avoid the drop to the Championship last season.

During the World Cup, there were reports linking some of the Eagles’ top performers to top European clubs, but with the EPL season only days away, those moves have largely yet to materialise.

Kenneth Omeruo, arguably Nigeria’s best outfield player at the World Cup, returned back to Middlesbrough, where he had spent the second half of last season.

This particular transfer move raised a few eyebrows, as many Super Eagles fans struggled to find any viable reason behind his parent club, Chelsea’s, decision to send one of their highly-rated youngsters to a Championship side rather than earn some pre-season playing time, like Kurt Zouma or Nathan Ake.

Similarly, the likes of Michel Babatunde and Emmanuel Emenike were linked with moves to major European leagues but, at the time of writing, remain at the same clubs they were at last season. John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Ogenyi Onazi have all also been named as transfer targets for one side or another, but the reported interest is yet to lead to anything substantial.

The question many are asking is “Why then are the Super Eagles’ stars finding it difficult to land decent moves to bigger clubs?”

For some time now it has seemed that players from the African continent are less highly-rated than their compatriots from Europe and South America.

It’s obvious that the European media’s player ratings is part of the reason why clubs generate interest in them.

Are African players truly getting the credit they deserve?

John Obi Mikel has been linked with a move away, like teammate Ashley Cole, but remains a Chelsea player

For example, at the World Cup, after the Round of 16, Omeruo was statistically above many more experienced and established centre-backs in Europe, but he rarely got rave reviews and ratings. A player like Raphael Varane, however, who made fewer tackles, blocks and interceptions despite playing a game more, was nominated for the FIFA Young Player of the Year award.

Such a nomination would surely have made Ômeruo a major transfer target for most European clubs.

Everton, after being linked with Onazi, went ahead to sign Bosnia midfielder Muhamed Besic. No doubt Besic is not a better option than Onazi, who had a better tackle-completion rate, made a higher frequency of key passes and even managed a better shot accuracy.

80 per cent of Besic’s passes at the World Cup were sideways and backwards. Onazi also offers an appreciable amount of experience, having played for SS Lazio in Serie A for two seasons now. Besic, however, only joined Everton from the relative backwater of the Hungarian league.

Are African players being acknowledged as they should be? One suspects that Yaya Toure would agree with my cynicism.

It’s a well-known fact that before most of the clubs competing in Europe’s top five leagues bid for a player, his club records, and not only his performance in tournaments like the World Cup, are considered.
This is where many of Nigeria’s World Cup stars fall short.

For instance, a player like Emmanuel Emenike, who scored 12 times and provided nine assists last season for Fenerbahce in a less-reputable league, cannot be considered a prolific striker. It may well represent a major gamble to recruit someone who is not “tried and tested” despite his seemingly abundant qualities. He might have also provided two assists at the World Cup, but he also failed to find the back of the net and this does not augur well for his EPL transfer ambitions.

The transient and sometimes unstable conditions that African players need to work in to make the leap from the continent’s domestic leagues to one of Europe’s “Big Five” are not favourable, and too often, would-be successes fall by the wayside. Just look at someone like Stephen Worgu, one or two bad career moves, and we’re still waiting for him to make that long-awaited transition to one of Europe’s major leagues.

It may never happen for him, but surely a player of comparable ability, raised in a European nation, would have been afforded every chance to succeed.

In summary, one can only hope that the Super Eagles players will have an impressive season with their various clubs. This, coupled with a fantastic outing at the 2015 Afcon, should help make a good case for moves to bigger clubs.

Perhaps in a year’s time there will be many more Nigerian players celebrating transfers to major European sides.

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