In the beginning, players eligible to represent Nigeria frequently delivered a brutal snub to the national team.
John Fashanu, who was born in London to a Nigerian father and a Guyanese mother, chose to represent England in 1989.
He made only two appearances against Chile and Scotland in the 1989 Rous Cup.
Fashanu explained his decision many years later.
“I was in London with my son and this Nigerian came up to me and said: ‘You are a bloody traitor to your own country.’
“Then I went to a bar with him. I talked it through with him.
“And I told him that I have come to Nigeria three times to play for my motherland. I was not invited to come to Nigeria but the late MKO put me in his private jet and said to the coaches that ‘this guy can play football and I’m going to give him to Nigeria,’” Fashanu said on the Special Delivery podcast hosted by ex-Eagles goalkeeper, Emmanuel Babayaro and Matthew Edafe.
His short-lived career with the Three Lions did not discourage a host of other players however.
Tammy Abraham, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Fikayo Tomori, Carlton Cole and Dele Alli all chose England over Nigeria.
Of all these players, Alli made the most appearances (37), scoring three goals, before his career altogether went up in smoke.
Abraham (11), Agbonlahor (3), Tomori (3) and Cole (1) barely had an international career.
It is probably the reason other players with Nigerian heritage began to consider the three-time African champions.
In recent years, Alex Iwobi, Calvin Bassey, Victor Moses, Leon Balogun, Ola Aina, Maduka Okoye and Ademola Lookman have turned down other countries to represent the Super Eagles.
Not only did they become mainstays in the team, the players constantly felt the love of their own.
However, it does appear the trend has reversed itself again.
During the last international week in June, Folarin Balogun and Eberechi Eze pledged their allegiance to the USA and England, respectively.
Balogun, who was the subject of a three-way battle between Nigerian, England and USA, has already gone on to score his first goal for the Americans.
Eze, who has actually trained with the Nigerian national team in the past, was called up in May 2021 to the senior England squad as part of Gareth Southgate’s 33-man provisional squad for Euro 2020, but on the same day, he got injured during a training session.
In 2019, the then-president of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, met with Eze in an attempt to persuade him.
The Crystal Palace midfielder at the time claimed he was undecided on who to represent, but Pinnick stated: “It appears to me that he would want to play for Nigeria, but again, there is a lot of pressure on these players who play in England”.
In May 2023, Southgate again called Eze up to the England squad. This time, he made his senior debut on June 16, coming on as a 70th-minute substitute for James Maddison in a 4–0 UEFA Euro 2024 qualifying win against Malta. This appearance meant he could no longer represent Nigeria.
So why have they chosen other countries over the Eagles, even when others before them barely won four caps?
Deji Faremi, co-owner of Busy Buddies and a sports analyst, tells DAILY POST: “Obviously it’s very important that the national team is attractive – not just on the pitch, but off it.
“On the pitch, we can be much better than we are currently. Off it too.
“The pitches we play on, the stories that emanate from the national team, the politics in the football federation at all levels of our football. All of these factors are really key.
“But it’s beyond just that. Players will choose countries they feel more familiar with. Eze and Balogun don’t feel Nigerian, and so it’s not surprising they didn’t choose us.
“The way to mitigate this is to catch them young.”
This raises the question on the football structures and scouting networks the NFF has to put in place, even for grassroot development.
Creating an enabling environment to not only identify talents, but provide basic coaching and subsequent integration of players into the national squads.
Real Madrid defender, David Alaba, recently met with President Bola Tinubu in Paris, France.
“I wanted to play for Nigeria but I must confess that there was no formal approach for me. A scout actually discussed that with me.
“I was excited because of my dad. He was a fan of Sunday Oliseh when Oliseh played for FC Koln. As a kid, I loved to watch Victor Agali in the jersey of Hansa Rostock,” Alaba said.
Alaba’s father, George, is a prince from Ogere Remo, Ogun State, Nigeria.
Despite his roots, the 31-year-old opted to represent the Austrian national team.
He has made 101 appearances with 15 goals to his name.
Alaba is one of the few making a name for himself in other colours.
Another is Bukayo Saka. At just 21 years, the England winger is one of the best attackers in the game.
Saka has scored 31 goals in 135 appearances for Arsenal and 11 times in 28 appearances for England. His first career hat-trick came in a 7–0 win in a Euro 2024 qualifying game against North Macedonia last month.
What could have been.
Faremi offers a solution to the NFF so the country can stop losing top talents like Saka.
“Spot these guys while they are much younger and sell the idea of Nigeria to them while following up through their development,” he added.