As heated debate and varying reactions continue trailing the home-based Eagles’ inability to qualify for next year’s Championship of African Nations (CHAN 2020), former national team star, Friday Ekpo has advocated a situation in which players from the lower division Nigerian National League (NNL) are included in the squad in future.
While many analysts believe the CHAN Eagles’ failure is due to inactivity in the top-flight Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL), Ekpo is of a view that good players can also be procured for the squad from the NNL and amateur cadre.
The former Calabar Rovers and FC 105 of Gabon star, who was part of Nigeria’s bronze medal-winning team to Senegal ’92 Africa Cup of Nations and has previously worked as head coach at Akwa United of Uyo, wondered why players from the NPFL are also always under consideration for invitations to the under-17 national team, Golden Eaglets.
He reasoned further during Brila FM’s Sports Machine that overdependence on the NPFL for players in the Nigerian youth teams, including under-20 Flying Eagles and under-23, Olympic Eagles means they may end being overlapped in vitiations to all the squads at the same time.
The ex-international former midfielder concluded with a verdict that, with Nigeria’s inability to qualify for CHAN 2020, a new direction has to be sought in the quest for home-based players and he insists the NNL have a key role to play in this regard, considering that clubs in that division of the domestic scene have players who are younger and determined to succeed.
Ekpo added: “Now that we have failed to qualify for CHAN, we should start looking at the way forward. We have been looking too much at the top division of the league. When they want to call under-17, they go to the premier league, when they want to get under-20 they go to the premier league. What happens to the NNL?
“When we want to pick players for the national team we always think of the premier league. What about the NNL? What about the amateur league? We have to develop; all levels of our league to promote our football and help the national team. Now that we cannot qualify for CHAN, we have to look at the Nigerian league from all the divisions we have in this country.”