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The Tragedy of the Nigeria Players' Union

Nigeria
Read

Super Eagles need Mikel, Moses back

Nigeria
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 By Colin Udoh

Stephen Odey trialling in Europe at exactly the wrong time

The Nigerian league's top scorer, Stephen Odey, left MFM FC for trials with a club in Denmark.

Ordinarily, news of a Nigerian player's impending transfer from the domestic league to Europe would be greeted with some gaiety, revelry even.

One need not look too deep to understand why: greater exposure, better training facilities, more opportunity to compete against the best, sometimes a stepping stone to better moves and, of course, significantly higher wages, among other benefits.

None of that conviviality was in evidence when news broke last week that league top scorer Stephen Odey was on his way to Europe. Apparently, the forward was on his way to take part in trials. Trials!

The reception to the mood degenerated from bad to worse as information emerged that MFM FC striker's trials were in Denmark, at FC Midjytylland, a club on which a Nigerian semiprofessional side, FC Ebeide, regularly places players -- without the need for trials. Many in Nigerian football considered it humiliating that the top scorer in the country's premier league would be subjected to the indignity of trials with a club for which amateur players from Nigeria simply walk in.

With coach Gernot Rohr soon to name his full Nigerian squad for a friendly game against Corsica, then the African Nations Cup qualifier against South Africa, many in the Nigerian media have championed Odey's inclusion with gusto. He was generally believed to be one of the names to be included, despite Rohr's seeming reluctance to trust home-based talent. So Odey's decision to go off for trials in the middle of the season was egg in the faces of the media pack who had fought so long for him.

But there was worse to come. Reports in local media quoted former MFM FC chairman Godwin Enakhena as saying that the economic rights of the player, who has been with the club for the last three years, were owned by a third party.

Not only would this be in contravention of FIFA regulations on third-party ownership of player rights, but it would also flout domestic football regulations.

There are consequences everywhere. For both player and club.

In the short term, it could mean Odey's name would be chalked off from the Nigeria squad list. But there are more far-reaching consequences, and not just for the player.

One reason why previous Nigerian coaches have baulked at the idea of calling up local players is their lack of stability. One day they're tearing it up in the domestic league; the next, they are sneaking off to Europe for trials and end up losing both form and match fitness.

In his early days as Nigeria coach, the late Stephen Keshi tried to build his local-based team of talents around experienced right back Chibuzor Okonkwo, even making him captain. Within weeks of camp opening, Okonkwo had gone off on trials to Europe, disrupting Keshi's programme. The coach found it hard to forget and froze out Okonkwo, who fizzled out of the national team conversation. The player's trials also fizzled, as he failed to get a European contract.

And therein lies the conundrum for coaches: trying to plan a national team around players with a tendency to disappear at the first whistle from a European club.

It is even more vexing for the clubs that own the players. Odey's club, MFM FC, have been playing musical chairs with Plateau United for top spot in the league table. The young club have shown themselves to be genuine challengers, and Odey's goals are key to that.

With the league on a midseason break after a punishing schedule of two games a week, this was an opportunity for the league's most valuable property to get some much-needed rest and recuperation in preparation for what is usually a brutal second round. Instead, Odey has been off playing trial matches, which will undoubtedly leave him fatigued. Without his goals, MFM's challenge could well peter out and his stock would lose value.

Odey would have been better served by finishing the season with a sustained assault on Mfon Udoh's record of 23 goals. Instead, he may find himself reduced to another footnote, another statistic in Nigerian football's almost unending list of shooting stars who sizzle one day and burn out the very next.

And that would be a shame.

Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.

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