Changing Lanes: Switching allegiance from country of birth to country of origin
International football may be slowly losing the fight to club football, but there is still something quite sacred about the national team of any nation. This is true particularly for African countries, and even more so for Nigeria, the most populous black nation on the planet.
Nigerians are a proud people, full of enterprise, and present all over the world. Inevitably, the issue of players with dual nationality has come up time and again through the years.
Even now, the Super Eagles boasts the likes of Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi, William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun, all of whom were eligible to represent other nations before pledging allegiance to the land of their parentage.
Moses and Iwobi, for instance, were members of the England youth setup in their teenage years.
The Chelsea man though opted for Nigeria, debuting in 2012, and has since won the Nations Cup, graced a World Cup, and come on in leaps and bounds since. Iwobi’s switch is more recent, but he too has become a mainstay in the Super Eagles in only a short time, and has seen his career blossom with Arsenal.
It would appear it is this same path that Jordon Ibe desires to tread. The 20-year-old Bournemouth winger has reportedly indicated his interest in the Nigeria national team, a move which would ordinarily be greeted with pride and acclaim back home.
However, the former Liverpool youngster appeared to burn his bridges just over a year ago, when he was approached by Nigeria’s football authorities with a view to securing his allegiance.
His refusal, and decision to pitch his tent with the England national set-up, was a virtual slap in the face of not only the officials, but of an entire nation.
In light of this, his sudden change of heart has been greeted with suspicion and a healthy dose of mockery as a result of the player’s inability to correctly pronounce his very Nigerian surname. It seems almost a conscious rejection of his Nigerian identity; how then can he be trusted?
Interestingly, had Ibe paid attention to history, he may have thought better of turning his back on Nigeria. The likes of Gabriel Agbonlahor, Nedum Onuoha and Carlton Cole, to name a few, have at various times preferred to wait on a chance to represent the Three Lions, rather than declare for Nigeria. Agbonlahor, eligible for Scotland as well, alleged he was not approached directly, and felt more at home being English.
Offered a golden opportunity to play at the 2010 World Cup, Warri-born Onuoha similarly fancied his luck, while Carlton Cole came close to playing for Nigeria, before pulling out at the last minute. All three saw their prospects plummet soon after.
The same goes for Patrick Owomoyela and Sidney Sam, both of whom preferred Germany under Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Low, respectively. Both were capped and swiftly cast aside, at times when a Nigerian call-up could have seen them play at a World Cup.
So yes, there is a sense of history lining up in favour of those who have elected to turn out for Nigeria. However, this is not to say there is a moral obligation. That is the entire point of holding dual nationality: being able to decide which path is best for you.
That said, Ibe’s case is a bit hard to stomach.
The national team is a country’s pride, not an afterthought or a fall-back. Ibe’s stock has fallen considerably since those heady days of 2015, when it seemed the sky was the absolute limit.
Now no more in the discussion for England at any level, he comes slinking back, tail between his legs, requesting to have the cake he ate. It is a scenario that was tolerated, albeit grudgingly, in the case of Shola Ameobi, but the risk being run is that Nigeria takes on the appearance of a dumping ground.
In any case, whether or not he is welcomed back into the fold, there is already a plethora of options to select from, so he will have to wait in line.
The NFF President Amaju Pinnick has recently been vocal in his belief that Tammy Abraham and Ovie Ejaria, both of whom are highly-rated and presently playing in England, will pledge their international futures to Nigeria.
Pulling these moves off would be a massive coup for Nigeria, and the door will always be open for those who can improve the national team, irrespective of where they were born, provided the coach considers them assets. However, a player in Ibe’s present situation must now go beyond paying lip service and demonstrate total commitment to the cause, if he desires to be welcomed into the Green and White fold.