England beats Nigeria in race to tie down Bukayo Saka
• As Southgate invites teenager to Three Lions
In a move that would tie down Bukayo Saka and make it difficult for him to switch allegiance to Nigeria in future, England has included the Arsenal striker in their squad to face Wales, Belgium and Denmark this month.
Super Eagles’ fans have been calling on the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to move fast and get the Arsenal star to toe the path earlier followed by Alex Iwobi and Joe Aribo by playing for the Eagles. But yesterday’s move by England Manager, Gareth Southgate, may have dashed such dreams.
Saka, 19, only made his England Under-21s debut last month but Southgate said he had been “impressed” with his progress through the Three Lions’ youth system.
“At times for Arsenal he has been very exciting,” Southgate said. “He is improving all the time – really high potential, really high quality.
“Everyone tells me he is intelligent and a really level-headed boy. It is an area of the pitch we are keen to look at a different profile of player and he can play a number of roles comfortably.”
Saka could still switch to Nigeria in future if he plays only in the game against Wales, which is an international friendly. But if he is selected for the matches against Belgium and Denmark, which are UEFA Nations League ties, he is completely ruled out of coming to the Super Eagles.
FIFA’s new eligibility law, which seeks to help players switch allegiance and represent a second national team allows players switch eligibility if they played a maximum of three times for the first national team — including tournament qualifying games — before they turned 21, and at least three years earlier.
The proposal would bar nationality switches for anyone who played at a “final tournament of the FIFA World Cup or a final tournament of a confederation competition.”
The existing FIFA rules have been used by many players born in Europe — who played in national age-group teams or friendly games — and switched to African countries where they have ties through their parents or grandparents.
Many Nigerians believe that Saka would be putting his international future at risk if he accepts the invite to play for England in the three games.
They point at the experience of such talented players of Nigerian descent as John Fashanu, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Nedum Onuoha, and Carlton Cole, who chose England ahead of Nigeria and were never called up by the Three Lions again after featuring in some inconsequential games.