Go back just a few years and the Nigeria national team had players from some of the best club sides in European football. Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal were all representing clubs competing in the top European competition, the UEFA Champions League.
Now, the Super Eagles arguably have a better team. This golden generation of Nigerian talent has created a squad far more balanced and competitive than we’ve seen in a long time but it’s still missing something.
One noticeable absence is that very few of the players in this Nigerian side are competing in the Champions League. Only a couple of players in the most recent Nigeria squad are taking part in this season’s competition. Stephen Odey at Genk, Victor Osimhen at Lille, Emmanuel Dennis for Club Brugge, and midfielder Peter Olayinka who is playing for Slavia Prague.
These are far from the biggest sides in the competition. A quick look at the betting odds will prove that much. Club Brugge are far from the favourites to win the competition with many bookmakers putting them around the 1000/1 mark. It doesn’t end there. Some bookies are offering odds as high as 5000/1 for Genk or Slavia Prague to win the competition.
But it’s Osimhen’s Lille which are the most exciting Champions League side with a current Nigerian international. They’re around 4/1 to win their next match and leapfrog opponents Valencia in Group H. That puts them in contention to qualify for the next stage of the competition but they’re out at around 25/1 to do so. That may change so be sure to get all the Champions League 2019/20 betting predictions and offers and stay up to date.
Clearly, something is wrong for the Nigerian side. A quick look through the FIFA World Cup Archives reveals that the most successful international teams are typically made up of players who are competing at the top of the UEFA Champions League each season. The 2010 Spanish World Cup side was made up mostly of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid players and in 2014 it was a dominant Bayern Munich side. Even the 2018 France World Cup squad had key players like Antoine Griezmann and Raphael Varane who had played in numerous Champions League finals.
But, of course, many players in this Nigeria side are still just starting their careers. The oldest outfield player called up to the Nigeria national team squad to face Brazil in October was just 26 years old. The majority of this squad is between the ages of 20 and 23.
And that’s not to say that this situation won’t change. Many members of this squad are supremely talented and look ready to make that next step. Players like Wilfred Ndidi and Alex Iwobi could easily step into a Champions League side right now and are only improving with each passing season.
It is a little troubling not to see too many Nigerian players represented in the UEFA Champions League. National teams are usually built on core groups of players who are competing regularly to win Europe’s premier club competition. The few current Super Eagles players who are involved in the competition are involved with some of the lesser sides. But that should soon change. Many of the stars of this golden generation of Nigerian talent are still in the infancy of their careers. In a few years, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some of them representing Europe’s very best clubs.”