This article explores the following question:
How many players or percentage of players are bypassing league football in Nigeria but end up appearing in significant number of games for the Super Eagles?
This question arises because in the last decade or so, many Nigerian players are moving directly from academy football in Nigeria to professional football in Europe. This question looks at only the best of such players who bypass the local league. We do this because our data include only players good enough to play for the Super Eagles. Ultimately, answering the question gives us an idea of how much football may be changing in Nigeria.
It is important to note that determining what academy football is or is not in Nigeria is not so simple. In Nigeria, some of the academy teams play in the national league, usually at the lower tiers of the league. For instance, FC Ebedei which produces a large number of youth players, plays in the lower tier of the Nigerian league system moving from Division I (2nd tier) to the Nationwide National League (3rd tier). It is currently in the third tier. The same applies to 36 Lions of Lokoja (formerly Lagos-based). Then there are academies like Kwara Football Academy (KFA) that participates in the Shell Cup for secondary school students.
We defined "significant number of games" as at least 10 appearances for the Super Eagles and only players who appeared between 2005 and present are used as part of the database. We found 62 players who met the eligibility for this brief study. Notably, some of those that failed to meet eligibility include Leon Balogun, Raheem Lawal, Odion Ighalo, and Lukman Haruna. None of them made up to 10 appearances for the national team. Further, we created three categories of players as follows: those who were or remain at a Nigerian league club, those who were in Nigeria but did not play for a league club, and those who started their youth careers outside Nigeria.
The result is shown in the pie chart provided below. As many as 55 of the 62 (89%) players play or played for a local club in Nigeria that participates in the national league system, 5 of 62 (8%) play or played their youth football outside Nigeria before making the national team, and only 2 of 62 (3%) played youth football in Nigeria but had no experience of league football before going oversea. The two that we found were Nnamdi Oduamadi who left for Italy after being with Pepsi Academy and Joel Obi who also left a youth team in Nigeria before going to Italy. While the likes of Obafemi Martins and Ayo Makinwa have been mentioned to be in this category, both played at FC Ebedei which was in the lower tier of Nigeria's national league before both players left to join foreign-based clubs, as far as the data that we could find.
Who are those five who began their youth careers outside Nigeria? They were Dickson Etuhu, Victor Anichebe, Sone Aluko, Danny Shittu, and Victor Moses.