Nigeria Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick held what was generally described as an “extremely positive and encouraging” meeting with the manager of English Premiership side, Arsenal FC, Mr. Arsene Wenger on Tuesday.
The legendary manager met with the NFF supremo at his office at Arsenal FC’s training ground where a wide range of issues were discussed, including the rising stock of Nigerian-born players like Chuba Akpom and Semi Ajayi at the club.
After the meeting, Pinnick, who was accompanied by the new Special Envoy for the Federation on International Affairs, Tunde Adelakun, said: “As we had always known, Arsene is vast in his knowledge and appreciates Nigeria as a footballing country and his widely philosophical in his general approach,” he said, assuring that, contrary to what is reported about some clubs in Europe trying to steer their players to play for the countries where they live, Wenger was emphatic on what should be.
“He told me that he has never stopped any player from opting for whichever national team he wants. He said to me that he always tells his players to follow their hearts and not allow people to push them. He further assured that if Nigeria extended a call-up to either or both of his players, he will have no objection if the players say they want to go.”
Pinnick’s visit to Arsenal was to enlist Wenger’s support in “the process of rebuilding the country’s football” and he was not disappointed. “Arsene told us that he will gladly do what he can to assist where we want, and has already started giving encouraging signs towards the capacity building exercises for our coaches at all levels”.
Meanwhile, Pinnick has held a meeting with parents of Nigerian footballers based in the United Kingdom, assuring them of their sons’ safety and progress should they choose to wear the colours of Nigeria.
There is a huge number of Nigerian footballers, many born and raised in the United Kingdom, but who have expressed a desire to open their hearts to the possibility of playing for the Super Eagles; and Pinnick was quick to appreciate that.
“Most of your sons have the option to wait for their chance and play for England, Wales or Scotland”, he said, “and the fact that you are steering them in the direction of playing for their country of origin is laudable and I really appreciate it,” Pinnick said.
The NFF President stated that he would like to see youngsters who, in his words, “have been exposed to the scientific methods of football in terms of coaching, amenities and equipment as well as discipline in areas of fitness and nutrition” to build a new-look Super Eagles team that would conquer the world.
He promised that players will be selected on merit, and that the days of favouritism are forgotten in the new administration led by him.
Pinnick called the attention of the parents to the choice made by Victor Moses who, despite having featured for England Under-21s, opted to play for Nigeria and was rewarded with being a part of the Super Eagles team that won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
“That will remain in his books for the rest of his life – a winner’s medal at the AFCON, and I am sure he will not regret playing for Nigeria” he said.
He drew comparison against some of the players eligible to play for Nigeria but who opted for England, were capped only a couple of times and were dropped, and asked the parents to use this as example to their wards.
He was quick to extol, though, the goodness in the Nigerian league system, saying his move was not an act of disrespect to the home-grown talent that abound in the country.
“We all know that the Nigerian leagues produce many players and I know that. However, I also know that we have many talented players in Diaspora and we want to tap into them all, so we can identify and select the very best across the board,” he explained.
The Delta-born administrator gave assurances that the parley will be a continuous process, and that the new Technical Study Group of the NFF led by former international Jay Jay Okocha will visit the players in the coming weeks and establish close links with them with a view to being selected for the national teams.