How Salisu Yusuf caused a mess of foreign players called up for U23 AFCON qualifiers against Tanzania

It’s safe to say that current Under-23 coach Salisu Yusuf is the bravest manager in the history of modern Nigerian football, having recently called up players abroad ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations Under-23 qualifiers against Tanzania.

The team is expected to take on Tanzania over the weekend of October 21-23 with the first leg in Dar es Salaam. The second leg is billed on Saturday 29th October at Lekan Salami Stadium, Adamasingba Ibadan.

Yusuf called up ten foreign players, led by former Nasarawa United striker Sunusi Ibrahim. A player who has played a total of seven games since the start of 2022. Still, he’s the one whose invitation is somewhat deserved.

There is a reason the list has not been published as we have filled it with players from leagues that don’t even reach the level of the third tier leagues in Nigeria. The argument is that players playing in top tier leagues will not be available as the game is being played outside of FIFA’s international window.

A fair excuse, but neither is it true as with a well planned roster and an early invitation players from Portugal, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and France would have been available. Let’s go through the top performing players abroad in the above leagues who are within the age limit and would have been available to play.

From France, former Bayelsa United striker Okardi Inikurogha has found his way into the first team at Ligue 2 club Grenoble just six months after moving to the B team. The FA Cup winners with Bayelsa United in Nigeria two seasons ago has continued a fantastic performance from last season, which included goals against Auxerre in the season proper. So far he has played games for the promotion hunters.

Still in France, Kabiru Idress, signed by top-flight club Marseille after a scouting tournament in Abuja, has trained several times with the main team while continuing to get enough playing time with the B team in France’s youth league.

Okardi’s team-mate at his former club Bayelsa United Victory Beniangba was so hot after six months in Egypt with Cleopatra that he sparked a transfer scuffle between La Liga club Celta Vigo and Belgian club Genk. The dispute was settled in the player’s favor three weeks ago and he has since played for Gent’s B-team, where he scored a goal at the weekend.

The idea is that he builds his fitness with the B team before moving to the main team. He has trained with the main team on several occasions, as has Victor Ehuwa Eletu, who captained AC Milan U19s at the age of 17.

In Denmark, there is ex-Nigeria U17 striker Ibrahim Said, who has always been a presence for Danish club Viborg and even played against West Ham in the Europa Conference League qualifier. He scored three goals before they were eliminated. He has currently played 13 games in the Danish top division.

His case is a little different from that of Mark Ugboh, a young goalkeeper at FC Midtjylland. But the fact that now at 18 he’s part of the first team and is guided by what his coaches said about him. He would undoubtedly have been a positive addition. This season he has been on the bench twice in European games and three times in the league.

From Sweden comes Silas Nwankwo, ex-Nasarawa United striker. With seven goals in 24 games, he has put all the controversy about his age behind him. Opeyemi Monsuru, the former Nigerian U17 midfielder who started the first league game of the season for top division club Vizela, is in Portugal.

Emmanuel Umeh, who moved to Bulgaria, was a revelation for Botev Plovdiv after scoring three times in two games for the B team he was quickly promoted to the main team. He has since made his first division debut alongside another Nigerian, Samuel Akere, and is also qualified for the current Nigeria U23 team. 19-year-old Tochukwu Nadi from the same team has played in every game this season.

The above players are the few players who are within the age limit and would have been available to qualify, but Salisu thought differently.

Mohammed Mowiz Suleiman

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