Ahmed Musa back in the NPFL – What does it mean for his Super Eagles career?

April 29, 2021 Off By Oha
Ahmed Musa of Nigeria

Alex Morton / Getty Images

The Nigeria captain has signed on for the rest of the season with Kano Pillars, in a move that could have repercussions for his international career

In a way, it was quite sad to see the fanfare around the homecoming of Ahmed Musa dampened by the amateurishness of his Kano Pillars unveiling.

This is, after all, the same Musa who, courtesy of a first stint over a decade ago, as well as numerous exploits since, has accumulated a cult following not just in cosmopolitan Kano, but all over Northern Nigeria.

The same Musa who outright holds the record for most goals scored by a Nigerian at Fifa World Cups with four. The same Musa who, since the retirement of Mikel John Obi, has been captain of the national team, and who is within six appearances of becoming its most capped player.Editors’ Picks

That Pillars, one of the country’s biggest and most supported sides, would not just badly botch his unveiling, but utterly fail to take advantage of a potential marketing goldmine and ultimate feel-good story, was a monumental disappointment.

Looking past that little teacup storm however, this is a transfer that raises a number of questions.

Ahmed Musa - Al Nassr

The first of them was swiftly addressed by the chairman of the League Management Company (LMC) Shehu Dikko: Musa has graciously elected to see out his short-term deal back at his former club totally gratis.

That helpfully cleared up any confusion regarding how Pillars intended to offset his ginormous wage, but it is a corollary to the next consideration: quite why has it come to this?

While couching it as a giving-back project makes it a little more palatable, there is something jarring about a 28-year-old forward – notionally in his physical peak – being so out of luck in terms of options that he is taking up an option typically broached at the end of one’s playing career.

How is it that the captain of the Super Eagles has been incapable of getting a befitting deal in Europe since terminating his contract with Saudi club Al Nassr in October 2020?

During the March international window, Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr was forced to parry questions about the invitation of the club-less Musa, and ultimately reneged on his assurance that the former CSKA Moscow forward was only in the squad in a non-playing capacity by bringing him on as a substitute in the victory over Lesotho in Lagos.

Gernot Rohr, Ahmed Musa - Nigeria

The writing on the wall was clear, however: this situation clearly could not persist, and in order to justify continued involvement with the national team, Musa would have to find some kind of competitive football to take part in.

It is that necessity that has now been addressed with this Kano Pillars reunion, but whether it should be enough by itself to keep him in contention for a place with the Super Eagles is an entirely different consideration.

There is potential for a quite prickly situation, especially in light of Rohr’s apparent disregard for the level of the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) to date.

The German has made no secret, in word or deed, of his preference for players based in Europe, and is never shy to say why when quizzed. Would that outlook be altered by the presence of Musa in the local league? Should it, for that matter?

Also, would he have to earn his place on the basis of performances for Sai Masu Gida, or does simply getting enough playing time to demonstrate fitness suffice?

If Rohr’s NPFL hang-up is indeed to do with the technical and competitive standing of the league, then Musa’s decision should effectively constitute a retirement.

Ahmed Musa - Nigeria vs Seychelles

This is particularly so if one takes into account that preceding the signing of this deal there was a lengthy period of inactivity; that makes it even harder to recover anything approaching his best level. So really, if Rohr is to remain true to his own avowed beliefs while retaining a measure of consistency, he should spurn Musa outright when the next set of internationals come around.

However, it seems quite unlikely that there will be that finality.

To begin with, Rohr has tended to be very loyal with his captain(s) during his time in charge of the Super Eagles, deferring to them in terms of keeping the pace within the squad. He famously kept erstwhile skipper Mikel in the team despite the fact he was playing in China, it should be remembered.

There is also the fact that, for all that Musa divides opinion, he has been quite influential on the field under Rohr, and so he often gets the benefit of the doubt where others might not.

However, perhaps the clearest indication that little will change, at least in the short-term, is in the fact that Rohr essentially fibbed in order to get him a place in his most recent squad, and risked further backlash by actually playing him. That was hardly the reaction of a disapproving coach, and it seems like this Pillars move was simply to provide Rohr with a better excuse to continue selecting him.

He may have earned added trust points via his largely sterling service but, amid a plethora of wing options for Nigeria in recent times, Musa seems a weird hill to die on.