Anayo Iwuala’s joy at earning a first-ever call up to the Super Eagles is tempered by one rather sad reality – the realisation that his performance, should he get the nod in the 2021 AFCON qualifiers against either Benin Republic or Lesotho will serve not only as a measure of his level but also of the Nigeria Professional Football League and players who ply their trade in it.
It is a standard to which their counterparts based in Europe and other places that are not Nigeria are never subjected to; where one player’s performance often determines the fate of others who share the same league.
It may be an unfair standard, but if anything, the tricky Enyimba winger isn’t cowed by the extra burden, gladly welcoming the added responsibility on behalf of the domestic players’ union.
He says he is determined to grab the opportunity, should he get the chance to take to the pitch, to put up a showing that opens more doors for NPFL players to “represent this great country”.
“I’m not just here alone for myself, I’m here to represent the home-based at home – a lot of home-based. My performance here will give them and others a lot of opportunities to come and represent this great country,” he said at a media event on Tuesday at the team’s Lagos camp.
Iwuala was originally placed on the standby list when Eagles boss Gernot Rohr first revealed his squad for the qualifiers. But a raft of withdrawals by some foreign-based players due to Covid-19 restrictions meant he caught the biggest break in his fledgeling career on the eve of his 22nd birthday.
It didn’t come entirely as a surprise as he had held out hope of making the team after an excellent campaign for Enyimba that has seen him score two goals and gather eight assists in twenty games in all competitions.
“At first, I had a clue – a little expectation for it – but I’m not the coach, I am not the NFF crew so just a little expectation. It didn’t come at first but later, it had to come and I was happy.
“It is a very important one to my career, I must say. It will boost my CV and my morale as a person and as a player, so it is a big one for me.”
Under Rohr, NPFL players have often been seen as placeholders in the national team, a token symbol to satisfy the demand of the domestic press, but Iwuala has no intentions of just coming to make up the numbers in the team especially with the enticing prospect of playing in Lagos.
“I’ll give my best, I’ll give my all to make sure my worth is being shown here for the invitation,” he declares. “Definitely, I’m looking forward for an opportunity to be among the players to represent this country in these upcoming games. It is a good one and I believe my impact there will really be felt.”
Nigeria lead Group L with eight points and play the Squirrels of Benin Republic at the Stade Charles de Gaulle in Porto Novo on Saturday before concluding their qualifying campaign against the Crocodiles of Lesotho at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos in what will be a return to Nigeria’s commercial and economic capital after 10 years.