Super Eagles midfielder, Ogenyi Onazi, says he is always ready to play for Nigeria even without getting paid for it.
The financial standing of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) improved recently, thanks to a sponsorship deal with oil firm, Aiteo group, but it cannot be forgotten in a hurry the issues around owing coaches’ salaries and players’ match bonuses not too long ago.
Onazi, who plays his club football with Trabzonspor of Turkey, has featured regularly for the Nigeria national team since making his debut in 2012 and has experienced the unpleasant situation of being owed in the past.
However, the 24-year-old says money is not the first thing on his mind when he’s invited to play for Nigeria, but it’s rather “a thing of pride”, playing for the Super Eagles.
“The national team has made me what I am today,” Onazi said in an interview with busybuddiesng.com. “If I don’t play for the national team I don’t think anyone would recognize me.”
Indeed, the midfielder has his country to thank for the progress he has made in his career.
Onazi had just broken into Lazio’s first team when then-Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi, handed him his debut in a crucial Africa Cup of Nations 2013 qualifier against Liberia in Calabar. From less than a dozen appearances for the Italian side at the time he was called to the national team, the midfielder played nearly 70 more times for Lazio before leaving for Turkey last summer. The Nigeria Vice-Captain now wants to turn up for his country “even if they say they are not going to be paying.”
“I know they’ll be paying though,” Onazi said jokingly about Nigeria. “I’ll come and represent my country and make that name so when my kids grow up they’ll know that their dad represented this country very well.”
Some years back, the NFF paid 10,000 dollars to each player as winning bonus, with 5,000 dollars given out for a draw. However, the financial challenges that hit the country’s football governing body led to a cut in what the players are entitled to, with 5,000 dollars now given for a win. Even at that, paying the amount is proving to be difficult as a result of the dwindling value of the naira against the dollar
Onazi, who has also represented Nigeria at Under-17 and Under-20 levels, admits that compared to what most of the foreign based players get as wages from their respective clubs, the bonus sum is not worth too much, but is still duly appreciated by him and his team-mates.
“Before now we don’t come for the money,” he said. “But if you work you need to be paid for you to be able to pay your bills and other things… that’s why we accept the money”
The Super Eagles next competitive game is a two-legged 2018 World Cup qualifier against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in September.