Ex Super Eagles defender Taribo West slams NFF boss over 'mushroom clubs' comment

Published on: 08 July 2021

Former Super Eagle Taribo West has criticised comments by Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) boss Amaju Pinnick which suggested that locally-based internationals should not join smaller overseas clubs.

Pinnick, a Fifa Council member, has labelled the clubs as 'mushroom clubs', which is understood to be a reference to players growing quickly and 'in the dark'.

Pinnick addressed the players ahead of Sunday's 4-0 friendly defeat to Mexico in Los Angeles, insisting that his administration will only approve an International Transfer Certificate (ITC) to those moving to top European clubs.

Over the last 15 years, only Taye Taiwo and Onyekachi Apam have gone directly from the Nigerian Professional League (NPFL) to one of Europe's top five leagues (when joining French clubs Marseille and Nice respectively).

"You cannot keep people against their will in a league that doesn't respect them, pay them, protect them or care about their welfare," West, a 1996 Olympic football gold medallist with Nigeria, told BBC Sport Africa.

"Such comments from the head of Nigerian football are insensitive and embarrassing. Instead of improving and focusing on developing the structures around the league, you're dictating to adults where and how to earn a living."

During his career, West played for the likes of Inter and AC Milan in Italy after leaving Julius Berger in Nigeria to start his European odyssey in France.

"We don't want to hear you joining teams in Cyprus, China or Belarus. We won't allow any agent to take you to all these 'mushroom clubs'," Pinnick told various players, without clarifying the mushroom reference.

"We won't issue an ITC to you and I'm going to instruct the General Secretary of the NFF. You are the pride of the nation now. We want to see you join proud footballing clubs in Europe like Villarreal, Lille, Valencia and the likes."

As more and more Nigerians move to Europe and Asia in search of football contracts, the number of players plying their trade in third tier-ranked clubs has risen sharply.

Nigerian clubs released 236 players to overseas clubs in 2020, Fifa stated in an international transfer report earlier this year.

West, whose European travels came after domestic spells with Sharks of Port Harcourt and Enugu Rangers as well, says the current local league does not present Nigerian players with the best platform to parade their skills.

"His [NPFL] league does not pay footballers and contracts to protect the lives of footballers," West insisted.

"He doesn't have any power to prevent any footballer who has access to move to those clubs he described as small leagues or 'mushroom clubs'. Right now there are no small countries in football.

"We all saw from the ongoing European Championships that the so-called smaller nations are causing upsets against the bigger countries.

"It doesn't matter whether it's Albania, Luxembourg, Moldova or Georgia. Whoever gets an offer to play in these countries has the right to go anywhere they are professionally offered a contract.

"The agents or representative of the players should fight the NFF in this battle and go where they can earn a living."

West's comments were also backed up by a local agent, who preferred to remain anonymous when he spoke to BBC Sport Africa.

"Does he have other options for the players?" the agent asked.

"They are sometimes unpaid for six months, (they have to) chase their transfer fees and they are subjected to bad treatment by clubs.

"They travel on dangerous roads and sometimes face violence on the field. What has he done to keep them happy and safe?"

The owner of an academy in Nigeria was also disappointed with the comments from Pinnick.

"It's very sad that he could say such things in a public space and in front of ambitious footballers," the owner, who also requested anonymity, added.

"I have moved and still transfer players to those countries that he's insulted in a six-minute video. These players have gone on to establish themselves elsewhere but without such platforms from the beginning, they probably wouldn't have fulfilled their dreams."

Several of the current Super Eagles squad are now playing in the French, German and English leagues, having moved initially from teams in Nigeria to lesser-known European teams.

Samuel Kalu and Moses Simon started their European journeys at Slovakia's AS Trencin before moving to Belgium and both now play in France for Bordeaux and Nantes respectively.

Watford's new signing Emmanuel Dennis also played in Belgium after starting in Ukraine at Zorya Luhansk.

Jamilu Collins now plays for SC Paderborn in the German second-tier having played in Croatia for Rijeka while Terem Moffi is at French Ligue 1 side Lorient after a stint at Lithuania's Kauno Žalgiris.

A regular presence in the Super Eagles squad between 1994 and 2005, West has previously called for retired players to take a bigger role in the administration of football in the West African country.