The international future of the rising star of the English national team Bukayo Saka was at some point contested for by the senior national team of Nigeria, can exclusively reveal.
Saka has since become one of the trusted lieutenants of coach Gareth Southgate but before making his way into the senior national team set-up of England, Nigeria tried to lure him to the Super Eagles.
Eligible for Nigeria through his parents, the Arsenal winger was first spotted by the Nigerian team selectors shortly before he made his debut for Arsenal as a 17 year old. He was playing in a game for the U23s.
Former Nigeria U20 coach Paul Aigbogun approached Saka to be a part of his U20 team in 2018 after watching him when he went scouting for kids of Nigerian heritage in top teams in the English Premier League. Positive discussions were held with Saka’s camp open to the idea.
Then his debut for the first team of Arsenal saw England quickly hand him a call up to the U20 team around the same time as Nigeria. It was also then that the former president of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) Amaju Pinnick also took notice of him.
As an Arsenal fan, Pinnick saw and also read good things about the rise of Saka and sort to try luring him to play for Nigeria at senior level. He spoke with the boy’s mother who was said to be uncomfortable with the manner she was approached.
She felt he was too loud for her liking and also said a lot of stuff which she felt were not needed as per the first time they were talking. His father was keen on his son taking his time before pledging his international future.
However all of that ended when he got his first call up to the senior national team of England. He honoured it and has remained with the group where he opened his goal account at the World Cup in Qatar with a brace. It was his decision to reject Nigeria and play for England that made Pinnick to say Nigerian have his type scattered around football academies hence won’t beg him to represent the Super Eagles.
“Saka is an excellent prospect but we have other players in his position who are playing so well,” Pinnick said in an Instagram Live chat in 2020.
“We have talents everywhere so we won’t beg people to play for Nigeria. It is about ardour and fervour, If it’s their desire and they merit it, they’ll be given a chance to represent Nigeria.”