Nigeria is distinctly absent from Europe's transfer windows

Wilfred Ndidi Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

With Nigeria finishing third in the recent Africa Cup of Nations, not a bad result though also not what Super Eagles fans were after, the lack of transfer interest in their players is glaring.

Europe's big leagues appear to have little interest in African football's biggest team, and with the transfer window slowly closing, there's little sign that will change.

Leicester midfielder Wilfred Ndidi was a rare player to garner attention from a big club, as reports suggested Manchester United could be looking to swoop. So far, that has not happened and the longer the offseason goes on, the less likely that will be to happen.

It certainly seems like aeons ago that Austin Okocha became Africa's most expensive player when he moved from Fenerbahce to Paris Saint Germain for $15 million in 1998.

That was a big deal, literally, and capped a remarkable year for the Nigerian maestro, who had displayed the full repertoire of his magical skills at the World Cup earlier that summer.

These days, that transfer does not even register in the top 10 African transfers of all time. Even worse, no Nigerian player has managed to crack into the current top 10.

John Obi Mikel's protracted transfer and final settlement of £12 million from Lyn to Manchester United (who he never turned out for for) to Chelsea in 2005 came close, but no cigar.

And so, while this could shape up to be one of the busiest summers for European clubs as they hunt fortifications for their squads ahead of a new season, Nigeria players' prospects are looking bleak.

Every Africa Cup of Nations cycle offers a chance for players to position themselves in the shop window for prospective buyers. This year's tournament was even more significant, as it was the first time the competition was played without the distraction of the European season.

There were no clubs and coaches belly-aching about the loss of their African stars, or scouts not being distracted by the din. Although many clubs make decisions on players after months, even years of scouting, a tournament such as Afcon offers an opportunity for a close up view in highly competitive situations.

For Nigeria, recently retired captain and midfield free agent Mikel was first to go, signing a contract with Trabzonspor in Turkey. Fellow midfielder Semi Ajayi was not far behind, leaving Rotherham for West Bromwich Albion for an undisclosed fee.

Galatasaray loanee Henry Onyekuru - having failed to secure a work permit after two years that would let him play for Everton - is reported to be heading for Monaco.

These Nigeria transfers appear to be following the same financial pattern: free or next to nothing. Well, all except for Victor Osimhen, who is on the verge of competing a €12 million move to Monaco.

This, in the same season when Senegal's Idrissa Gueye is leaving Everton for PSG for handy £30 million.

It's been a huge and humiliating climbdown for Nigerian players, despite the country being in the top 10 countries exporting footballers annually.

But why? It's not difficult to figure out, really.

It comes down to a consistent failure to develop players from the grassroots, which means that the country continues to export quantity rather than quality. Players are content to sign for any fee and any club, all in a bid to get to Europe.

Sometimes, they even sign for multiple agents, and then wait to see all the offers, mediocre or not. This, naturally, leads to their stock crashing, and their reputations going with it. It's tough to be taken seriously when you say yes to the first suitor.

What's needed is a complete overhaul of existing structures, including regulating academies, setting minimum standards of training, and creating viable pathways to the national teams and then to Europe.

It is a tough ask and will not be easy. But it needs to be done if Nigerian players are once again to become the most wanted commodities from the continent.

Controversial opinion incoming...

Recently, Super Falcons captain Desire Oparanozie added her voice to calls that the senior women's national team deserved to be paid the same as the men.

While this may look a good idea on paper, in reality it isn't. But before the pitchforks come out, let's take a considered look at the situation.

Nigeria's situation is peculiar. True, the government funds the game, but that funding comes largely from a desire to support the Super Eagles, who are the country's biggest sporting asset.

The NFF is struggling to pay the men's team as it is, and even if they had the money to pay the current women's team, who reached the knockouts at the recent World Cup in France, the money should be spent at grassroots first.

Unlike the US's pro league (the NWSL), from whence the recent World Cup winners and by far the more successful of their two senior national teams (in results, earnings, and fanbase) hail, the Nigerian women's league is desperate need of a shot in the arm.

Most academies prefer to train boys (in order to make a killing from European transfers), while girls suffer from neglect, and that is where the money should go.

The NFF must find a way to raise the funds needed to build a high performance centre where promising girls and women can play and train. That way, a conveyor belt of quality talent that will serve the national teams for years can be developed.

The common, and hackneyed, counter-argument for paying female footballers the same as their male counterparts is that they don't draw the same viewership or money, but how are they meant to do that in a vacuum?

By spending money on development, marketing, and getting female players to the NWSL and Europe, that investment will be returned in viewership, fans, and spending, and can, and must, then be passed on in salaries.