Nigeria’s African Cup of Nations preparations slipped into further confusion after Millwall defender Danny Shittu announced that he will be unable to represent the country at the tournament.
The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) has said it will report the south east London club to FIFA if they do not release Shittu for the event.
He becomes the second player to withdraw from head coach Stephen Keshi’s 32 man squad following the withdrawal of Newcastle forward Shola Ameobi by his club manager Alan Pardew.
Keshi is not giving up on Ameobi but admitted to local press that Ameobi’s contract with Newcastle contained a clause that he would not abandon the Magpies, a situation intensified by rumours that Demba Ba may leave Newcastle in the transfer window.
“Apparently, there is a clause in his contract that he would not dump the team for the Nations Cup,” Keshi is quoted as saying on the BBC.
However according to KickOffNigeria, the NFF consider such a clause null and void.
“Our position on this is very clear, and it has not changed,” NFF spokesman Ademola Olajire told KickOffNigeria.com. “Every player invited to camp must show up. We know the rules, and we are prepared to enforce it in this, or any other instance.”
“I spoke to Ameobi on Christmas Day and he told me that he has a clause in his contract saying he cannot go for the Nations Cup without his manager’s approval. That clause, however, is in clear contravention of the FIFA rules on the release of players,” added Keshi.
The stakes are high. Both Millwall and Newcastle risk sanctions up to and including forfeiture of points if the players perform during the African Cup.
Annex 1 Art 6(2) in the Disciplinary Measures section of the FIFA rulebook mandates:
If a club refuses to release a player or neglects to do so despite the provisions of this annexe, the Fifa Players’ Status Committee shall furthermore request the association to which the club belongs to declare any match(es) in which the player took part to have been lost by the club concerned.
Any points thus gained by the club in question shall be forfeited. Any match contested according to the cup system shall be regarded as having been won by the opposing team, irrespective of the score.
Keshi has now seen two of his 32 man squad pull out which means he now has just seven to cull on January 9th to turn it into a 23 man squad. However, given the NFF’s determination to stand firm everything would seem to be up in the air.
Selecting players against their will is a recipe for an inharmonious camp but the Nigerians will not want to allow a precedent to be set for players putting club commitments before a tournament of this stature.
Should Keshi not wish to insist on the two players, then the chances of Portland’s Bright Dike being selected increase incrementally.
More on Bright Dike’s Nigeria Career: