Italian giants AC Milan have confirmed negotiations with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) over delaying the release of Samuel Chukwueze for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
Rossoneri manager Stefano Pioli said the club wanted the player to feature in its Coppa Italia game against Cagliari on January 2.
The Super Eagles have already opened camp in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and will spend a week training ahead of the tournament in the Ivory Coast.
The West Africans – who boast the reigning African Footballer of the Year, Victor Osimhen, in their ranks – are chasing their fourth AFCON title and are widely rated as one of the favourites to win the tournament.
Chukwueze, others yet to report to Nigeria camp
Nigeria will be taking 25 players to the Ivory Coast and the majority have already reported to camp while a few have been granted permission to arrive later in the week.
Chukwueze is among those who will arrive late, with AC Milan seemingly getting the go-ahead from the NFF to delay the player’s release.
Pioli confirmed that the club engaged the NFF to “negotiate” on keeping the player for a little longer before allowing him to join his national team ahead of the AFCON.
“I know they are talking. There is hope, but there is no certainty. They are negotiating,” the Rossoneri boss said on the eve of the game against Sassuolo.
Meanwhile, Chukwueze played the full throttle as AC Milan thumped Cagliari 4-1 in the round of 16 of the Coppa Italia on Tuesday. The Nigeria international did not get on the score sheet but put in an impressive shift on the flanks as goals from Luka Jovic (double), Chaka Traore and Raphael Leao ensured Paulo Azzi late strike could only qualify as a consolation for Cagliari.
Francis Uzoho, William Troost-Ekong, and Sadiq Umar are also expected to join the Super Eagles camp in Abu Dhabi soon after being granted permission to feature for their European clubs on Tuesday.
Super Eagles squad rocked by injuries
Nigeria find themselves in a tricky AFCON group with hosts Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea. With just 10 days to the start of the tournament, though, the Super Eagles have been rocked by injuries.
Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi has been ruled out of the tournament after failing to recover from an injury he suffered in late December, which has forced Jose Peseiro to invite Royal Antwerp anchorman Alhassan Yusuf as his replacement.
Fellow Leicester star Kelechi Iheanacho is also currently battling a muscle injury that kept him out of the Foxes’ last Championship game against Huddersfield Town and remains a doubt for the tournament.
Peseiro lists criteria for selecting players
Meanwhile, Peseiro has defended his squad selection for the upcoming AFCON in the wake of public criticism over some inclusions and omissions.
The Portuguese’s decision to drop Terem Moffi from the final squad in favour of Ahmed Musa and Sadiq Umar divided opinion but he insists those selected all passed the meritorious criteria.
According to him, players were picked based on their experience with the national team, how they performed following the last invite and their current form.
“Firstly, I chose some players because they already worked with us. Secondly, I took into consideration the performance of the players in the previous selection because some show good performances for us in the National Team but don't play well for their club and vice versa,” Peseiro explained.
“Thirdly, the current form of the players. It wasn't easy to choose the 25 players because we have a lot of quality all over. Until 10th January, I can change any player from this 25-man list and replace them with the players in the provisional squad because injuries can happen sometimes.”
Nigeria will kick off their AFCON campaign on January 15 against Equatorial Guinea before facing the Ivory Coast and Guinea four days apart.