Sought-after Napoli striker Victor Osimhen asked to be excused from the Nigeria squad for their upcoming US tour, as they try to put the heartbreak of their failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup behind them.
A target of Arsenal, Manchester United, and Newcastle among others, the Napoli player's exclusion from the friendlies against Mexico and Ecuador in the US this month came as a shock, as stand-in coach Salisu Yusuf named a 30-man squad on Wednesday.
Osimhen is one of six players -- including Leicester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho and former Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo -- missing from the squad as the Super Eagles continue their build-up towards 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in June.
A source at the NFF told ESPN that it was Osimhen's choice to miss out: "He called and asked us to excuse him for personal reasons.
"Of course a striker of his quality is a big loss but it also gives us the opportunity to look at some other players who may not have had a chance if he was there. That includes some of the boys who have been doing well in the domestic league."
As for Iheanacho, who was a starter at the AFCON in January under Augustine Eguavoen, and Ighalo, the NFF official said they could well return for the qualifiers against Sierra Leone and São Tomé é Príncipe.
Other absentees are goalkeepers Francis Uzoho and Daniel Akpeyi. Uzoho has barely played at his club since the error which gifted Ghana the goal that ended up costing Nigeria a World Cup ticket, while Akpeyi's time as an international is believed to be winding to a close.
Instead, Maduka Okoye returns after missing the World Cup qualifiers with COVID, and Yusuf has called up two goalkeepers from the NPFL, namely Olorunleke Ojo from Enyimba and Akwa United's Adewale Adeyinka. The two goalkeepers are among eight NPFL players selected to the squad.
There were also recalls for Feyenoord striker Cyriel Dessers and midfielders Azubuike Okechukwu and Alhassan Yussuf. Dessers' recall is reward for a sterling season in the UEFA Europa Conference League, where he is the leading scorer with 10 goals.
Stand-in coach Yusuf was banned from football over a bribery scandal in 2018, but was reappointed by the NFF as assistant to a yet-to-be-named head coach, and will also combine that with duties as Head Coach of both the B team and the U23 teams.
He will lead the Super Eagles while the NFF continue their search for a new coach to replace Gernot Rohr.
The German was fired in December ahead of the AFCON as the NFF hoped to switch things around in order to qualify for the World Cup. That gamble failed to pay off, and the federation remains stuck looking for a new coach.
As the 2023 qualifiers roll around, Yusuf is expected to take charge of the first two of those qualifying games, assisted by former Ajax star Finidi George.
Those qualifying matches are against Sierra Leone in Abuja in Abuja on June 9, and São Tomé e Príncipe in Marrakech, Morocco on June 13.
THE FULL SQUAD
Defenders: Olaoluwa Aina (Torino FC, Italy); Abdullahi Shehu (AC Omonia, Cyprus); Zaidu Sanusi (FC Porto, Portugal); William Ekong (Watford FC, England); Leon Balogun (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Isa Ali (Remo Stars); Chidozie Awaziem (Alanyaspor FC, Turkey); Oluwasemilogo Ajayi (West Bromwich Albion, England); Calvin Bassey (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Ibrahim Buhari (Plateau United)
Midfielders: Joseph Ayodele-Aribo (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Alex Iwobi (Everton FC, England); Oghenekaro Etebo (Watford FC, England); Chiamaka Madu (Rivers United); Babatunde Afeez Nosiru (Kwara United); Azubuike Okechukwu (Yeni Malatyaspor, Turkey); Samson Tijani (Red Bull Salzburg, Austria); Alhassan Yusuf (Royal Antwerp FC, Belgium)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Fatih Karagumruk, Turkey); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal FC, Spain); Ademola Lookman (Leicester City, England); Sadiq Umar (UD Almeria, Spain); Emmanuel Dennis (Watford FC, England); Cyriel Dessers (Feyenoord FC, The Netherlands); Victor Mbaoma (Enyimba FC); Ishaq Rafiu (Rivers United)