Former Nigeria star Daniel Amokachi has backed the host of Africans lured by the riches of the Chinese Super League.
“We play football because we want to make a living,” said Amokachi.
A former assistant coach of Nigeria who now manages JS Hercules in Finland, the onetime Everton forward said this lack of financial support explained the wave of Africans and South Americans moving to China.
While some have questioned the ambition of footballers who have quit the top leagues of Europe for the vast wealth of China, Amokachi begs to differ.
He points to Mikel who has yet to turn 30 but who won the European Champions League, two Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the Europa League during his decade-long spell with Chelsea.
The midfielder joined Tianjin Teda in January after failing to feature for the Blues this season.
“Mikel played for a top team in Europe and won practically everything that he needs to win as a footballer,” Amokachi told BBC Sport.
“What’s left for him is to make a lot of zeros to secure his future and that of his kids and family back home.”
Like Mikel, the 28-year-old Ideye has signed for Tianjin Teda who finished 11th in last season’s Super League.
Ighalo, meanwhile, was sold for £20m by Premier League side Watford to Changchun Yatai.
Amokachi’s former international team-mate Sunday Oliseh fully agrees that the players are entitled to chase riches above glory.
“If a man leaves his country and goes abroad, firstly he wants to work – because football is his job,” the former Nigeria coach told BBC Sport.
“Secondly, he goes to the country where he gets better remuneration for the services he is giving – so it’s going to be good and the way the Chinese are really putting attention on football now, it can only be good.”
Amokachi, who went by the nickname ‘The Bull’, said selectors should not be put off choosing Nigerians in China for the national team.
“Don’t forget that the Chinese are very physical when it comes to training,” he explained.
“I think the players will be fit but match fitness is a different ball game. That’s why it’s important for a manager to look at players who have that 90 minutes week in week out.”
This week, Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr left Mikel, Ighalo and Brown out of the squad for this month’s friendlies against Senegal and Burkina Faso.
This was to allow the trio time to settle in China, while also giving an opportunity to younger players to have their chance.
Other Africans to have moved to China in recent times include Senegal’s Demba Ba, Ivorian Gervinho and Cameroon’s Stephane Mbia.