CAN THE EAGLETS RESIDE IN THE NEST OF THE EAGLES? NO!!!!!
BY UMEIKE CHIKE
A big congratulations to the Manu Garba led Golden Eaglets team on winning the Under 17 FIFA World Cup title. This tournament not only saw the team end up as champions but also helped discover a number of talented players. This is not the first time that Nigeria would win this competition nor is it the first time that the country would parade such bright potentials at this level but very few of these bright potentials ever get the chance to don the Super Eagles jersey. For those hoping that we get to see a change this time around, there will be none and as for most of these budding stars, this is the peak of their careers. We’ve read newspapers and have seen quotes like ‘a former Golden Eaglets winning captain…’ and that’s all. No talk of the fact that he represented the Eagles or even moved to the next step (Under 20). I submit that this winning squad will suffer the same fate and my reasons are not far-fetched.
One of the reasons for organizing age-grade competitions is to provide a platform from which young prospects replace those at the Senior National teams. Players who have represented their countries at age grade competitions and have ended up justifying their potentials include Ronaldinho, Kanu, Aguero, Xavi, Kroos, Messi, etc. In Nigeria however, this is not the case as the sole aim for participation is to win the event which is laudable but defeats the main purpose of building future stars that would one day represent their national teams. Has it ever crossed our minds that we always perform well at age grade competitions but flounder at the FIFA World Cup? Though we can’t attribute that to lack of progression alone, it nevertheless plays a role as players who play together at age-grade competitions develop the bond, understanding and unity that gives them an edge over a team that was hurriedly put together.
Out of all the players who have ever featured at this level since 1985, only 19 have got to play for the Senior National team. Out of the nineteen, only four players – Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi (2003), Mikel Obi (2003), Lukman Haruna (2007) and Kenneth Omeruo (2009) – have played World Cup matches (qualifying or finals) at the U-17, U-20 and the senior levels. The others who have played the Under-17 World Cup finals and the senior World Cup (qualifying or finals) are Nduka Ugbade (1985), Jonathan Akpoborie (1985), Christopher Nwosu (1987), Godwin Okpara (1989), Benedict Akwuegbu (1989), Victor Ikpeba (1989), Mobi Oparaku (1993), Celestine Babayaro (1993), Pascal Ojigwe (1993), Nwankwo Kanu (1993), Wilson Oruma (1993), James Obiorah (1995), Henry Onwuzuruike (1995), Femi Opabunmi (2001) and Ogenyi Onazi (2009).The win at all cost mentality means that whenever these lads do not end up winning the title, the team is disbanded and the players are not properly integrated into the senior team. Toni Kroos for example, who won the best player at the 2007 Under 17 World Cup which Nigeria won and Chrisantus finished as top scorer, now stars for European Champions, Bayern Munchen and would hope to lead Germany to glory at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. In Spain, promising players like Isco, Koke and De Gea who all played prominent roles at the Euros Under 21 have been earmarked as the big thing of a new Spanish generation. Let’s come home (Africa) and just some miles away, 21 players who have represented Ghana at age grade winning championships have ended up playing for the Black Stars with the likes of Essien, Muntari, the Ayew brothers, Samuel Inkoom and Derek Boateng still in the national team. In the current Eagles team only Mikel, Nsofor, Kenneth Omeruo, Ogenyi Onazi and skipper Yobo can ever boast of having played at age-grade competitions. Though it’s impossible for all of them to eventually make it to the Senior Team but the rate at which the Football Federation discards them is disturbing and the sad thing is we start complaining of dearth of talent. I understand that there might be the argument that the coaching crew and players are going to be drafted into the Flying Eagles team which no doubt is a welcome development. I applaud this move but it takes a bad performance at either the African U-20 World Cup or the FIFA U-20 World Cup for this team to be disbanded.
It is no gainsaying that a beautiful lady would always have guys flocking around her hoping to win the ‘prize’, more so a winning team like this one would no doubt have foreign clubs trying to lure the very good players with mouth-watering contracts. While one cannot fault the want for greener pastures, records have shown that most of them end up in parts of Europe that have little or no footballing pedigree. In the name of leaving Nigeria for Europe, most have ended up in countries like Malta, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, which is not the same as playing in the top leagues. Playing in such low quality leagues means the end of a career which has barely begun as no scouting system could reach such leagues. How such a player would be called up to the Super Eagles beats me. Selfish and hungry agents also deserve the stick for the way they have ruined the budding careers of these players, placing agent fees ahead of the players’ careers. The ones who end up moving to decent leagues and clubs like Chrisantus who moved to Hamburg never end up proving their worth for whatever reasons and thus fade off.
In addition, there is the age factor. This victorious Under 17 team is one of the youngest to have ever represented the country at this competition and while I won’t want to doubt anyone’s age, it’s still literally a slap on my face to find out that I’m older than a couple of them. A 22 year old man who claims he is 16 would have passed his peak by the time the whole world is expecting him to reach his peak. Documents lie, MRI scans may not detect, but the body will show tell-tale signs of ageing. It is such coupled with the other factors that have always hindered progression to the Super Eagles and would hinder the chances of these highly talented crop of players from eventually making it to the nest of the Eagles.
CAN THE EAGLETS RESIDE IN THE NEST OF THE EAGLES? YES!!!!
BY OMISAKIN AYOBAMI
In blessed memory of Macaulay Chrisantus, Haruna Lukman, Chinedu Obasi, Taye Taiwo, Dele Aiyenugba, Ambrose Vanzekin, and the list goes on. This is not a list of dead men or a list of footballers who did not make it from U-17 level to the National team; rather it is a list of footballers who are yet to fulfill their potentials. These and many more Nigerian hot prospects have faded even before they could shine. Rather than cast aspersions, it is germane to consider the cause of these still births; what could be responsible for these cases of cruel mirage? Could it be a lack of continuity or a result of age falsification or a lack of proper development? Perhaps, the problem is a combination of all these.
Instances abound of footballers who graduated from the age-grade competitions to become world class players but the case has not been the same in Nigeria. A very good example that perfectly illustrates this point is the case of Messi, Mikel Obi and Taye Taiwo. These three players were once chosen as the most valuable players in an age-grade competition, but now, the difference between these 3 is so wide that they cannot be named on the same list anymore.
While many would blame the lack of continuity, progression from U-17 to U-20 to Olympic Team to Super Eagles, I choose to toe the road not taken. This is because I believe that the National team must comprise the best players and that most of the stars of these age-grade competitions do not turn out to be the best players. In other words, it is not a lack of continuity but a lack of proper development and maturity. The question we must ask ourselves is this; if our youth prospects are so good that they deserve a place in the National team, why are they not in the top clubs in the world? The truth is that there are no proper training facilities and development personnel that will guide these players from being hot prospects to world class players. As the saying goes, “whatever goes up must come down but whatever grows up cannot come down”, we need players that will grow and not go up. In addition, the uncanny habit of age falsification, that is prevalent among Nigerian footballers, contributes a great deal to this problem of still births. The result of age falsification is that players would have reached their decline when the world expects them to be at their peak.
Although it is not my role to discuss the reasons why the title-winning U-17 team will not be the future Super Eagles but to state the reasons why they would, I have recognized the truth in these words that “a problem known is a problem solved”. I know the problems that cause this dis-continuity and fortunately it is not just me, the N.F.F is also aware of these obstacles. The N.F.F has named Manu Garba, the one who coached the victorious U-17 team, as the head coach of the U-20 team; in the same vein, Amunike, who was an assistant to Garba, has been named the head coach for the next U-17 team. Thus, I can express hope that the story will change this time around.
To the pessimists among us, it would be wise to recall that once upon a time, the National team comprised only foreign based players. But now, we have an integration of both foreign and local based players; an integration that brought us the African Nations Cup. It would also be wise to remember that only foreign coaches were preferred for the National team but now, Stephen Keshi not only has the support of the N.F.F but also that of the nation. Even a blind man would see that Nigerian football is experiencing a major turnaround, a revolution that has started from the national team and will engulf the whole footballing circle.
Furthermore, we have seen that the U-17 World Champions are the youngest crop of players that have ever represented the nation at the tournament. This is a testament to a change in attitude and focus. Now, it is not just about winning the U-17 World Cup, but also about building a team that will dominate the world in years to come. The victorious U-17 team is not only younger and better; it has also been blessed with a more conducive environment for complete metamorphosis, and these are facts that its predecessors could only wish for.
Therefore, having considered the truth that the present U-17 team is in a different set of circumstances when juxtaposed with former U-17 players who failed to fulfill their potentials; I strongly believe and submit that because the circumstances are different, the result will also be different. This time around, there will be no still births.