The Nigerian Golden Eaglets have won the FIFA U-17 World Cup for a record fifth time, becoming only the second nation to successfully retain the title. Given our domination of the U-17 World Cup, I suspect that at some point FIFA will just cede the trophy to Nigeria and save us all the time.
The Golden Eaglets route to this year’s final was somewhat astonishing, with some superb results along the way. However, if you’re as realistic as I am, you will concede that there’s not much to be excited about despite the standout performance of Victor Osimhen.
We’ve seen it all before, it is reminiscent of Macualay Crisantus and how he dazzled his way to the golden boot during his time at the U-17 level.
The realities remain that Nigeria’s consistent success at the U-17 level can be traced to fielding over age players, who excel at that level and never seem capable of stepping up afterwards. Two or three seasons later and after featuring as bit part players for second division European teams, they fade into obscurity.
Only a small percentage of these players ever play for the Senior team and I am certain that it is time we began to ask ourselves some tough questions. Age grade competitions exist for the true development of the sport and when players begin to lower their ages to compete, it defeats the entire purpose.
It also ensures that players burn out at ages when they’re supposed to be at their peak. A clean shaven head and chin does not an under 17 player make.
The U-17 Championship has producing some truly phenomenal youngsters; Toni Kroos, David de Gea, Isco, Koke, Kroos among others. Which of our players can we point despite having turned the U-17 title to our birthright?
To be fair, there are a number of other factors which prevent these players from fulfilling their true potential such as bad career moves and even worse agents. However, these are two factors which are outside our control.
In the final analysis, the Nigerian football body must come to realize that these age grade competitions aren’t so much about winning but about honest and true development.