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Eaglets, Keshi and Yobo!

By Onochie Anibeze
We have had players who were sensational in the junior teams especially the Under 17 team but who never progressed to the senior team.

Sometimes, the so called youth players are actually at their peak at the time they are ravaging other teams with their power and goals. You expect that in few years time they would be great Super Eagles players. But in many cases, their exploits end with the junior teams.

Some factors could be responsible. Age could be a problem. If the players are older than the allowed age limit chances are that they will fizzle out when people are expecting wonders from them. Another factor could be a possible stunted growth.

Some of the players never develop further in size and other physical attributes, making their small nature a problem for coaches of senior teams to select them. They always prefer players endowed with sizable features.

Akinjide Idowu (C) of Nigeria and his team-mates celebrate their victory with the trophy during the FIFA World Cup UAE 2013 Final between Nigeria and Mexico at Mohamed Bin Zayed Stadium on November 8, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo FIFA)

There are times old players are selected for youth teams because their small sizes which conceal their true ages. Even with special diet they don’t develop further and some have had to lose opportunities to play at a higher level that way. However, there are exceptional talents whose small features don’t hinder their progress. The likes of Messi should come to mind.

Then there are those whose careers are jeopardized by behavioural problems and those who fail to strike their chime because of bad transition management.

A player could develop better in a club or league where the culture of football suits his character and style. Same player may fall by the way side if he goes to another place. Where is Macaulay Chrisantus today? Chrisantus was the MVP of the 2007 Under 17 World Cup in Korea that the Eaglets under Yomi Tela of blessed memory won. If you watched Chrisantus, he was not physically endowed.

But he was always at the right place and at the right time. He had instincts like the famous Brazilian Romario. I had fears when I heard that he was going to Germany, a league where power and resilience appear to be their weapons. I told Ben Iroha my fears and he expressed same but said that the football agent that linked him with Hamburg was undaunted about the move. I told Ben who was one of the assistants of Yomi Tela that France or Holland could have favoured Chrisantus. He agreed.

Can somebody tell me what Chrisantus is doing in Spanish lower division today?  Hamburg loaned him out to Las Palmas, a  lower division club in Spain and that’s all from a once budding talent the world looked up to shine in future. His transition was poorly managed. At Japan ’93, Wilson Oruma was the MVP of the tournament and was a better player than Kanu Nwankwo. But Kanu went to Ajax, with world acclaimed youth development programme where his good transition made him soar than Oruma did.

It is probably against all these backgrounds that Stephen Keshi, the Super Eagles coach, has announced conditions under which the 2013 Fifa U-17 World Cup champions could make it to the senior team.

He wants to see them graduate to the Under 20 team and then to the Olympic team before they could be ripe for the Super Eagles. Keshi believes that a gradual transformation, passing through these stages, will help the players mature and acquire experience.

While I admit that Keshi has some points, I also want to point out that it must not be so for all of them. If any of them is good enough to play in the senior team now it will be good to allow such a player the opportunity to try his skills out. It will therefore be wrong for Keshi to be rigid on his conditions. There could be exceptional ones. It is his job to find them and develop them. There are players who develop very fast that you do not cage in junior teams at the time they need challenges to blossom into stardom. At 17 Michael Owen was already an established star who featured in the World Cup.

I saw him play in France ’98 World Cup where he scored a television goal against Argentina. The famous Pele became a world star at 17.

How old was Wayne Rooney when he became a star at Everton? He was riding bicycle to training from the youth team up till when he played his first Premiership match. He was barely 17. Nigerian officials begged England to include Owen in their team to Nigeria ’99 fFIFA Under 20 World Cup just to boost the competition.

England said it was not necessary since he was already a star, reminding us that youth competitions are development programmes, largely meant to discover talents. To them it would be unwise to feature Owen in a junior team just because he was still under the age limit allowed. He would have blocked the chance of a budding talent waiting to be discovered. Can Nigerian officials begin to reason like that?

Back to Keshi. The Eaglets we saw in UAE were about the youngest we have had for years. I give credit to the football federation and the coaches who picked them and trained them. They were a WELL COACHED team. I have not seen any Nigerian side play football the way they did.

Their passing, their runs, their marking and their shooting. I saw their strikers mark and fall deep when they lost the ball. They exploded when in possession. They were all workers. The only thing they lacked was the vision to utilise the wings when the middle was tight and a player was making a wide run. Repeatedly, they made that mistake and I wondered why until somebody told me it was typical of Spanish football and I should not forget that Emmanuel Amuneke is among the coaching crew. In Spain especially in Barcelona, they believe in short passes and with many players around the ball. I agreed that Barcelona players do that but there are times they open up the game and Alves makes those brilliant runs on the flank.

Manu Garba, Amuneke, Nduka Ugbade and Emeka Amadi did a brilliant job on those boys. Special credit to Emeka Amadi, the goal keeper’s trainer. Alampasu, the keeper won my heart. Those boys were singing songs with the ball and Keshi should see if some of them have the heart to be in the Eagles even if it is for the sake of them gathering experience.

Theo Walcott was in the England team to the 2006 World Cup. He did not play a match but he gained a lot. I’m not saying that we must do the same thing. It may not be wise to adopt, in total, what the great football countries are doing but we can learn from them. Keshi must not be rigid about the conditions he has spelt out for any of the Eaglets to be in the Super Eagles.

If there are exceptional ones, he should give them a chance. The African Nations Championship, CHAN  is around the corner. Two or three of them could be there.

And as he leads out the Super Eagles against Ethiopia tomorrow, I wish him the best. I wish the Eagles well.

The football Federation has done a lot to get Nigeria this far. I wish them well. My final words on the match is that they should not allow Ethiopia settle into their passing game. Early goal will help.

And when we qualify, Keshi should have the heart to recall Yobo even if it is for some friendlies for him to achieve the feat of a 100 cap appearance that no Nigerian has done. It will be a record for the player, for Nigeria and for Keshi under whose era it would have happened.

This is a message from an ardent Eagles follower, Lydia who has called from Benin on several occasions on this. Interestingly, she has never met Yobo or Keshi but speaks so passionately about them. She has a point I would want Keshi to consider.

Happy Birthday Chisom.

He drums, plays the keyboard and now he is learning how to play guitar while his siblings are more interested in soccer and tennis aside their school work. Chisom, the youngest of my children, will be 12 today. Happy Birthday Chisom Anibeze, my dear son. I love you.

 

 

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