FIFA in its wisdom, established the various age grade football competitions to ensure that youths of the same age categories compete among themselves, and eventually grow to stardom.
At the U.17 category of the FIFA World Cup, Nigerian have been one of the most successful among them all, having won the FIFA U-17 in 1985,1993, 1997,2013 and 2015.
No doubt, a handful of players from the Nigeria National U17 teams have rose to become Super stars in the main National team, the Super Eagles. But, Box 18 still feels that with a population of over 220 million, and talents that are abound in the country, that the Super Eagles are supposed to have benefited much from the exploits of the Golden Eaglets at the FIFA U17 World Cup. Unfortunate, a country that have won the cadet tournament five times, have not gone beyond the second round of the FIFA Senior World Cup. The implication is that something is fundamentally wrong with our developmental programs, if one equates it, that the country has not won the U20 version of the FIFA World cup.
Some analysts have traced this to poor scouting network, where players are not selected on merit, the negative effect of agents, politicians and top football administrators, archaic football coaching styles, leading to technical ineptitude, lack of government and private sector investment in grassroots development of the game.
Others have also laid the blames on usage of over aged Players. Many of whom are as old as their coaches.It is believed that Ugbade presented a true U-17 team in Algeria but African football today at this age category has been bedeviled by age cheating.
Perhaps the players of the oppositions aren’t as young as the Eaglets are. But if we go by this argument we should also look at the official documents presented by each team or country which is the international passport of the players and their MRI Scan results.
These were certified by CAF therefore, shouldn’t be an issue or excuse for failure of the team to reach the last four of the tournament.
Again, it is better to present a true U-17 squad even if they will not win the tournament or qualify for the World Cup. The good thing one should take from such team is building on the positives by graduating the good players to the senior teams. Hidding the team from the media for proper assessment, influence of football academies without qualities, among other things.
The good players in the present U17 should automatically graduate to the U20 team and then the Super Eagles. It should be a gradual process, and they must not be rushed. Many of the Nigerian players that were not pushed at once, could not survive the heat at the top, as they fizzled out when the ovation has not started. We must take it very easy with the this young boys that Nduka Ugbade took to Algeria. Not to disperse them and forget all about them.
It is also time for us to take a critical look at our various policies of recruiting and scouting players for the national teams, especially the age grade teams. Policies and administration are supposed to continuous in as much as they are serving the purpose they are meant for. There was a policy that was put in place in 2007 that produced the like of Iheanacho, Awoniyi, Ejuke, among others. A powerful administrator in one of the administrations once told Box 18 that they had to discontinued the program because every Nigeria was ascribing successes recorded by the policy to that administration. Another that was initiated with tag name “Future Eagles” has not produced any Eagle up till now. It is time for us to take the grassroots development of the game serious, and forget about the lip services we are playing.
Now that we are not going to the U17 World Cup, the preparation for the future must be now.