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Iheanacho: When talent alone is not enough

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Iheanacho: When talent alone is not enough

Not too long ago, Kelechi Iheanacho was one of the first names in the Super Eagles squad.

And he deserved his place going by his form and his contributions.

He was balling for his club and replicating his form for the national team. He was not just the future; he was the present, and every Super Eagles fan loved him.

At that time – less than 18 months ago – there would probably have been a riot if Iheanacho had been dropped from the Nigeria squad. Nobody even contemplated it.

But it has been all downhill this past one year for the young man who, without any doubt, is very talented.

The downward spiral of Iheanacho’s form has led to him being left out of the squad to the Africa Cup of Nations, which begins in Egypt next week. And he has been so horribly out of form in recent times that his exclusion from the final squad of 23 players for the African showpiece was expected.

That is how far he has rapidly descended from the pecking order of forwards.

So, what happened to this young man blessed with so much talent? Why is he in decline when, at just 22 years old, he should be improving and building up to his peak years?

The issue surely is not about his talent; it’s a gift that doesn’t just disappear.

But talent is clearly not enough. A professional footballer (and anybody in any other field really) needs drive, application, ambition and the right attitude to succeed. It is obvious that the ‘star boy’ of the national team lacks one or maybe more of these essential components to complement his natural gift.

There have been numerous cases of young footballers having too much, way too early, therefore struggling to be motivated to get more.

It is not inconceivable that this is the case with Iheanacho, who was already a global starlet by the time he was 16 when he was the best player at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

His stock rapidly rose after that tournament and he soon joined one of the world’s richest clubs, Manchester City.

Suddenly, money, which is usually the driving force for African players with humble backgrounds, was no longer a problem.

Then came promotion to Manchester City’s first team and the opportunity to show the English public what he could do. And he did show them, taking full advantage of limited playing time and justifying the faith coach Manuel Pellegrini had in him.

Iheanacho’s numbers were decent at Manchester City (21 goals and eight assists in 64 senior games in two seasons despite playing mostly as a substitute) but the arrival of Pep Guardiola meant the Nigerian youngster had to eventually leave.

He did not do badly under Guardiola, but Iheanacho could not cope with the Spanish coach’s demands of working your socks off and pressing the opponents hard even as a striker.

Even then, he still played 29 matches in all competitions under Guardiola in the 2016/2017 season and scored seven goals (three assists). He started only seven of those games but scored in big clashes, including one against City’s bitter rivals Manchester United in the Premier League.

The performances were enough to earn him a big money move to Leicester City at the beginning of the 2017/2018 season and he was expected to fit right in at a smaller club with less pressure.

He did not exactly light up the King Power Stadium, but he was not a flop either, scoring eight goals (four assists) in 29 matches. Again, he was not established as a regular starter but big things were still expected of him.

After the not-so-great first season with Leicester, Iheanacho was still a shoe-in for the Super Eagles squad and he made the Russia 2018 squad as expected, although he did not make much of an impact. He was a late substitute in the 2-0 defeat to Croatia before starting the 2-0 win over Iceland and the 2-1 defeat to Argentina, where he was hauled off at half-time.

However, despite an impressive pre-season where he scored almost all of Leicester’s goals, the 2018/2019 season was a horror show for Iheanacho and his abject form invariably affected his Super Eagles chances.

After struggling in AFCON qualifiers against Seychelles and South Africa, and being left on the bench for the games against Libya, Iheanacho was eventually dropped from the squad for the qualifier against Seychelles and the friendly with Egypt, both in March. His cup was apparently full.

But, after questioning his attitude and urging him to shape up, coach Gernot Rohr gave Iheanacho a final chance by including the forward in the provisional squad for the 2019 AFCON. But no eyebrows were raised when the once golden boy was dropped from the final squad.

Coming off a season with Leicester where he scored just two goals in 39 games, and having scored his last Super Eagles goal in that famous 4-2 pre-World Cup friendly win over Argentina in 2017, it really was no surprise.

Iheanacho is still a young man with enormous talent, and an improved attitude and re-igniting of his inner fires will get him back on track.

He can then fulfil that Promise that his middle name implies.

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EPL: Lampard dares to dream upset versus Red juggernaut

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EPL: Lampard dares to dream upset versus Red juggernaut

FIXTURES

Crystal Palace v Wolves – 14:00

West Ham v Man United – 14:00

Arsenal v Aston Villa – 16:30

Chelsea v Liverpool – 16:30

 

Former Chelsea great, Frank Lampard has found that managing in the top flight is not as easy as when he was marauding in midfield for the Blues and today it gets even tougher when champions, Manchester City comes visiting, notes Tunde Sulaiman

 

S

ix weeks after cutting his teeth in top flight management with a chastising defeat against Manchester United on the opening day of the season, this afternoon Frank Lampard faces the biggest test of his fledging Chelsea career when his side hosts Liverpool in the stand out tie of Match Day six weekend.

 

 

In years of yore, the opening match between United and Chelsea would have been the headline catcher, unfortunately in the present scheme of things this is no longer the case as the Red Devils are no longer the force they were in the Premier League, nay British football.

 

 

Four managers have failed to stem the slide that has bedevilled the once great side since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson some six years ago.

 

 

The latest occupant of the exalted seat, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who replaced the third occupant, Jose Mourinho, last December is still finding his feet; but kicked off the new campaign with a stunning 4-0 win over the Blues.

 

 

However, in truth anyone who watched the match would understand how cruel the “beautiful game” can be with the final result no way reflecting the performance of Chelsea under their former midfielder.

 

 

Many an Old Trafford fan and millions of Red Devils supporters around the globe will be thanking their stars that the woodwork came to their side’s rescue twice in the first half before the home side were fortunate to score. And once the goal went in United became a transformed side and then went on to press home their breakthrough with three more strikes.

 

 

The final score line was harsh on the visitors, who were the better side before the break and hit the frame of the goal through Tammy Abraham and Emerson, but still suffered their worst ever opening-day defeat in 104 league seasons.

 

 

The stats even backed up the fact that the home team was second best throughout the encounter, with Chelsea having 54% of the possession and 18 shots to United’s 11.

Lampard was to right to stay positive after the match

 

 

“There were lots of elements about today that I liked,” he said. “We were intense in our pressure. We won the ball back high in lots of areas. We dominated the midfield. For big spells in the first half they couldn’t get out. But football is won and lost in the boxes. They won it by being clinical.”

 

 

It was clear that Lampard had learnt his lessons from the Old Trafford humiliation so much so that by the time they that they faced this afternoon’s foes, albeit in different circumstances, the UEFA Super Cup, it was a vastly changed performance from the Europa League champions who matched Liverpool grit for grit in battling to a 2-2 full and regulation time draw.

 

 

Games between these two sides in Europe have historically been tight affairs, with just one of their 10 previous meetings having been won by a margin of more than one goal.

 

 

It was the same again on Wednesday night as the two teams tussled for 120 minutes in a game that did not finish until almost 1am in Istanbul.

 

 

In the end, it came down to who could keep their cool in the sweltering heat and after nine excellent penalties, Abraham placed his shot too close to Adrian to hand Liverpool their first silverware of the season.

 

 

Although it was their second straight defeat of the season, again Lampard could take plenty of positives from the encounter with N’Golo Kante by far the best player on the pitch in the opening 45 minutes as he pulled the strings in midfield, while Giroud showed the clinical finishing that was absent for the Blues against United.

Christian Pulisic also caught the eye on his first competitive start for Chelsea.

 

 

The 20-year-old American provided a creative spark, while his movement and vision had more than a hint of Eden Hazard about them.

 

 

Since the Super Cup loss in Istanbul, Chelsea have gone on a four match unbeaten run culminating in last week’s destruction of Wolves at the Molineux, the venue which has often proved difficult for the so-called big teams.

 

 

Young forward Tammy Abraham, whom Lampard had been given stick for fielding ahead of more experienced strikers, finally came good scoring a hat trick to justify the faith of his manager.

 

 

The England striker, 21, scored his treble in the space of 21 minutes to make it seven goals in his past three appearances – and is joint leading scorer in the Premier League with Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero.

Abraham joined Cristiano Ronaldo and Dele Alli in becoming only the third Premier League player aged 21 or younger to score two or more goals in three consecutive appearances.   

 

 

Sadly in midweek all the improvement shown by Abraham and the others came undone when they surprisingly lost 1-0 at home to Valencia in their opening group game of UEFA Champions League.

 

 

But in spite of that set back, Abraham still sent out a warning to the Reds insisting that they were ready to use the defeat as motivation against the visiting side.

 

 

“We can take our anger out against Liverpool. It’s a massive game and both teams will be going to win,” he said after Tuesday’s game.

 

 

Incidentally, Liverpool also lost in opening the defence of their crown in Naples to Napoli.

 

 

After more than matching their own with the team that finished second in Seria A last season, the defending champions let to late defensive errors cost them dearly in going down 2-0.

 

 

But Liverpool’s defeat at the San Paolo Stadium was only the second time they have been beaten in 31 competitive matches since January 7, and they are yet to lose in the league since January 3 when they were beaten 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium by Manchester City.

 

 

However, no matter their poor performances in midweek, the Premier League is different kettle of fish altogether and whichever team shows up on the day normally leaves the field with all three points.

 

This evening’s game will be no different with full-bloodied challenges expected as neither side with want to give any quarter.

 

 

Beyond the three points, what is at stake for Lampard is a true test of his coaching nuance while for his German opposite number, it is not only his side’s unbeaten record, but more importantly a win at Stamford Bridge will further inch the Reds closer to finally ending their 30-year wait to be crowned domestic champions.

 

 

Thus why the heart is willing a Blues victory the analytical mind sees another Reds victory – but then who could have ever seen Norwich beating Manchester City!

 

 

On a crowded Sunday, three other games are also taking place on Match Day Six weekend with the Red Devils facing a tricky trip to the London Stadium to face West Ham United.

 

 

Ole’s task is not helped by the fact that his side played on Thursday night against FC Astana of Kazakhstan in the Europa League at Old Trafford in which the Red Devils again failed to ignite the passion of their fans with their lethargic display.

 

 

It took a 73rd minute strike by 17-year-old Mason Greenwood to ensure the home side made a winning start to their Europa League campaign after the visitors threatened to leave with a draw.

 

 

In truth though, against the five-time Kazakhstan Premier League champions, United fielded their youngest side for a European game since December 2012 and Ole will expect much better from his first team squad today.

 

 

The Hammers will be much rested having last saw action on Monday night in their goalless draw with Aston Villa.

 

 

West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini will undoubtedly be very satisfied with the point after seeing his side play from the 67th minute with 10 men after Arthur Masuaku picked up his second yellow card, and yet were still able to create chances to have lifted all three points.

 

 

United fans will, however, view this game with a lot of trepidation remembering that the last time they were there they watched their team being hammered 3-1 by the Hammers.

 

 

And on the strength of West Ham’s performance on Monday night, their Argentine manager is slowly getting the best out of the side.

 

 

A former Manchester City manager, Pellegrini would have schooled his players on how to exploit United’s weaknesses which Chelsea failed to, but which Wolves and Crystal Palace did, and take the fight to their more illustrious visitors.

 

 

Stamina, which Ole pointed out was a weakness in his side last campaign and which he placed so much emphasis in building up in pre-season, may play a major role today in determining which side leaves the field more fulfilled at the end of the game.

 

 

Unai Emery faces the same dilemma today as his Arsenal host Aston Villa after making a trip to Germany to play Eintracht Frankfurt in Europa League Group F clash.

 

The last time out, the Spaniard took a lot of stick after his side threw away a two-goal first half advantage against basement side Watford last weekend.

 

 

He knows he cannot afford another second half “horror show” today if he does not want the flak to increase.

 

 

Emery will no doubt be buoyed by the performance of a mainly second string team which beat the German side 3-0.

 

 

Currently seventh on the table with eight points, four more than 17th placed Aston Villa, the main task for the Gunners is breaking down the defence of a team, which will arrive the Emirates with only one thing on their minds – making the afternoon as difficult as possible for the home team.

 

 

And in the final game, Selhurst Park sees the clash of two thoroughly beaten sides hoping to regain some pride

 

 

Home side Palace, which stunned Manchester United only a fortnight ago at Old Trafford, was comprehensively outplayed at Tottenham Stadium in losing 4-0, while Wolves’ humiliation was even worse as they lost 5-2 in front of home fans to Chelsea.

 

 

They then followed this defeat with another late horror show in Europe in losing 1-0 to Sporting Braga in their first appearance in the main stage of a European competition since 1980. The goal was scored in the 71st minute and sent the Molineux crowd into silence.

 

 

So far it is clear that Nuno Espirito Santo is still trying to balance his team’s exertions in Europe and domestically as his side, which took an impressive 16 points from the Premier League’s top six yet, five games into this campaign, they remain without a win and are 19th in the table.

The next two weeks are vital.

 

 

After visiting Crystal Palace Wolves entertain Watford – the only team below them in the table.

 

 

Roy Hodgson will undoubtedly be happy with this hoping to be the latest team to capitalise on this malaise when Wolves come to town.

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Bet9ja Lagos SWAN Cup gets Oct 4 date

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he 2019 Bet9ja Lagos SWAN Week will hold between October 4 and 11.

 

Rising from its meeting on Thursday, the SWAN Week committee led by Wale Joseph said the 2019 edition which promises to be bigger and better has introduced three new sports, table tennis, scrabble and chess to accommodate more members.

 

As earlier announced, registration forms for interested media houses for the football event is already on sale for  N4,000 while participation forms for the three newly introduced events is free.

 

According to the timeline released by the Lagos SWAN Week committee, sales and submission of forms will end on Sunday, September 29 while screening of participating teams will be on Tuesday, October 1.

 

The opening ceremony and novelty game between Lagos SWAN Ladies and Nigerian ex-internationals and Professional Women Footballers will be held at the Nigerian Institute of Sports (NIS) playground on Friday, October 4.

 

Group games starting on Monday, October 7 will be held at the Legacy Pitch situated inside the National Stadium Complex, Surulere, Lagos.

Meanwhile, an Appeal Committee will be set up to handle all matters arising from the weeklong event in a timely fashion.

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La Liga: Zidane unfazed by Mourinho talk ahead Sevilla test

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eal Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has said he is paying no attention to heavy criticism aimed at him after the 3-0 defeat by Paris St Germain in the Champions League and is not bothered that Spanish media continue to link Jose Mourinho with his job.

 

 

Real were up against an under-strength PSG side on Wednesday missing Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe but produced a pitiful display, failing to register a shot on target in a Champions League game for the first time in 16 years.

 

 

“I’m not interested in what is said outside the club, the day I pay attention to what’s in the press is the day I leave,” Zidane told a news conference on Saturday ahead of Real’s visit to early La Liga leaders Sevilla on Sunday.

“I feel in a strong position and I never give up. I will keep trying until the last minute and as long as the club will give me the chance to continue. I don’t feel questioned at all.”

 

 

Spanish media have reported that Real President Florentino Perez would be keen to recruit former coach Mourinho, currently without a club, should Zidane be relieved of his duties, reports Reuters.

 

 

“I’m not bothered by the Mourinho speculation,” added the French coach, who led Real to three consecutive Champions League titles before resigning in 2018 but has only won seven out of 16 games since returning to the club in March.”

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EPL: Man City hammer Watford, Foxes come from behind to beat Spurs

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ive goals in the first 18 minutes set Manchester City on their way as they ripped apart a woeful Watford team to cut Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League to two points.

City had already bounced back from last weekend’s humbling by Norwich with a clinical Champions League win at Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday, but this was a timely reminder of their ruthlessness and attacking power.

Bernardo Silva scored a hat-trick as Pep Guardiola’s side ran riot to clinch their biggest league win since he took charge in 2016. They also hit the woodwork twice and continued to chase further goals until the end, but a record victory eluded them.

Manchester United’s 9-0 win over Ipswich in 1995 remains the biggest victory in the Premier League era but City become only the seventh team to win a top-flight game by an eight-goal margin in the modern era.

City scored the opener after 52 seconds through David Silva before Sergio Aguero added a penalty and Riyad Mahrez struck via a deflection, reports the BBC.

 

And James Maddison’s first league goal of the season helped Leicester come from behind to beat Tottenham in an absorbing encounter at the King Power Stadium.

Maddison drilled a superb low effort into the far corner from distance to lift Brendan Rodgers’ side back into the top four of the Premier League at the visitors’ expense.

Ricardo Pereira had put the Foxes back on level terms, moments after Spurs had been denied a second goal when Serge Aurier’s low drive was disallowed for a marginal offside call against Son Heung-min.

Harry Kane’s fourth league goal of the campaign had given Spurs the lead in the first half, the England striker slotting Son’s clever flick beyond Kasper Schmeichel despite being knocked off balance by Foxes defender Caglar Soyuncu.

Leicester thought they had opened the scoring themselves when Wilfred Ndidi scored on the rebound after Paulo Gazzaniga spilled Youri Tielemans’ effort, but the goal was ruled out for offside by the video assistant referee.

At Goodison Park, Sheffield United won away for the first time on their return to the Premier League as a Yerry Mina own goal and a late Lys Mousset strike condemned Everton to defeat.

The Toffees had won their first two games on home soil this season and dominated for large periods of this game as they looked to bounce back from defeat at Bournemouth last time out.

However, they fell behind five minutes before the break when a ball from an Oliver Norwood corner deflected off Mina to land in the back of the net.

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Oshoala grabs brace as Barca women rout champions Atletico 6-1

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Oshoala grabs brace as Barca women rout champions Atletico 6-1

Nigeria international Asisat Oshoala grabbed a brace as Barcelona continued their rampant start to the Women’s Primera Division season by thrashing champions Atletico Madrid 6-1 on Saturday.

 

 

The Catalans had begun the campaign with a 9-1 thrashing of CD Tacon, the club absorbed by Real Madrid.

 

But they got off to a bad start in their second home game of the season when Amanda Sampedro put Atletico in front in the second minute.

 

Barca hit back quickly with a penalty from former Atletico player Jenni Hermoso and moved into a 4-1 lead at halftime with goals from Mariona Caldentey and Oshoala plus an own goal from Laia Aleixandri.

 

Oshoala struck again soon after the interval then Atletico were further embarrassed by a second own goal, by Silvia Meseguer, which completed the rout, reports Reuters.

 

Barcelona are top with seven points from three games, while Atletico have six points.

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UEFA/CAF Tourney: Eaglets tackle host Turkey in opener

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UEFA/CAF Tourney: Eaglets tackle host Turkey in opener

The Turkey Technical Centre in Istanbul will witness some interesting football when five-time world champions, Golden Eaglets of Nigeria file out against their counterparts from Turkey, host nation of the UEFA/CAF U17 International Tournament, on Sunday.

 

Eaglets and their officials arrived in Istanbul on Friday and had their first training session at the Turkey Technical Centre on Saturday morning before the officials proceeded to attend a technical meeting of all the eight participating teams at the tournament.

 

 

Speaking after the technical meeting, Manu Garba, Head Coach of the team insisted that the tournament is a perfect opportunity to test the readiness of the players for the task ahead at the FIFA U17 World Cup starting next month in Brazil.

 

 

“I am very optimistic that the tournament will come good for the players to stand the test of time in Brazil. Playing Turkey will definitely be a strong test for the team,” Manu told thenff.com

 

Angola will battle Scotland in another game on Sunday.

 

 

The eight participating teams at the UEFA/CAF U17 International Tournament are hosts Turkey, Nigeria, Scotland, Angola, Cameroon, Senegal, Paraguay and Guatemala.

 

This year’s FIFA U17 World Cup finals hold October 26 –November 17 in Brazil.

 

21 EAGLETS IN TURKEY FOR UEFA/CAF TOURNEY

 

Goalkeepers: Joseph Oluwabusola; Sunday Stephen; Suleiman Shaibu

 

 

Defenders: Shedrack Tanko; Ikenna Ferdinand; Usman Mohammed; Charles Etim; David Oduko

 

Midfielders: Samson Tijani; Mubaraq Adeshina; Shuaibu Abdulrazaq; Akinkunmi Amoo; Olatomi Olaniyan; Peter Agba; Ibraheem Jabaar; Fawaz Abdullahi; Suleiman Lawal

 

 

Forwards: Olakunle Olusegun; Mayowa Abayomi; Wisdom Ubani; Divine Nwachukwu

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La Liga: Zidane unfazed by Mourinho talk as Real prepare for Sevilla test

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La Liga: Zidane unfazed by Mourinho talk as Real prepare for Sevilla test

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane says he is paying no attention to heavy criticism aimed at him after the 3-0 defeat by Paris St Germain in the Champions League and is not bothered that Spanish media continue to link Jose Mourinho with his job.

Real were up against an under-strength PSG side on Wednesday missing Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe but produced a pitiful display, failing to register a shot on target in a Champions League game for the first time in 16 years.

“I’m not interested in what is said outside the club, the day I pay attention to what’s in the press is the day I leave,” Zidane told a news conference on Saturday ahead of Real’s visit to early La Liga leaders Sevilla on Sunday.

“I feel in a strong position and I never give up. I will keep trying until the last minute and as long as the club will give me the chance to continue. I don’t feel questioned at all.”

Spanish media have reported that Real President Florentino Perez would be keen to recruit former coach Mourinho, currently without a club, should Zidane be relieved of his duties.

“I’m not bothered by the Mourinho speculation,” added the French coach, who led Real to three consecutive Champions League titles before resigning in 2018 but has only won seven out of 16 games since returning to the club in March.

“This is how the situation is, and whenever the team has a bad result the impression is that everything needs to change. It’s difficult but it’s the reality.”

Real have taken eight points from four La Liga games while Sevilla top the standings with 10 after making a flying start under coach Julen Lopegetui, who was named as Zidane’s successor at Real last year but was sacked in October, reports Reuters.

Lopetegui, however, said he harboured no ill feelings towards Real and was treating Sunday’s game like any other.

“Three points are up for grabs tomorrow and that should be motivation enough for us even though we know what it means to face Real Madrid,” he said.

“I have a very good memory of every club I’ve been at and always try to remember the positive things. I try to be responsible and ambitious and tomorrow will be no exception.”

Real will be able to count on captain Sergio Ramos against Sevilla after he missed the PSG defeat due to suspension, although Marcelo is a doubt and Luka Modric is still injured.

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Sports Minister, NFF chart way forward for NPFL

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Sports Minister, NFF chart way forward for NPFL

The Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, on Friday, September 20, met with the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation led by its president, Amaju Pinnick, on how to reposition the Nigeria Professional Football League. The meeting, the first since the minister was appointed was a way of repositioning Nigerian football with the league as one of the major issues discussed.

The NPFL has been on an indefinite break with a date for resumption yet to be announced despite the initial plans to follow other world leagues schedule. The meeting which was at the instance of the minister interfaced with the board towards achieving smooth football administration in the country as well as chart a more dynamic focus.

Apart from the league, other issues discussed was how to reposition youth development in sports while also working with the ministry towards early preparations for participation in tournaments and championships. It also discussed how to reach out to all factions with a view to having an amicable resolution of all problems as well as developing sporting facilities, particularly football pitches and other stadia infrastructure. Also, the need to improve the positive perception of football administration in the country was discussed, likewise the need to ensure that the NFF Bill now with the National Assembly is transmitted for assent by the president and also to ensure efficient management of resources and deepening private investment in sports development.

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Gov Okowa pre-season tourney: Kwara Utd GM dedicates title to Gov. Abdulrazaq

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Gov Okowa pre-season tourney: Kwara Utd GM dedicates title to Gov. Abdulrazaq

Kwara United General Manager, Bashir Badawiy, has dedicated the maiden edition of Gov Okowa pre-season trophy won by the club to the Kwara State Governor, Ahmed Abdulrazaq. The GM who also doubled as the coordinator of the championship said the victory is just the beginning of the club’s journey back to the Nigeria Professional Football League.

Badawiy congratulated the entire people of Kwara State especially the Executive Governor who has been of great support to the club. “We have an Executive Governor who happens to be a football-loving governor,” the GM said. “He is ready to do anything for us as far as we can deliver. We also have a gigantic chairman in the person of Honourable Kunbi who is a workaholic chairman and who is here fighting toothand- nail to take care of the packages for the footballers.” He further called for the cooperation of the people of Kwara State while assuring them that the team would make them proud.

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Taking youths to next level through sports

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Taking youths to next level through sports

In any serious country, youth development is a key vehicle to drive growth of sports. Administrators of sports look up to the youths to prepare for the future in the country in terms of grassroots development and talent discovery. The situation is not the same in Nigeria as administrators are in a hurry to record instant results and so there is little or no place for the youth. The transition through the age groups that many Nigerians clamour for in football is also not prevalent in other sports in the country. Coaches prefer a quick fix situation to prosecute competitions and to achieve results for the national teams. Rather than project to have some players in the national team fold in four years, the coaches prefer looking for athletes who can immediately make an impact in their respective teams.

Only on Monday, Delta State emerged overall champions at the 2019 edition of the National Youth Games which took place in Ilorin after garnering 104 medals to win the games for the record fifth time. Team Delta won 41 gold, 32 silver and 31 bronze medals. And so, Delta has won all five editions of the game since its inception in 2013.

Team Lagos placed second in the medals table after garnering 72 medals which comprise 22 gold, 36 silver and 14 bronze medals. Bayelsa came third with 45 medals after 17 gold, six silver and 22 bronze medals. Akwa Ibom placed fourth in the table with 41 medals comprising 16 gold, 12 silver and 13 bronze medals. A total of 3,893 athletes drawn from 33 states and the FCT competed in 34 sporting events. According to the officials of the NYG, a total of 238 up and coming athletes were discovered to be nurtured by the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports. The youth games have come and gone. Delta State should be commended for its consistency in the past five editions of the games. The exploits of the state did not come as a surprise.

Over 12 stadia are scattered all over the state with elite and developing athletes coming up at every national event. It is sad that in the past seven years, the National Sports Festival, which is an upgrade of the National Youth Games, has only taken place once. Many talents could have been lost due to the long period the event was in limbo. It is however important to determine how these athletes are transiting from one age grade to the other. The national coaches in the geo-political zones in the country should make the grassroots competitions count. The over 200 young athletes discovered in Ilorin should be exposed and taken to another level to serve as back-up for the current elite athletes.

There is a football competition going on at the higher institution level but the Nigeria Football Federation is not part of it. The HiFL could produce future national team players for the country. It is on record that the Manuwa Adebajo competition gave Nigeria talents like Nosa Osadolor, Victor Ezekwezeli, Adeolu Adekola etc. On September 30, the Zenith Bank/Delta State Principals Cup football competition will start in all the 25 Local Government areas of the state. It is the 4th edition and it would have been a thing of joy if this is a national event. Last year, the Africa Wrestling Championship was hosted by Rivers State and there was a junior event where close to 100 wrestlers represented Nigeria.

Where are those wrestlers today? Athletics, table tennis and boxing are traditional sports where talents abound all over the federation and there should be a deliberate effort to fish them out and expose them for future challenges. Swimming, gymnastics and shooting are medal-spinning sports that require attention from the grassroots. It is pleasant to know that the new minister Sunday Dare is passionate about grassroots development.

He also spoke about his desire to bring back the University football competition at national level, Principals’ Cup and even the Headmasters’ Cup. Dare will require so much guts to activate his lofty dreams. He will also bank on huge support by corporate Nigeria to make things happen. The drive of the new minister is captivating but implementation of his ideas remains an area that he has to work on. Sports federations should ensure national coaches pay attention to grassroots development of sports rather than relying on athletes who must have gone beyond their prime. There is need to bring in the private sector to boost the development of the youth through sports.

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