The developmental aspect of football like every other sport is very important. It is expected that a transition in form of a template should be in place to take a cadre of junior athletes to the next level and eventually groom them to be national senior athletes and international stars in their respective sport disciplines. Over the years, a former Super Eagles coach, Adegboye Onigbinde, warned that there should be a departure from servicing sports events to developing sports, especially football.
“We only prepare for competitions; we do not work towards creating a template for the future and looking for players to transit from one level to another. We look at winning trophies and not the development of the game and also creating a standard of play for all the national teams,” Onigbinde said. The age-grade teams remain the perfect template to boost the development of the game in the country.
But to do this is not so easy, it involves planning and deliberate attention in crucial areas that will guarantee growth. On February 26, the official kick-off of the National Principals Cup took place at the Agege Stadium in Lagos. It was a big spectacle with notable former internationals in attendance.
Minister of Sports Sunday Dare during the event was elated. He said: “We are so proud to have the Principals Cup back, it is my hope that young talents will be discovered from this event to become the likes of Daniel Amokachi, Franklin Howard, Tajudeen Disu, Waidi Akanni who are here as a source of inspiration to these young stars. “The Principals Cup brought friendship and fostered unity, therefore we want to bring back its lost glory.
“Part of my vision when I assumed office is talent discovery. I will be glad if talents discovered here can become world stars in future.” It was great to have the 1st and 2nd vice Presidents of the Nigeria Football Federation – Seyi Akinwunmi and Shehu Dikko – at the event but it was also sad that the national U-15 coach, Haruna Ilerika, Golden Eaglets coach Fatai Amao and the Flying Eagles coach Ladan Bosso were not at the Agege Stadium. This is where the issue of template comes in. It is important to have scouts and coaches go round the country for young talents.
The U-15 Future Eagles project sponsored by Zenith Bank in collaboration with the NFF is another avenue to scout for budding talents. There should be a transition plan for the age-grade teams while the grassroots competitions should be well monitored at the school level, the academy level and also at state levels nationwide. Now that the Principals Cup is back, the recent setback being witnessed with the shaky results at the national U-17 and U-20 teams should be fixed. The domestic league also has some youthful players that could be in the U-20 or U-23 teams but the scouts will have to be at league centres to bring them out.
Former internationals like Segun Odegbami, Henry Nwosu, Haruna Ilerika, Stephen Keshi, Adokiye Amiesimaka, Samson Siasia, Victor Ikpeba, Tajudeen Disu, Joseph Dosu, Franklin Howard, Ali Jeje, Paul Okoku, Chris Anigala and Godwin Odiye are some of the products of the Principals Cup competition.
There was also national higher institution football competition which was tagged Manuwa Adebajo football tournament. It brought out many Flying Eagles starts like Nosa Osadolor, Tosin Adebambo, Adeolu Adekola, Victor Ezekweseli and others. The event is also being revived by PACE Sports and Entertainment Marketing Company.
It is tagged Higher Institution Football League. It is important to stress that the Zenith/NFF Future Eagles tourney, the National Principals Cup and the HiFL deserve proper monitoring by the football authorities. National coaches in age grades should be compelled to see many of the games especially in the closing stages.
Coaches of teams nationwide can also pick young talents from any of these competitions. Beyond this, the NFF should have a policy of not allowing the young players to travel out too early to boost the nation’s transition plans and the league. There could be a law that players cannot go out until the age of 20 or 22.
After playing U-17, many of the stars flee abroad and some won’t be seen or heard again. The transfer policy has to be checked to the country’s advantage such that 80 percent of the U-17 team will move to the U-20 and later U-23. The talents are all over the place and there must be efforts to catch them young and prevent them from rotting away with their talents.