Opinion: Golden Eaglets victory – The beautiful ones have done it again

by Muyiwa Adetiba

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES- Kelechi Iheanacho #10 of Nigeria scores his team's second goal against goalkeeper Raul Gudino of Mexico during the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 Final between Nigeria and Mexico at Mohamed Bin Zayed Stadium on November 8, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (FIFA)For us as Nigerians and Africans, it was a beautiful moment as everybody thought we had entered the world stage. And Pele, the same acclaimed Pele, endorsed the boys when he said they would rule the world if they could be kept together for a few years to mature as a unit.

Jones Usen, a popular broadcaster with the FRCN at a time, and self-styled ‘man with the golden voice’ called the Golden Eaglets the beautiful ones after their exploits of 1985 in far away Asia.

Those young boys dazzled and glittered in China and made our heads swell with pride as they delighted the world with skilful and purposeful football. In celebrating our moments of euphoria, Jones had declared ‘the beautiful ones have now been born’.

It was the maiden edition of a tournament that has since discovered many football super stars. It was also our first exploit on the international stage and it was a performance that stunned the whole world especially the sponsors who did not expect an African country to win and wondered how they would recoup their sponsorship funds.

For us as Nigerians and Africans, it was a beautiful moment as everybody thought we had entered the world stage. And Pele, the same acclaimed Pele, endorsed the boys when he said they would rule the world if they could be kept together for a few years to mature as a unit.

But what happened after the euphoria? The vultures took over- in the name of greed, ethnicity, self- centredness and bad administration.

Everybody, including those who had never succeeded in anything in their lives, had an opinion. By the time the under -17 boys had become under 21, it was a different team; infused and diffused by additions and subtractions that were based on everything but merit.

The result was that we lost all the good things that should have accrued to Nigeria as a result of that ground- breaking feat.

Prodigies have to be handled well, or they will self destruct which is what happened when many of these boys signed all kinds of one sided agreements with clubs that exploited rather than nurtured them.

Many say the reason we did not benefit was because the boys were closer to 25 than 17. But that, even if it was true, was only half of the story. Whoever said 23, 24 year olds can not be kept together and nurtured both mentally and technically?

What is worse is that we had two other opportunities to get it right and build on the foundation of our young talents. Each time we have short changed ourselves. Will we be fourth time lucky?

I was initially apathetic about the present crop of boys and did not start watching them until after their first game. I was impressed as anybody who knows a thing or two about football would be. These boys were strong, quick and very mobile.

In addition, they had the technical awareness that was not very common in Nigeria age-grade teams. I was pleased to note that they hardly lost their shape throughout the competition even when the wing backs surged forward or they had to sit back to soak some pressure. That first encounter with Sweden was as much a tribute to their mental strength and belief as it was to their physical fitness and skill.

I believe we not only have gifted eaglets on our hands, but technically proficient ones. Whoever nurtured their ‘can do’ spirit did a good job and the technical crew led by Manu Garba should be commended.

But gold as we all know, will lose its lustre if it is not burnished regularly. We can not therefore afford to do business as usual with these young boys or we will under achieve with them again. We have to think up a plan that keeps them motivated and encouraged while keeping their feet firmly on the ground. They must also be made to play together often.

First, giving under 17s money (yes, they do look their age for a change) is ill advised. I can understand it in a country that has become so monetised; but I do not advise it. A new reward system must be developed. Second, the foreign scouts are out and certain names are already being linked to some big clubs. It won’t be the first time; and we know what happened in the past.

So their progress must be monitored and the terms of contract must be checked by people who know about these things.

These boys must not be thrown to the wolves. Third, their egos and psyche must be managed well so they can develop into technically well rounded players. The example of Rafael Nadal, the current number one tennis player in the world, and a child prodigy in his on right, should be a case study.

When he won his first three trophies as a teenager, his uncle and coach refused any form of family celebration as he did not want success to get into his head so early in life. Our boys are not super stars yet, not even close. They should not be so treated. Fourth, the powerful owners of our football academies must not be allowed to diffuse the team indiscriminately.

Already, one ‘honourable member’ has said the boys must not be allowed to graduate into under 20 automatically. I don’t think that is a helpful suggestion. If you can not motivate and encourage at this stage, then leave well alone.

We have gold nuggets in our hands. But we need to do the needful to make them glow. It is after the hard work that makes these boys to be physically, mentally and technically ready for the 2018 World Cup must have been done that we can truly say ‘the beautiful ones have finally been born’.



Read this article in the Vanguard Newspapers
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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