Golden Eaglets celebrating with the FIFA U17 World Cup, which they won in South Korea
Early in the week I was pilloried by a number of readers for ostensibly believing that Germany will be meeting Spain in the final of the European Championships.
Ironically I was just caught up by the general trend of most football pundits, who had (based on the performances of the respective teams) rightly (if I may say so) concluded that fans should be in for a dream final between Spain and Germany.
However, like even the most experienced of aficionados forget – football is not an exact science! And thus one cannot say with 100 percent certainty that this will be the outcome of games like we all know that one plus one is two.
Incidentally, in getting fired by a number of readers, I must admit that they had actually missed the point of the article which was trying to point out how the ‘German Machine’ was able to put such an impressive show at the tournament (before the wheels fell off the expensive machine in the semis against Italy), enroute to the semi finals.
Toni Kroos, who was the star of the U17 World Cup in South Korea in 2007, started in the 2-1 loss to the Azzurris in one of the biggest stages of all. Where are the members of the team that actually won the tournament – the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria?
A number of them did flatter to deceive with two of the brightest stars, Lukman Haruna and Chrisantus Macaulay making brief appearances for decent teams and getting their chances to move up the next level of U20 and the Super Eagles – but rather then progress they have virtually disappeared from the radars.
For instance, Haruna moved to French side, AS Monaco immediately after his impressive performances in the Far East. After spending two seasons with the youth team of the French Principality side, the then 19-year-old moved up to the first team where he played 44 matches scoring just three goals in two seasons.
Last season, following Monaco's relegation, Haruna left the high profile European league and headed east where he signed a five-year contract with Ukraine Premier League giants Dynamo Kyiv on June 26, 2011.
The midfielder is yet to score in the 23 matches he has so far played for Kyiv.
He was called into the provisional Nigeria national football team squad for the 2008 African Nations Cup but was cut from the final 23-man squad. He is also known for his astonishing dribbles, vast movements and passes accuracy.
He did however make his debut for the Super Eagles in the warm-up game with Sudan which Nigeria won 2–0.
Nigeria's then manager, Berti Vogts cited his inclusion as a way of gaining valuable experience. On December 6, 2008 Haruna was called up for the 2009 African Youth Championship.
He was called into camp ahead of the 2010 World Cup and scored his first goal in a friendly May 30, 2010 against Colombia. He later played for Nigeria in the World cup which Nigeria crashed out at the Group stage.
Haruna has subsequently been overlooked under the new Eagles dispensation led by former skipper Stephen Keshi.
Like Haruna, much was also expected of Macaulay Chrisantus, especially after finishing behind Kroos as the tournament’s second best player. He also played a big part in the Golden Eaglets victory after emerging not only their leading scorer with seven goals, but also the competition’s Golden Boot winner.
Impressed with his performance, German side, Hamburg snapped him up but immediately loaned him out to German lower division side, Karlsruher SC.
Still only 21, the six foot striker is currently on loan at another lower division German side, FSV Frankfurt, where he scored eight times in 26 appearances at the end of last season.
Like Haruna, the Karlsruher SC striker has not featured in the present Eagles set up and with Keshi pushing home-based players it is highly unlikely he will be part of the action in South Africa 2013 should the Eagles qualify.
These are just two of the brightest players who were part of the Golden Eaglets’ South Korea triumph, many of the others hardly got mentions after the tournament after failing to secure high profile moves.
Although Kroos could only propel Germany to the bronze medal, who is smiling now from the South Korea 2007 U17 World Cup set barely five years ago? Some other notable names from that era include Bojan Krkic, the former Barcelona star who is now with Italian side, AS Roma and Manchester United’s first choice goaltender, David de Gea.
And this has been the history of Nigeria at youth football – win a FIFA competition and then the stars fail to make waves at a higher level afterwards.
Perhaps the only side to have produced a number of players to have made waves in higher levels of the game was the Japan 1993 squad which produced the likes of Nwankwo Kanu, Celestine Babayaro, Mobi Oparaku, Pascal Karibe Ojigwe and Wilson Oruma. They all rose to play some part with the senior national team, the Super Eagles.
Being the foundation on which national teams are built on that is why the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) should not joke with the players at this level.
However, the fact that Spain did eventually win the tournament in devastating fashion in the Euro 2012 final actually reinforced my argument about paying attention to youth football.
Virtually all the members of the epoch-making team on display at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev last Sunday have passed through the Spanish football youth system with the players progressing from U16s to U17s and so on all the way to the senior national team.
Two senior members of the Spanish super stars, Xavi and Iker Casillas may appear to have been around forever. Incidentally both of them, who are 32 and 31 years old respectively, were also part of the Spanish side which triumphed at the U20 FIFA World Cup hosted by Nigeria in 1999.
Perhaps if they had lied about their ages then, the world would have had the pleasure of still enjoying their presence in the ‘beautiful game’!
One only hopes that the powers that be are ready to go along this path and sow the seeds of stars that may not bare fruit during their time but will be the bulwark of the Super Eagles by the time of the World Cup in Russia in six years time and Qatar in 2022.
Should Alhaji Aminu Maigari and his board be able to achieve this, then they would have left their footprints in the annals of Nigerian football!