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Nigeria In Search For Another Jay-Jay Okocha

Great footballers don’t just appear from nowhere, the best footballers in the world be it Neymar, Mbappe, Leo Messi, or Cristiano Ronaldo learned their trades at various football academies.
But for Nigeria, a country with over 170 million population, her football talents are horned on the streets with very few making it to limelight.

No doubt there is abundant natural football talents scattered across the 36 states of the federation but these talents waste away untapped because there are no deliberate attempts to nurture and guide them to fulfilling their potentials.

Austin Jay Jay Okocha a former PSG player who is widely regarded as one of the finest footballers to come out of Africa, in an interview with BBC Sports, describes his rough and tough background as a young footballer growing up in the streets of Enugu.

”There were no grass pitches where we lived, so we used to play on the street corner, or wherever else we could find a space.

”The pitches were very bad, but I think that helped me to develop a good technique.

”Because the surface was so rough, you always had to be conscious of your ball control and how you passed the ball.

”When I was 13, I started playing for my school team,the first time I had played under a manager,” the former Bolton Wanderers player said.

The lack of proper developmental process for budding young football talents has been the greatest undoing for three times Africa champions, Nigeria and this has been a source of serious concern to millions of football fans, including the
commander-in-chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, President,Muhammadu Buhari who recently showed his undying love for the round leathergame by tweeting a picture of himself watching the Super Eagles of Nigeria play the Lions of Cameroon from his modest sitting room, at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja,Nigeria.

There have been efforts made by the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF to institute youth football development programmes, geared towards nurturing young football talents that could be graduated through the various national teams until they are good enough to play for the Super Eagles.

The programmes don’t stand the test of time, largely because of inconsistency, lackof continuity and little or no sponsorship drive.

An example of this could be seen in 2008 when the then NFF president Alhaji Sani Lulu launched the NFF U-13 football development programme.

The programme involved the selection of national U-13 and U-15 teams from the annual NFF U-13/U-15 championship.

The selected players were invited to summer camps which were held every school holiday period.

At the camps, the players were taught the rudiments of football and how to play the Nigerian way.

They also played friendly games locally and internationally and within seven years, Nigeria won back to back FIFA U-17 world cup titles between 2013 and 2015 with majority of the players coming from the programme.

This programme gave birth to players like Kelechi Iheanacho of Leicester City, Taiwo Awoniyi of Liverpool, Victor Osimhen of Wolfsburg, Dennis Bonaventure of FC Brugge Alhassan Ibrahim of Austria Vienna, Chidera Eze of FC Porto within seven years.

While these names might not ring abell to the average European football fan, they are players who are between 18 and 20 years old and between 2013 and now have been rated among the best 50players on earth alongside players like Gabriel Jesus, Renato Sanches, Martin Odegaard, Marcus Rashford, Leroy Sane and so on.

If Nigeria must realize her dream of ruling the world,then they must learn from the Spaniards. LA LIGA youth team trainer, Oscar Pruzon who was in Nigeria to lecture Nigeria youth coaches in March 2017 revealed that an average Spanish player would have been exposed to at least 500 competitive matches before the age of 17.

The Future Eagles U-13 team was in Rabat Morocco in August 2017 where they engaged the Moroccan U-15/U-17 national teams in two friendly games.

What are the chances that this programme will be sustained even beyond the tenure of the current NFF board?

The Future Eagles championship will also be used to breed young football referees while only coaches who have a minimum of CAF C Licenses will be allowed to handle teams, making case for young and certificated trainers to grow the future stars.

This might not be the best youth football development programme in the world right now but obviously a culture to develop young football talents is being created and young Nigerian footballers are being given better chances to succeed more than Jay Jay Okocha had.


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