In time past at the mention of a team from Nigeria at U17 level, the general discussion is about how the players are way older than the ages they claim, hence making a mockery of the entire aim of the tournament.
That has changed with the present board of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) building on the gains of the 2013 U17 team that won the World Youth Championship in the UAE with another team of equally young players in 2015 and still retained their crown as world champions at that level.
Between that time and now other African countries appear to have taken the title of age cheats while Nigeria watch on as the guys who have clean up their acts although it didn’t come easy.
Teams like Niger Republic, Cameroon, Senegal, Benin Republic and Togo have all suffered the shame of having some of their players tagged over aged at U17 level in the last four years as for Nigeria it’s now a thing of the past.
Screening at the Nigeria U17 camp now passes through the country’s immigration where players are checked to see if they have travel or made passports before coming to the camp and to ascertain if the ages are same in cases where some players already have passports before turning 18.
That method has helped weed out age cheats to a large extent that it has been extended to the U20 and 23 team and it’s largely the reason why most players playing in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) are finding it hard to play for the aforementioned youth teams.
Secondly, the introduction of youth tournaments by the NFF and the League Management Company (LMC) specifically for U15 kids has provided an avenue for youth team coaches to scout players for the U17 team.
Also the players are made to undergo at least two different MRI Test before heading to U17 tournament, aside the mandatory one by tournament organisers, Nigeria usually conduct their own test and not only players who failed it are dropped as even players on the borderline are also axed.
The emphasis on using the U17s to develop players and not necessarily to win tournament has taken the pressure of the coaches as well, unlike before where failure at U17 level translates to sack and it sometimes force the Coaches to field over age players for the sake of their jobs.
Nigeria’s success rate in curbing the menace of age cheats should be emulated by other African countries considering their experience appears to have given way to a more productive system which will no doubt make them world beaters in the nearest future.