Monday, December 09, 2013
Behold, The Golden Eaglets Have Turned Super Eagles
The invitation of three members of the 2013 U-17 World Cup winning Golden Eaglets to the home-based Super Eagles poses new challenges to the trio, reports 'TANA AIYEJINA
On Thursday, Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi, released a 30-man list with six players on standby in preparation for January's African Nations Championship in South Africa.
The list is made up mainly of regular home-based players who have played one role or the other since Keshi took over as coach of the national team two years ago.
Captain Chigozie Agbim along with established domestic league players like Sunday Mba, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Ajike Uzoenyi, Muhammad Gambo, Gbolahan Salami, Ifeanyi Edeh and Benjamin Francis top the list of the invited players.
But what caught the eye was the inclusion of three members of the FIFA U-17 World Cup winning Golden Eaglets: Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi and Dele Alampasu.
The trio was influential in the Eaglets triumph- Nigeria's fourth victory at that level- in the United Arab Emirates.
The squad had hardly returned home, when several pundits and followers of the game, came up with various suggestions on what to do to ensure that the players moved on to become big stars in their future careers.
While some suggested that the most outstanding players in the squad should be given 'triple promotion' to the Super Eagles, others insisted that the players must pass through 'due process' by graduating to the U-20 and U-23 national teams before getting an invite to the senior national team.
The Eaglets success in the UAE was majorly due to teamwork but the contributions of Iheanacho, Awoniyi and Alampasu cannot be overlooked.
Outstanding players worldwide have been known to 'jump' the grades- because of their exceptional skills- straight to the senior national team.
For example, Pele, regarded as the world's best ever player, made his debut for Brazil in a 2-1 defeat against Argentina on in 1957, aged 16 years and nine months. Even at that age, he scored Brazil's only goal to enter the history books as the youngest goal scorer in international football.
Argentine superstar Diego Maradona made his senior debut- also at the age of 16.
In recent times, the story hasn't changed either. Argentina and Barcelona star, Lionel Messi, made his full debut in 2005 at the age of 18. His first senior game for Argentina came few weeks after he led Argentina to win the 2005 U-20 World Cup, beating Nigeria 2-1 in the final.
Pele and another Brazilian great, Romario, in 2010, urged the Selecao's then coach, Dunga, to include Neymar, Brazil's newest star, in his squad for the 2010 World Cup, after some heroic performances by the brilliant youngster at the Nigeria 2009 U-17 World Cup.
Even though he was omitted from the squad, the Barcelona star eventually made his debut after the World Cup at the age of 18.
However, former Flying Eagles defender, Mike Onyemachara, argues that the invitation for the Eaglets came too early and has some questions for the Eagles technical crew.
Even though the 1989 U-20 World Cup silver medalist admits that the invited trio has a bright future in the game, he insists that the players need to wait for their time.
He said, "Why are we deceiving ourselves? How can they invite such boys? Is it because they won the U-17 World Cup? What is their intention? They should have allowed the players to pass through the grades.
"If you take them to the national team, who are they going to displace there? This rarely happens in Nigeria and I am afraid it can affect the players negatively.
"The players are very good, no doubt about it but they shouldn't be in a hurry so that they are not rubbished."
But Festus Odini, an U-17 World Cup winner in 1993 and former Eagles goalkeeper, Joe Erico, believe that Keshi's decision is a right step in the right direction.
"It's a good thing for the boys; maybe (Keshi) wants them to get the desired exposure. The boys are still very young; they need to be nurtured, they need to get experience at that level," Odini said.
In Joe Erico's view, Alampasu's invitation is a justification for the young goalkeeper's hard work and perseverance.
Erico said, "I followed him (Alampasu) from the J-League and I am happy with his progress. First time I met him two years ago, when he was playing on the sands of the National Stadium, Lagos, I told him that he could make it, if he put his head down.
"I used him in goal for an international tournament in Lagos after then and I didn't bother about the number of goals he conceded. At last year's National Sports Festival, he was one of Lagos' goalkeepers and I kept encouraging him because I knew he was going to go places. I believe this is just the beginning of good things for him."
Iheanacho's displays in the UAE were phenomenal, scoring six goals to emerge as the best player of the tournament and second highest goal scorer.
Despite a shaky start, Alampasu held his nerves to emerge the best goalkeeper of the tournament, conceding just five goals in seven goals while Awoniyi only got his chance when top striker Success Isaac copped an injury early on in the competition.
The Imperial Academy star, Ilorin grabbed his chance with both hands and scored four goals with some scintillating performances.
In the past, some of Nigeria's stars at the U-17 level were tipped to shine at senior level but they failed to meet the expectations of the nation.