When the Golden Eaglets departed the shores of Nigeria for African U-17 Cup of Nations in Tanzania, about three weeks ago, many football aficionados expected the coach Manu Garba’s side to return to the country with a World Cup ticket and also the trophy.
After the second round of group matches, the Golden Eaglets had the World Cup ticket in their kitty – becoming the first team in Tanzania to achieve such feat. The team however failed the secure obligation, which is to lift the U-17 AFCON trophy. Even when the young lads were presented with an opportunity to win medals via the third place, the Golden Eaglets disappointed massively against an Angolan side they had earlier defeated 1-0 in the group stage.
Garba’s squad which was made up of players selected from previous age-grade championships, including the U-15 national side at the 2018 African Youth Games in Algeria started brightly by defeating host nation, Tanzania in a seven goals thriller.
However, despite creating several goal scoring opportunities the team managed to score only two goals in four subsequent matches, a pointer to their profligacy.
The loss to Guinea in the semi-finals was particularly painful given that the Eaglets had the opportunity to take out their opponent in the opening 45minutes. Manu Garba’s team had no business going into penalty shootout to decide the winner. And when the match had to be decided via penalties after it ended goalless in regulation time, I already knew the Eaglets are out of the tournament.
The result of the third place match was fallout of the semi-final defeat as the morale of the Eaglets was at the lowest ebb as the players were aware they had already disappointed 180million Nigerians by not making the final of the competition.
Now that the U-17 AFCON is over, it is time for coach Garba and the Technical Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to evaluate the squad and the performance of the team in Tanzania.
For the Eaglets to impress at the forthcoming U-17 World Cup in Brazil, the squad must be reinvigorated with better players especially in attack and midfield.
From reliable sources, it was gathered that many of the players in the present Golden Eaglets squad bribed their way through. According to sources, agents, managers and parents of the selected U-17 players paid between N400,000 to N2million each to have their wards named in the final squad.
It was further gathered that some players who had the skills and technical ability but could not raise substantial amount to pay the coaches and probably NFF officials.
It was also learnt that some of the managers and agents of the players reportedly had an agreement with the head coach that their client must be given quality playing time in Tanzania in order to attract the attention of European club scouts. Many of those agents were in Tanzania to ensure the technical crew fulfilled their side of the ‘bargain.’
This illicit act though not alien to any of our national teams affected the performance of the team.
To avoid a repeat of the lackluster performance of the Golden Eaglets as witnesses at the U-17 AFCON, Manu and the rest of the technical crew must shun favouritism and any form of bribery.
This time, the coach must pick his squad based on quality, fitness and form. No player should be picked for financial gratification or otherwise.
I fervently believe there are still thousands of players in various football academies and feeders’ team across the country that deserved a place in the present national U-17 team. Only the best should be allowed to turn out for the Golden Eaglets in Brazil.
Finally, to avoid being enticed with bribes by agents and managers of the players, the NFF must ensure they pay the salary and allowances of the coaches and other officials as at when due. Many of those coaches are breadwinners of their respective family and may easily fall prey to bribes especially when the NFF refused to credit their salary accounts on schedule.