Less than 50 days to their opening match of the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Brazil, handlers of the Golden Eaglets are yet to put together a team for the world championship.
Many Nigerian football fans are worried by this because they feel strongly that by this time, instead of screening for players, the Manu Garba led coaching crew should be putting finishing touches to the team’s tactics.
Unfortunately the screening for the players to represent Nigeria in Brazil which began since 2018 when Manu was reappointed the Head Coach of the cadet team is ongoing to the consternation of Nigerians.
Without any exaggeration, the coaching crew of the Golden Eaglets would have screened not less than one million Nigerian youths who want to represent the country at this level.
Most Nigerians are disturbed because in as much as the coaches are looking for the best legs available, time is no longer on the side of the team.
The non-stop screening of players may not be unconnected with the perennial problem of over aged players flooding the camp of the Eaglets anytime the team is being assembled.
The coaches are probably trying to avoid a situation where the entire team would be wiped out by MRI as was the case in 2017 when at least 26 Eaglets were disqualified before the team met Niger Republic in the final qualifying match for the 2017 U-17 AFCON.
The team coached by the gaffer eventually failed to qualify for the Africa cadet Championship where they would have picked the ticket to the 2017 U-17 World Cup in India.
So after missing out of the 2017 edition, the Eaglets are expected to atone for that disappointment by putting up a good show in Brazil. Consequently, the apparent lack of focus in their preparation is said to be worrisome.
Manu Garba who led the team to victory in 2013 in the United Arab Emirates is expected to be swimming in familiar waters but he appears to be overwhelmed.
It is said his assignment is becoming more difficult to execute because of the unnecessary interference from his employers who have continued to ‘impose’ players on him.
The recent incident appearance of the reigning highest goal scorer in the NPFL, Sunusi Ibrahim of Nasarawa United in the camp of the team is one example of how the coach has been put under pressure by the NFF, agents and influential parents who want their wards in the team.
Thus, in order to accommodate as many interests as possible, screening of players who would represent Nigeria in Brazil appears endless, even as the clock is busy ticking. This unfortunate development has divided Nigerian football analysts. When Trust Sports sought the views of some of the analysts, most of them were vehemently opposed to the continuous screening of players.
However, some backed the technical crew as they said it is better to diligently screen players in order to avert any MRI mishap at a time it would be too late to fix the damage.
First to speak to Trust Sports was a former international, Barnabas Imenger who said “Less than two months to the World Cup and no team in place, what a mess!.
This is clearly a lack of professional planning. “Are the coaches or NFF not aware that success in football comes through long time planning and preparation and not fire brigade approach?. This is certainly planning to fall. I’m worried.”
A seasoned sports journalist, Ojeikere Aikhoje also said “It’s sad that we are still screening players for the U-17 World Cup which is just around the country.
“The coaches are handicapped, so it’s clearly the fault of the Nigeria Football Federation. “The U-17s should have a pool of players, but in this case the coaches are still looking for players. What time will they have to function as a unit?
“At a time other countries are perfecting strategies, we are gathering talents together to search for players.” However, another experienced sports journalist, Kunle Salami said there is nothing wrong with the process, if the aim is to discover the best available players for the team. “If need be, yes, especially for emergencies like injuries or MRI exclusion.
However, this time, the coaches should be striving to achieve cohesion and better understanding for the team since Nigeria is always the team to beat at this level of global football,” he said.
A former international, Garba Lawal also said “It depends on the kind of players a coach may be looking for, especially if he is not satisfied with the performance of the players in the Africa Youth Championship.
“I hope Manu will have the right players in less than two months. He is good in recruiting young player. I’m sure he will get right,” said the coach of Real Stars of Kaduna.
On his part, a former BCC Lions of Gboko striker, Igba Jija said “In Nigerian sports circle, it has always been this way. Sometimes I feel our retired footballer’s turn coaches don’t even know what they are up to.
“If the team that qualified for the World Cup needs to be strengthened in certain departments, which going by their performance in the last competition to me is necessary, what were they doing after they came back from Tanzania?.
“Actually the timing is bad but that team I saw at the Africa U-17 Championship needs strengthening,” he stated.
The proprietor of DreamFoot Academy Makurdi, Mac Terhemba Imenger believes the unfortunate development is created by football agents who won’t allow the coaches to do their job. “The idea of the national U-13 and 15 which is to graduate players to the U-17 national team is good but how well is the system handling that?. “Agents should stop controlling our youth national teams.
The authorities should work with academies and their coaches not these agents that are causing confusion everywhere. “We might end up taking good players to Brazil but not a solid team. By this time, the team should be blending instead of screening.
However, another veteran sports journalist, Samm Audu said “This open screening is necessary because we still don’t have a comprehensive database of the young players in the country.
“The exercise will also afford the team options should the MRI age test work against some of the players in the main squad. The last age test ruled out almost half of the first team to the AFCON zonal qualifiers in Niger last year.
” Following concerns raised by football stakeholders and analysts over the continuous screening of players, the technical crew of the Golden Eaglets responded by saying it is not carrying out open screening but only trying to get players on standby for at least six members of the team who are on grade 5 MRI.
“We’re not screening. We already have a lot of players who are on grade 5 MRI in the last Nations Cup.
We went to Tanzania with about six of them with that grade so we need backup for them should they fail the MRI. “Besides we always finished our training with those in camp before we have a look at other players.
We have identified players that can fit into the team in the event some of them in camp didn’t pass the MRI.” At the moment, the camp of the Golden Eaglets is no longer a beehive of activities as it was in the past weeks but players are still being ‘sneaked’ in by powerful forces for screening.
An official of the team said this is necessary because the technical crew is trying to get at least four quality players on standby in each position in the team.
“The coaches are still looking at players because they want to have at least four good replacements on standby in each position in case any of the first team players fails MRI test. “We wouldn’t want to be running helter-skelter in case it happens,” he said. He also disclosed that Golden Eaglets are billed to attend a pre-World Cup invitational in Turkey later this month.
According to him, the championship is jointly arranged by UEFA and CAF for their teams that have qualified for Brazil 2019. Trust Sports is made to understand that it is after the Turkey tournament that the final list of Eaglets for the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup would emerge.
For now, the search for the best players for the national U-17 team is not completely over even as the Eaglets’ opening match of Brazil 2019 is on October 26 against Australia. Nigeria’s other Group opponents are Ecuador and Hungary.
The Golden Eaglets were champions in 1985, 1993, 2007, 2013 and 2015. They are therefore, aiming at their sixth title in Brazil.