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Can anyone remember the last time our U20 men’s national team, the Flying Eagles impressed in a tournament? Impressing does not necessarily mean winning the tournament or trophy but putting up a heartlifting display or performance which this team is known for..
Ironically, the memories we have about the Flying Eagles are those of the good old era where and when they won the U20 AFCON a record seven times.
The Flying Eagles which used to be a breeding or recruitment ground for then Green Eagles now Super Eagles coaches is now a mere team where players disperse after every tournament. In the 80s, Flying Eagles players graduate straight into the senior national team where they give established players of the Green/Super Eagles a run for their money. The same cannot be said today. Not with the kind of performance witnessed at the about to be concluded Niger 2019 U20 AFCON where the team was beaten in the third place encounter by South Africa.
Like former coach of the team, Emmanuel Amunike stated, a lot of work needs to be done if this team is expected to do well at the FIFA U20 World Cup. Incidentally, the best the Flying Eagles have achieved at that level is second place finish to Argentina in 2005 World Cup hosted by Holland and in Saudi ’89 championship.
Fourteen years on, (since Holland 2005) Nigeria cannot boast of a team capable of achieving that feat. Sadly, the country cannot even boast of presenting the quality of players that did her proud then.
Talking about quality, this is a team that has never lacked in top notch players from inception. The list of junior internationals some of whom made it to the senior level cannot be exhausted.
Some of these junior internationals include Sylvanus Okpala, Franklin Howard, Stephen Keshi, Willy Agbonavbare, Ali Jeje, Paul Ekoku, Yisa Shofoluwe, Samson Siasia, Tarila Okoronwanta, Chibuzor Ehilegbu, Uwem Ekarika, Monday Odiaka, Etim Esin, John Ene Okon, Peter Neketein, Segun Olukanmi, Femi Olukanmi, Adeolu Adekola, Humphrey Edobor, Christopher Nwosu, Andrew Uwe, Christopher Ohenhen, Christopher Anigala, Jonathan Akpoborie, Lawrence Ukaegbu, Chinedu Odiari, Victor Igbinoba, Benjamin James, Osaro Obobaifo, Wahidi Akanni, Alphonsus Akahon, Austin Igbinabaro, Willy Okpara, Angus Ikeji, Emeka Obi, Christian Obi, Nosa Osadolor, Wahab Adeshina, Christopher Edem, Duke Udi, Olumide Harris, James Terna, Henry Onwuzuruike, James Obiora, James Igwilo, Nduka Ugbade, Bawa Abdullahi, Taiwo Enegwa, Peter Ogaba, Mutiu Adepoju, Emmanuel Amunike, Wasiu Ipaye, Sunny Nwachukwu, Austin Okocha, Taribo West, Eddy Dombraye, Pius Ikedia, Julius Aghahowa, Sam Okoye, Rabiu Afolabi, John Obi Mikel, Chinedu Obasi, Ahmed Musa and Ambrose Vanzekin among others.
Building a strong squad at this level is key if we hope to present a crack senior team in the future especially as the Qatar 2022 World Cup is concern. It shouldn’t be a problem getting the right talented boys for the Flying Eagles. It has never been a problem if the coaches are sincere enough in their invitation/recruitment cum screening exercises. If the coaches are fair enough then, the talents are abound from the grassroots level to the NNL and NPFL clubs. But in this era where coaches are owed salaries, bonuses and allowances coupled with coaches receiving bribes and gratification to invite or field players, it is pretty difficult to get the right quality of players for the age grade teams. This is not running down or belittling the effort of Paul Aigbogun who is acclaimed as one of the few trusted hands in the trade locally.
But beyond Aigbogun’s efforts a lot still needs to be done to bring back the glory days of the Flying Eagles. From talent hunt to friendlies, motivation and preparation for tournaments. A situation whereby those in-charge of the sport are nowhere near the team ahead of a crucial encounter in a tourney, the team surely must lack motivation and moral support to excel.
This is not the Flying Eagles we used to know. Let’s go back to the basics.
Let’s return to grassroots, academicals and schools. There are more talented players outside our leagues or NPFL clubs who are ignored or snubbed by the coaches for various reasons. Thankfully, the likes of Joe Erico and Samson Siasia are still around.