By Seyi Oluwole
I’m a Nigerian residing in Belgium. Nigeria and I don’t care what anybody says is the giant of Africa. No single county besides the United States has her imprint all over the world like Nigeria. Some of the brightest minds, celebrated actors, doctors, lawyers, engineers, journalists, writers, athletes, etc is excelling like Nigerians.
I love Nigeria and I proudly flaunt my Nigerian flag on my car, Nigerian sweater in the cold, Nigerian language to my children. I love who I am, where I’m from and what we represent. I may live in Belgium, but my heart and soul resides in Nigeria.
It was with great dismay this past week that I was at the Belgium Football Association Headquarters on the invite of the FA and I witnessed player after player come into the office for registration and processing when I heard my language being spoken by a father to his son coming to register to be a part of the Belgium U15 national team. I immediately approached the gentleman and introduced myself to him.
I asked him why his son is not playing for our country and his reply was baffling and at the same time upsetting. He said because we don’t have a U15 national team. He told me that if we did, he would have gladly preferred his son to play for his father’s land but the Belgium National team has been inviting him for training camps since U13s.
I couldn’t believe that the undisputed giants of Africa would allow other nations to take our players simple because we don’t have a team for them so I looked up the NFA’s website to see if we have a U13 and U15 team.
I found that we have a coach for the team but no actual team exists. I was dumbfounded but a lot of things started making sense. When we have players of Nigerian origin in the English Premier League playing for the England youth teams, players like Segun Owobowale in the Netherlands playing for the Netherlands youth team, players of Nigerian origins playing for US youth National teams, I could not believe that we have a coach whom from all I’ve gathered is a fantastic head coach who has produced talents for the U17s in the past but we do not have a team.
How do we cultivate and find talent for our U17 teams? How can we secure the future of the national team itself if we don’t have a feeder system starting from U13 to U17 to the National team? How do we discover those gems abroad at a young age to get them to commit their futures to the national team before the country they’re residing in snatches them like the hundreds of players all over the world that have Nigerian parents but are not playing for Nigeria simply because we do not have programs for the U13s and U15s?
I am a supporter of everything Nigeria because it is Nigeria that taught me the work ethic I needed to become a surgeon in Europe coming from a poor background. I hope this gets to our football administrators and ask them– why dont we have an active U-13 national team when we have youths that are ready to represent their country.
I have seen the US U-14 team travel to Europe on many occasions to play in tournaments, some of their physio are Nigerians and my friends who are in Europe at least twice a year get their U-13 players exposed to European soccer to prepare them for U-17 and eventually the national team. The U-13 boys from all over the world are playing each other and playing for youth clubs across the world while we do not have a team.
I know the job of our administrators from the chairman all the way down to the coaches is not an easy one but what happened to the U13 program profiled here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWVHA1yfGac – The U15 team that won just last here – http://www.goal.com/en-ng/news/4065/africa/2014/05/31/4851250/ayg-nigeria-u-15-beat-swaziland-3-1-to-emerge-champions.
From what I’ve been told by my Nigerian friends and family in England, they remember seeing Iheanacho, Ezeh, Obasi and Baba with Nigerian U-13 In 2010 playing against British academy teams and winning a tournament in England.
If that U-13 team yielded us the core of players that won the U-17 World Cup, why don’t we have an active U-13 and U-15 team?
I know the influence of the media is limited but I hope a question is asked of our administrators if and when they plan on reviving our U-13 national team for the sake of the future of football in our country.
Dr Seyi Oluwole wrote this from Belgium where he resides.