25th July, 2012
When ex-international, Adokiye Amiesimaka raised an alarm over the true age of Fortune Chukwudi, former skipper of the Golden Eaglets to the FIFA U-17 World Cup, which Nigeria hosted in 2009, many football fans in the country called him unprintable names.
Infact, Amiesimaka was labelled an unpatriotic Nigerian, who wanted to destroy the ‘glowing’ career of Chukwudi. Not just that, the famous lawyer was also accused of trying to disgrace his fatherland in the eye of the international community.
But three years after Amiesimaka’s outburst, the scourge of age falsification is getting worse in Nigerian sports, especially in the country’s most popular game, football.
Only last week, 18 members of the current Golden Eaglets, who are preparing for the African Junior Championship, AJC qualifying match against Tanzania, failed the Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI test. The test disqualified 18 of the 23 players already assembled to represent Nigeria in the continental tournament. What a shame!
Although, kudos must go to the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, for insisting that all players in the country’s age group competitions must go through the test, but the fact that 18 members of the Eaglets were sent packing for failing the MRI scan, calls for serious concern.
The outcome of the test speaks volume of the rot in Nigeria’s sports management. This should be seen as a wakeup call to the NFF, led by Alhaji Aminu Maigari.
While the disgraceful issue of the 18 players continue to live with Nigerian football, age cheating in Nigeria goes beyond Chukwudi. Going down the memory lane, it was also alleged that many of the players who represented Nigeria at the South Korea 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup were above the age limit.
Players such as Kabiru Akinsola and goalkeeper Dele Ajiboye to mention just a few, allegedly had children before they joined to team to play for Nigeria. With such revelations, it is safe to say that the coaches have been fielded over aged players to international competitions.
Notably, many of the players who once represented Nigeria in age grade competitions fizzle out of the game at crucial times when they are expected to blossom for the senior national teams, the U-23 Olympic Eagles and Super Eagles.
Recently, the technical crew of the U-17 team would have fumbled when they invited Mustapha Babadidi of Gombe United to the Eaglets camp. But, thank goodness, the player was dropped after the Nigerian sporting press kicked against Babadidi’s inclusion in the squad.
It was clear that the Gombe hit man would have been among the players screened out during the MRI test. What a way to tarnished the battered image of this country!
However, many concerned Nigerians have been speaking on the best way to that the nation can stop or reduce age cheating in her sports. The NFF has been advised to go back to the days when youngsters are discovered from the academies.
Ex-international, Segun Odegbami, MON, said: “Why are some coaches not interested in school students? Whay can’t they scout for the right U-17 players to represent our country in international competitions?
“It means that there is something there that the rest of us do not know. Maybe those championing the cause are the ones who see the players from top clubs as the best for their various assignments. These are players who have played for three or four years in top leagues and they still tell us that the players are Under-17,” .
While recalling what went wrong in the ‘Chukwudi gate’ Odegbami said: “I can recall that during the U-17 championship in Nigeria, the NFF said all the players were to be subjected to the MRI scan; but nothing like that happened. And. Nigerians would recall that nothing like that took place. Go and find out the details about the MRI and you will understand that it is not for those under the age of 17. We have checked it, the test can confirm certain things but not to determine the true U-17,” he said.
The founder of The International Academy, TIA, a Senior Secondary School, where boys and girls with talent in sports and arts are trained, however advised the coaches handling age grade teams in Nigeria to do extra works to get the true U-17 players.
“Let them come to TIA school in Wasimi, Orile, they will find 17-year-olds, who are big and strong and are genuine U-17 players who can do this country proud. Nurturing the right young boys and girls has to do with good diet. It has to do with the kind of training they get and so on. It hasn’t got anything to do with age. So we can get genuine U-17 players who can play for this country.
“I know that those running the sport are not planning to cheat or do anything that can tarnish the image of Nigeria, it is what the coaches present to them that they are going to showcase to the world.”
The set of 2007 U-17 players, who helped Nigeria win the FIFA World Cup are nowhere to be found now. Even when they are, they play for less fancied clubs when their counterparts from other countries are hitting it big playing for highly rated clubs.
Rabiu Ibrahim was a member of the 2007 World Cup conquering team, but he is not playing at his best for now.
The former Gateway of Abeokuta star, who was tipped to repalce Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, shone like million stars a few years back, but his career has been blighted with injuries probably because of his age.
Ibrahim’s career has been on the low, Spain’s Fran Merida who is enjoying the best of football playing for Athletico Madrid. Ajiboye was in goal when Nigeria defeated Spain via penalties after extra yet he has returned to the Nigeria Premier League, NPL with 3SC after a stint with Pontevedra CF
In the Spanish lower division.
However Ajiboye’s opposite in the South Korea final, David De Gea has since graduated to the Spanish national team; while Ajiboye has not been deemed fit to have a feel of national team action.
De gea is not only featuring for his countries national team only as he is the first choice goalkeeper of Manchester United of England.
When Nigeria hosted the World Youth Championship, WYC in Nigeria ’99 some of the players that were on parade are still very much around but same cannot be said of Nigerian players that represented the country.
To mention a few, skipper of the reigning world and European champions, Iker Casilas of Real Madrid and his teammate in the national team were in Nigeria for the 1999 edition of the WYC and they still play integral role for their national team but same cannot be said of the Nigerian team.
Even three members of the England team that came to Nigeria for the WYC are still actively involved even if not for their national team but for their respective clubs.
Peter Crouch, Ashley Cole and Andy John were part of the England team that came to Nigeria and they still play pivotal roles for their clubs the list is endless but what is happening to the lads from Nigeria.
Except for Joseph Yobo, who is the skipper of the Super Eagles till date all other members of the 99 set have gone into extinction. The question being asked by football followers is what age were the 99 set, when they represented the country?
Will the country continue to win trophies with over aged players and let the developmental aspect of the game die, only time will tell?