IKENWA NNABUOGOR tells a story of Golden Eaglets super stars who however bombed at senior level as well as those who rose to the occasion…
It has a been mixed bag of fortunes for some Nigeria’s former junior internationals who shone brightly at the U17 World Cup only to fail to return the favours at senior level when so much was expected of them.
For some of the top talents that shone brightly at the junior soccer global showpiece, the expected graduation into finished articles at senior level for both club and country failed to happen, making their impressive U17 World Cup outings look like a fluke.
Some others took their game higher and raised bar for themselves for club and country to put gloss to their illustrious careers.
Macauley Chrisantus not only powered home seven goals to emerge top scorer as the Eaglets won a third U17 World Cup in 2007, but also was the tournament’s second best player behind Germany’s Toni Kroos.
German top side Hamburg eventually won the race for his signature only for the Kaduna-born striker to struggle at higher levels for both club and country.
Kroos went on to prove his class with mouth-watering outings for Real Madrid, while his deputy’s career rode a bumpy ride with documented unsettled spells that took him to Greece through Spain, Finland and Turkey.
Sadly, Chrisantus is presently in Iran as he desperately battles to make something of a once promising career.
Like Chrisantus, diminutive Philip Osondu was expected to rule the world after a perfect individual performance, winning the Most Valuable Player award at the cadet World Cup in Canada in 1987, but the former Falcons of Aba forward failed to crack it at senior level.
Anderlecht grabbed ‘Zanza’ immediately after the World Cup and reportedly committed him to a life contract that also caged his future.
Loan spells at RWD Mollenbeek and La Louvierre changed nothing as Osondu ended his career without making a single appearance for the Super Eagles.
Today, he is trying to make ends meet in Belgium outside the game.
Ezekiel Bala was another top senior prospect as he shone brightly at Coach Augustine Eguavoen’s Eaglets at Finland 2003 U17 World Cup but failed to raise his bar at senior level.
Lyn Oslo handed him and his Finland 2003 mates John Obi Mikel and Chinedu Obasi, but it would only be Mikel and Obasi who went ahead to play at senior level as Bala disappointingly was drowned in the Norwegian waters.
He has since retired and working in Norway.
But for Femi Opabunmi’s eye problems, he may have taken his game higher than his surprise Japan/Korea 2012 World Cup appearance.
Opabunmi caught the eye at the 2001 Trinidad & Tobago U-17 World Cup that quickly transformed into exciting moments at club senior team level in Switzerland and France. But a combination of poor form and eye problem dimmed the lights for this once interesting winger.
South Korea 2007 U-17 World Cup winner and playmaker Rabiu Ibrahim has continued to struggle in his career despite the huge promise he showed as a schoolboy star.
Ibrahim was also touted to be Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha’s natural successor following his spotless command of the Eagles’ midfield in Korea but his performance at senior level has left so much to be desired.
Though he is picking up gradually at Slovak side Slovan Bratislava, he may not be the player many had expected him to become.
But there have also been many success stories by the Golden Eaglets of the past, like Victor Ikpeba, Nwankwo Kanu, Mikel Obi, Victor Osimhen and lately, Villarreal’s sensation Samuel Chukwueze.
Both Ikpeba and Nwankwo have won the African Footballer of the Year awards to prove their performances at the U-17 World Cups in Scotland and Japan received divine direction from God.
Ikpeba scored his way to AS Monaco and added the “Prince of Monaco” sobriquet to his super illustrious career that also returned some shine for the Super Eagles.
Kanu won the UEFA Champions League to become the second African to do so after Rabah Madjer for Porto in 1987, to end his career on a super high, capping 87 times for his country.
Mikel remains till date one of the biggest players from this part of the world to successfully graduate from a junior player to super senior player for both club and country.
The world never doubted his incredible but short appearance at Finland 2003 U17 World Cup which also saw Chelsea wrestle the now retired Super Eagles’ captain from Manchester United in one of the world’s most celebrated transfer battles.
Mikel went on to win everything as well as become one of the three Nigerian players to appear at all levels of national teams from Eaglets, through Flying Eagles, the Olympic team to the Super Eagles. The other two players being Chinedu Obasi and Lukman Haruna.
Samuel Chukwueze was one of star attractions at Chile 2015 World Cup as Nigeria won a record-extending fifth U-17 World Cup title and continued his progress at Spanish side Villarreal, who are currently reaping their investment after grabbing him on an initial academy player contract.
Currently, Chukwueze is one of the most sought after youngsters in world football with Liverpool reported to have made a whopping €63 million bid for his signature.
Osimhen not only emerged top scorer at Chile 2015, but his 10 goals in the tournament remains a record that may take some to be broken.
Initial hiccup at German club Wolfsburg was laid to rest as Osimhen resurrected his career at Belgian side Charleroi that had top spenders outsmarting themselves to land the talented goal banger.
Lille of France’s noses were in the front in the signature race and the 21-year-old striker wasted no time to return the favours as he is one of the leading scorers in the French Ligue 1 with seven goals.
He has now been handed Super Eagles top striker’s shirt on the back of the sudden retirement of Odion Ighalo after the recent AFCON in Egypt.
What will the Eaglets Class of 2019 produce – stars or flops at a higher level?