IKENWA NNABUOGOR tells a story of Golden Eaglets super stars who shone at senior level as well those who returned very little at the same level…
It has a been mixed bag of fortunes for some of the country’s former junior internationals who shone brightly at the U17 World Cup only to fail at senior level when so much was expected from them.
For some of the top talents that shone brightly at the junior soccer global showpiece, the expected transition to finished articles at senior level for both club and country failed to happen, making their impressive U17 World Cup outings look more like a fluke.
Though some took their game higher and raised bars for themselves and for club and country to put gloss on their illustrious careers.
Macauley Chrisantus not only powered home seven goals to emerge top scorer as the Eaglets won a third U17 World Cup title, but also was the tournament’s second best player behind Germany’s Toni Kroos in 2007.
German top side Hamburg eventually won the race for his signature, but the Kaduna-born striker never got to play for the Super Eagles.
Kroos went on to continuously prove himself with scintillating outings for mighty Real Madrid, while his deputy’s career rode a bumpy ride with documented unsettled spells that took him Greece through Spain, Finland, Cyprus and Turkey.
Sadly, Chrisantus has now pitched tent in the lower league in Saudi Arabia as he desperately continues to pick up his career pieces.
But the stories of Victor Ikpeba, Nwankwo Kanu, Mikel Obi, Victor Osinhem and lately, Villarreal’s sensation Samuel Chukwueze have gladdened the hearts of fans who followed their sweet transition from junior level to senior level.
Both Ikpeba and Nwankwo have won the African Footballer of the Year awards to prove their performances at the U17 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 Super Eagles.
Kanu won the Champions League title to become the second African to do so after Rabar Madjer for Porto in 1987, and ended an illustrious 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 becoming 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.
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 midfielder failed to crack it at senior level.
Anderlecht grabbed the little battle ship 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.
He died recently in Belgium after a brief illness.
Ezekiel Bala was another top senior prospect as he shone brightly for coach Augustine Eguavoen’s Eaglets at Finland 2003 U17 World Cup, but could not to raise his game at a higher level.
Lyn Oslo handed him and his Finland 2003 mates Mikel Obi and Chinedu Obasi, but if was only Mikel and Obasi who went ahead to play at senior level as Bala disappointingly was drowned in the Norwegian waters.
He’s presently 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 U17 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.
Samuel Chukwueze was one of star attractions at Chile 2015 World Cup as Nigeria won a record fifth U17 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 among top European clubs linked with the youngster.
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 Nigerian 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 currently among the French Ligue 1 leading scorers with 12 goals.
He has also been handed Eagles’ top marksman’s shirt following the sudden retirement of Ighalo.
However, this success story cannot be said of the South Korea 2007 U17 World Cup winner and playmaker Rabiu Ibrahim as he continues to struggle for relevance at the top.
Ibrahim was also touted to be Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha’s natural successor following his spotless command of the Eaglets’ midfield in Korea, but his performance at senior level has left so much to be desired.
Though picking up gradually at Slovak side Slovan Bratislava, he has fell far short of the promise he first showed.