All hope not lost on Golden Eaglets, Amuneke counsels NFF

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The Nigeria U-17 team,Golden Eaglets may have failed to make the cut in the qualification for the next FIFA U-17 World Cup, a former coach of the team and also a former international and assistant coach to the Super Eagles has advised against throwing the baby and bathwater away.

In an interview with a leading Nigerian newspaper, ThisDay, Amuneke pointed to the essence of age-graded competition, saying that it is essentially, a developmental project and not necessarily meant to win trophies.

Amuneke, who first made his mark as an U-23 player for Nigeria in 1991 and was part of the coaching crew to the 2013 World Cup winning team of the Golden Eaglets, was the coach that handled the winning squad of 2015.

In his squad were the likes of Samuel Chukwueze and Victor Osimhen who are now household names in European fields.

According to Amuneke, whose twin strikes won Nigeria the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994 and the gold medal at the Atlanta ‘96 Olympic Games, the current squad of Golden Eaglets should be applauded and encouraged.

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“The young lads did their best but were unlucky not to get the desired result”, remarked the 1994 African Footballer of the Year.

“We must collectively salute the players and the coaching crew for doing a good job but were unfortunate not to qualify for the finals.

“We cannot afford to let them go just like that because we must erase the tag failure in their history which has been a tradition any time our age-group team failed to win at major events.

“The players are disappointed in themselves knowing fully well that it was an opportunity to launch their career on the big stage and suddenly vanished due to ill luck.

“I can see them doing well if we make conscious effort to integrate them in the domestic league at lower cadre instead of allowing them to vanish into thin air,” he remarked.

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Amuneke noted that in 2003 squad toU-17 World Cup in Finland did not go beyond Group phase but the likes of John Obi Mikel, Chinedu Obasi, Isaac Promise and Ambruse Vanzekin were able to reach the Olympics and Super Eagles level.

“We must engage ourselves in a long-term programme that will ensure the boys are injected into the domestic league clubs and as well as take cognisant of their educational growth which a global standard today aside footballing programme.

“As for the coaching crew, it’s unfortunate what as happened to them but as for me, they did their best.

“It takes a good coach (Ugbade) to be patient with the players for making simple errors which was natural of players of that age.

“I was once in same situation and you have to keep lecturing, develop and ensure proper growth unfortunately as a coach someone must pay the price because Players’ Agents will infiltrate the camp and for obvious reason and when the final selection did not go their way, all they wish is for the team to fail but a good coach should just stay focused and damn the consequence.

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“At any given time, our system is warped towards immediate results instead of long-term planning and as a coach you make friends and enemy as same time but what is important is to stick to the plans,” he pointed out in a telephone interview.

He also recalled his experience as the coach of U-20 team that failed to qualify for the AFCON tournament after defeat to Niger 5-6 on goals aggregate even when his team had the honour to play the final leg at home.

“Aside the core group of boys that won the 2015 tournament in Ecuador, some of the players that did not make the final selection into the tournament from our Calabar camp were invited unfortunately the result did not go our way on a wet evening at Teslim Balogun Stadium.

“I watched the players wept openly in the dressing room and took time to console with them because it was a great opportunity to elevate their career but today I am happy that the likes of Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze, Kelechi Nwakali and many others in that squad moved beyond that stage today,” he recalled.

In Nigeria, the age-grated competition are often seen as a must win project. Failure is an aberration and the coaching crew and and the players often pay the price as the objective is always to win and win.

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In  January1985, the Nigeria Flying Eagles defeated Cameroon 5-1 in Lagos to pick the ticket for the then U-21 World Youth Championship in the Soviet Union.

Only Samson Siasia made it at the Super Eagles’ level. The others literally fizzled out at the youth level. But the players of the defeated Cameroon side made it big, years later, forming the bulk of the record-setting Indomitable Lions at the Italia’90 World Cup.

France under coach Jean-François Jodar won the U-17 World Cup in 2001, beating Nigeria. The coach had been on the saddle from 1987  and did not qualify France for the FIFA U-16/17 tournament till 2001.

He was left on the saddle as his performance was not calculated on the number of trophies won, but on the number of talents he was able to churn out for the national team.

It was reported that the bulk of French players that won the 1998 World Cup passed through Jean-François Jodar.

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