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‘Shina Peter: What Iheanacho’s success means for Nigeria

Kelechi Iheanacho’s outstanding performance for Manchester City in the Capital One Cup saw him score a goal, make two assists and eventually win the Man of the Match award.

It was not the first time the young Nigerian has made the difference for his club as his lone goal in the dying minutes of City’s league game also against Crystal Palace gave them three crucial points which, in hindsight, is one of the reasons they are still sitting on top of the Premier League table.

Iheanacho’s case is a typical from ‘grass to grace’ story and his success in mainstream Europe would mean a lot to Nigeria.

 

Age grade system works if done right

Nigeria have won the Under-17 World Cup a record four times. On paper, it signifies steady development and serious growth in our youth football, however, reality is a sharp contrast of that. The reason for this is not far fetched. In the consuming desire to always win every tournament that involves a trophy and cash prize, Nigeria has resorted overtime to the use of over-aged players for age grade competitions.

Quite honestly, that model fulfilled its immediate objective of winning the tournament. However, on a long term basis, it has hurt the country on many grounds as almost all of the players that represents her on age grade tournament fades into oblivion. As opposed to countries like Germany, Brazil and Argentina that can point several players in their national team who have enjoyed a steady rise from the youth system, Nigeria have a national team that is constantly changing and evolving with new manager and no particular system is adopted to feed it.

Kelechi Iheanacho and the boys that dazzled the entire world in United Arab Emirates two years ago represented some sort of change. Everyone could tell that they were young, talented and actual ‘boys’. The fact that one of them is presently enjoying a gradual rise to stardom is a testament to the fact that age grade competition could help turn things around for Nigerian football if the motif for its creation is followed.

 

A brighter future

There is no gainsaying that the Super Eagles isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the days when Nigerians derived true joy from watching them play and could well do anything to show their support and love. Consistent disappointment and poor showing have reduced expectations and to some extent, followership.

However, in all the seemingly doom and gloom, the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho represents hope that the Super Eagles can indeed be ‘super’again in the nearest future.

Iheanacho’s talent would be fully horned at Manchester City. The lad is on a journey and from all indications, it is one to the top. Watching Iheanacho dazzle in front of admiring fans from across the world strengthens hope that Nigeria will once again dominate the football space in Africa and the world.

 

Inspiration to other young players

Truth be told; Nigeria is not a country that pays attention to grassroots football and its stakeholders. The only time any sort of scouting or recognition goes out to grassroot football players is when a major tournament is in the offing and even then only a few are selected.

The frustration and neglect have led many young footballers in the country into giving up hope that anything good can ever come out of their career. Iheanacho’s rise can, however, inspire a new hope that they too can make it. Not only has he shown to the world that there is immense talent waiting to be tapped in the grassroots, he has also showed that it is possible to rise from the slums to the biggest stage in Europe.

Just couple of years back, he was playing for Taye Academy in Owerri and today, he is scoring goals for Manchester City in England. A true living inspiration for every young player.

Follow ‘Shina Peter on Twitter – @shina_pitta