One of the main features of the just concluded Zone D Copa Coca Cola (North Central zonal championship) held at the Area 3 mini-stadium was the array of talents on display. It was a two-day event. Nigeria is known as one of the countries that has continually produced young talented sportsmen and women, especially in the round leather game.
That has helped the country to rule the world three times in the youth category. Though, in recent time the country has been floundering in the international arena mainly due to the inability of its sports administrators to properly harness the talents that abound in all the nooks and crannies of the country.
Therefore, it was not surprising that the debate that greeted the North central zone of the Copa Coca Cola championship held last weekend was on whether the football authorities would harness the talents seen during the two-day tournament.
It became an issue because aside a pocket of top dignitaries including the Chairman of the House Committee on Sports, Hon Godfrey Gaiya, Director of Sports FCT, Alhaji Alim Musa and NFF general secretary, Musa Amadu, Dr. Emmanuel Ikpeme and NFF Chief Media Officer, Ademola Olajire who were on hand to watch the highly enterprising youths and skillful players, none of the Nigerian national youth team coaches was on ground to spot the array of stars that were on parade.
During the final match between Team Abuja and Kano, the trio of Shehu Usman, Victor Joshua and Martin Daga were particularly a delight to watch by Abuja soccer fans as they distinguished themselves and came close on different occasions to get goals for the Abuja team.
In the action packed final that took Victor Emmanuel 4th minute deflected goal to separate the two teams, Fahad Muhammed and Shubak Yau’s inspirational performances ensured the Kano team proved stubborn for their hosts.
Apart from the trio of Shehu Usman, Victor Joshua and Martin Daga of the Abuja team and the duo of Fahad Muhammed and Shubak Yau of Kano team, other players in both the Abuja and Kano teams displayed soccer creativity that kept the spectators on the edge of their seats throughout the 90 minutes duration of the final game. Even the loser game between team Kaduna and FCT selected side exhibited skillful and tactical displays.
Most of the fans at the Area 3 Mini-Stadium Sports Complex in Garki, Abuja who spoke to LEADERSHIP SPORTS were of the belief that the future of Nigeria in football is secure if only the nation’s football authorities would live up to their responsibilities and send coaches to all Copa Coca Cola tournament venues scattered across the country to scout players for Nigeria’s youth teams instead of depending on over-aged players to prosecute international youth competitions.
“These players cannot be more than 16. Some of them may be just 14 years old. These are the kind of players we should groom for the future. But the NFF board would not listen, instead they would rather rely on over-aged players who are probably 25 or 30 to play Under-17 competitions” lamented one of the Abuja based fans who identified himself as John to LEADERSHIP SPORTS in an interview.
According to Femi Adelusi, Project Manager, COPA Coca-Cola, the pan Nigeria U-17 grassroots football tournament is an exceptional competition when it comes to harnessing raw talents and in the very near future their efforts will be seen in the changing tide of Nigerian football. “We are committed to the Copa Coca-Cola promise and will spare no expense to ensure that we put these budding stars on the right track to achieve their dreams.
The boys chosen would become heroes in their communities and would be reference points for aspiring football players willing to turn their dreams into reality through Copa Coca-Cola. Just to give you a bid into the background of the competition, we started with 14 states. All the 14 states registered well and they were divided into four zones.
So, we have four zones across Nigeria. The winners of each of the zones will represent their zones at the grand finale in Lagos on Children’s Day, May 27. The long term plan of this competition is to watch and monitor stars that will emerge from here kick start their own football careers and develop into full blown professional players in future to either join top European clubs or clubs in Nigeria.
“We will be launching an Alumna Coca Cola players association which will be used to monitor and support them as they grow up in their professional football careers. We are only providing them opportunity to discover their talents. A team of 26 players will be selected from here to go and represent Nigeria at this year’s African Copa Coca Cola challenge cup coming up in South Africa.
“Every year, since the beginning of the competition four years ago, a team represents Nigeria at the African Copa Coca-Cola cup. Four of the players that passed through this Copa Coca-Cola two years ago are now in the Nigerian U- 17 national team camp from information I got.
One benefit of this tournament is giving back to these young boys and creating a platform for them to launch their football careers. For the community, it is also entertaining. It is also to help the government prepare footballers for tomorrow. This is a platform for these players because playing in this tournament is to be identified, gain experience and move up from there.
In terms of quality, for the four years we started it has been improving. The quality of the games, officiating and organisation has been excellent including the attendance which has also been encouraging. Our team technical committees are made up of former Nigerian internationals. We have the people that matter behind this project and it is fully endorsed”, Adelusi stated.
The top Coca-Cola Company official also disclosed that all arrangements have been put in place for a successful final on May 27th , 2012 when the final phase of the competition will be decided at the Teslim Balogun Stadium and he expects more football excitement, thrills coupled with quality football and good officiating. He also hopes to get a solid and all conquering Team Nigeria that will participate in an African tournament in South Africa.
COPA Coca-Cola, launched in 2009, is designed to discover budding football talents across the country, help them hone their football skills, place them in the lime-light, and facilitate their discovery and recruitment into the big clubs to play alongside established football stars.