In spite of Nigeria's rich performance at the youth level, many have argued that it has not translated to much at the most senior level. However, it is very difficult to translate domination at the youth level to the senior level because of player maturity which could mean several top stars at U-17 level flaming out before the senior level and several others not selected at the U-17 level maturing into top players at the senior level. This occurs with every country and has very little to do with age falsification as has been erroneously advanced by some persons.
In any case, our interest here is to show data on how players on a Nigerian youth roster (at the youth World Cup stage) advanced to the senior team level. Bear in mind that only players considered are those who actually made the U-17 or U-20 World Cup squad. Thus, even though a player may have played at those youth levels they are not considered if they did not make the youth World Cup squad.
We looked at how long it took players from the youth World Cup squads to debut at the full national team levels. In a few cases, some players (e.g. Taye Taiwo) actually debuted at the full level before playing in the youth World Cup but such instances are few.
U-17 Level (Table 1)
Historically and logically, fewer players progress from this level to the full national team in their playing career. Thus, to see five players from the U-17 level of 1993 move on to play meaningful number of games (10 +) at the most senior level is outstanding. The notable five are Kanu, Oparaku, Ojigwe, Oruma, and Babayaro. No other Nigerian U-17 team has done that. The closest was the 1989 team which had Ikpeba, Okpara, and Akwuegbu. One may argue about the 2009 team, which had four players play at the senior level but only two of those (Onazi and Omeruo) have played 10 or more games at the most senior level. In any case, we compared the top U-17 teams (1989, 1993, and 2009) in terms of how quickly a player from that group earned a debut at the senior level. Please note that the 1985 and 2007 teams were not included even though they won the World Cup. The 1985 and 2007 teams have less than three players each debut at the senior level with only two combined that had meaningful careers at the most senior level.
U-20 Level (Table 2)
Here, as expected, teams have had several players progress to the full national team level. In certain cases players debuted at the senior level a year before or even the year they made the World Cup squad for the U-20. The most productive set of the U-20s was the 1983 team which did not even make it past the group stage at the World Cup. Yet, the team produced seven players who had meaningful careers at the senior level -- Agbonavbare, Ehilegbu, Sadi, Sofoluwe, Okorowata, Edobor, and Wahab Adesina. If Siasia had not missed the 1983 U-20 World Cup on account of exams, that would have been eight players! The next closest in terms of productivity was the 2005 team that produced Mikel Obi, Taye Taiwo, Onyekachi Apam, Chinedu Obasi, Dele Adeleye, and Sanni Kaita. In any case, we compared the top U-20 teams (1983, 1985, 1999, and 2005) in terms of how quickly a player from that group earned a debut at the senior level. Here, we have not included the 1987 and 1989 squads that had 10 and 8 players respectively debut at the full national team levels. Why? Neither squad produced more than two players that had meaningful careers at the senior level.
Take Home Information
At the U-17 level, the 1993 teams appears to be Nigeria's most successful in terms of producing players for the full national team e.g. achieving the primary goal of player development. Importantly, players from this class were integrated to the full national team than players from any other U-17 class.
At the U-20 level, both the 1983 and the 2005 class rank very high, each producing at least six players each that went on to meaningful careers at the senior level. Here is a note, Nigeria has debuted in the full national team no less than 8 players from each U-20 World Cup class until 2007 when the number fell to 6. However, the number debuted does not always indicate quality to play for a meaningful number of games for the full national team. Classic examples are the 1987 and 1989 classes which had 10 and 8 players respectively debuted. Only two each from those classes ended up playing a meaningful number of games for the full national team.
Now, when we look at the U-17 team that won the World Cup in 2013 we have loads of expectations. At this time none of those players has yet debuted for the full national team a year after the World Cup win. Some will eventually make it but using an imputation method with historical data, it appears that the 2013 team may end up having just 2 to 3 players having a career of meaningful games for the fullNigerian national team. Time will tell.