Sunday, May 17, 2015

Nigeria's Youth Football: From Golden Eaglets to Super Eagles. . . .

Nigeria has dominated world youth football over the years, winning more titles than any other country at the U17 level. In the next few months, Nigeria will again defend its U17 title in Chile and its U20 team (made up of former world conquering U17 players) will hope to become the first Nigerian team to win the World U20 title.

However, winning the U17 or U20 titles is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to have the players develop and contribute at the Super Eagles level and dominate the world at the zenith of soccer. That is yet to happen. In this piece, we investigate how these youth players, specifically from the U17 level where Nigeria has been so dominant, impact the full national team A "Super Eagles."

We investigate each year that Nigeria has played at the U17 World Championship. The goal is to identify the number of players from each of those teams that move on to play for the Super Eagles. We also measure impact by enumerating how many players from each team that have played at least 10, 20, 30, or 40+ games at the Super Eagles level.

On Table 1, we note that the 1989 team to the Scotland U17 World Cup produced the most players to appear for the Super Eagles. That is a total of 8 players but only two went on to play for more than 20 games. If you recall, that team did not win a medal in Scotland and it had an unceremonious exit, losing to Saudi Arabia in the quarter finals.

In terms of impact at the Super Eagles level, the 1993 team is above the rest of the other squads. It not only produced Nwankwo Kanu but it had three players appear in at least 20 games each for the Super Eagles. The other squad to produce a player with at least 40 games is the 2003 team that failed at the group stage. That team had Mikel Obi who has now played 70 games for Nigeria.

Table 2 shows the top 10 players from previous U17 squads who went on to appear the most at the Super Eagles level. The 1993 squad alone has four of those players. The 1989 has three. The 2003and 2009 squads have two each.  The World Cup winning 1985 and 2007 teams and the teams that placed second at the U17 World Cups of 1987 and 2001 had none!

2013 Squad
Of course, much has been said about the current U17 champion team -- the 2013 squad that includes Kelechi Iheanacho, Isaac Success, and Taiwo Awoniyi. The fact is their data for this investigation shows zero only because their impact at the Super Eagles level is expected in the future and not the present. Several of them will eventually star at the Super Eagles level. But will that impact surpass that of the 1993 squad? It seems unlikely to have five players from that squad to play at least 10 games for the Super Eagles. However, it is likely that the 2013 squad will do better that the U17 World Cup winning teams of 1985 and 2007. One expects Iheanacho, Success, Awoniyi, Yahaya, and Musa Mohammed to get a chance at the Super Eagles level but it is unlikely that all five will make it to ten appearances each.

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