NPFL Clubs: A Bridge For Youth Development
“English Premier League club, Tottenham Hotspur FC signs Golden Eaglets’ striker Victor Osimhen.”
The above report is long denied by the recipient of Adidas Golden Boot award at the recently concluded FIFA U-17 World Cup™ in Chile. Is it really false? Time will tell but it sure caught the social media trend fever.
Stories like this, are a recurring decima among football loving fans in Nigeria. Expectations are always at hot lava level anytime an age-grade play puts up an outstanding performance at an international tournament such as the FIFA U-17 World Cup™ or the U-20 World Cup.
The Question: at the slightest opportunity, which age-grade football player today, does not hold the dream to continue his (or her) football career at a foreign-based club especially in Europe?
The offer to ply one’s football trade in Europe for instance, which comes with add-ons like combining football with progressive school education is not only irresistible but equally challenging. Achieving one’s dreams as a young football player while living under seemingly good and conducive environment, is a lifetime break to be grabbed with both hands.
The attractions for playing in Europe are near unending. The chance to learn and understand the general rudiments of the game; developing and amplifying technical playing skills to be reckoned a world class player; learning under the tutelage of renowned coaches and managers; and the prospect to play with the captivated attention of a global TV audience and in-arena spectators, week-in week-out, highlights the dreams of every young aspiring football player.
You will understand why, when Manchester City FC came knocking for 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup hero, Kelechi Iheanacho, the young man – and his dad, of course – wasted no time to append his signature with the club.
The fans in Nigeria, cannot be blamed for having such expectations of their young ‘star’ footballers, either. Genuinely, the fans desire to see every football player of Nigerian extract, excel in their playing career, and be rated with the best in the world. In fairness to the fans, these expectations and hope, will continue. Simply, the domestic league clubs particularly of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), currently lack the base in terms of resources and capacity, to produce world class players. Well, at least for now.
While this should be a cause of concern for the clubs and managers of the league [the League Management Company (LMC)], the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), should share in this concern. The missing sinew which is believed, aids transition from the U-17 team to the U-20 on a professional scale, is continuous development at a football club howbeit, in the domestic league.
Clubs in the top flight domestic league (NPFL, a study case), are yet to institute a professional youth system or academy. The establishment of such will witness young players, rise through various age-grade cadres, until they become first team regulars at their respective clubs. Indeed, the LMC has a policy that rewards clubs that include young players in their first team sheet. This is in a bid to influence and encourage clubs to set up youth academies, so as to be in the business of evolving young football talents.
COD United FC, is the only club known to have established and instituted age-grade squads. The club is not in the professional football league, just yet. For COD United, the objective to groom young football talents across certain age-grades, is not lip service. It is instructive, the club’s football culture is reflected through TWO strategic instruments: OMODELIG, an annual summer football camp/competition; and a partnership for youth football development with English Football League (EFL) side, Bolton Wanderers FC. COD United is positioned strategically, as a model for other clubs in Nigeria.
There is no doubt the NFF wants an improved league. The level of support the league has received so far this year, from the country’s football governing body, though measurable, can best be qualified. The NFF, is very well on the bandwagon to influence virtually all the clubs in the NPFL, to be privately-held money-making business ventures, and not mere playing football clubs. This direction is demonstrated with a visit by members of the NFF executive board, to the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). It was a move welcome and embraced by the football comity in Nigeria.
“It is a good development”, says Mr. Davidson Owumi, CEO, Warri Wolves FC, stating further, “They have taken the first step in the right direction.”
On his own part, Mr. Sola Aiyepeku, Executive Director, COD United FC, said it is “good for PR”.
Still, if the NFF is to achieve its objective of developing and sustaining football in the country, talks of the clubs evolving to be private-owned will not cut it alone. Nigeria’s football governing body needs to effectively demonstrate to clubs among other things, that they are the missing jigsaw in the puzzle of youth football in Nigeria, and not stand-alone youth academies.
It is interesting to note, each NPFL club stands a great deal of benefits from instituted youth football programmes. For one, youth academies guarantee an endless reservoir of football talents not just for the clubs but also, for the country’s national age-grade squads. The media spotlight during say a youth World Cup, highlights the club as a youth-centric organisation which tends to pull interested clubs from overseas to forge partnership and youth-centric corporate sponsors. At the height of a football transfer window, NPFL clubs will enjoy financial largesse from the sale and transfer of a player to a foreign-based club.
Importantly, regardless of the benefits highlighted, the clubs need to enhance their technical departments. Crucially, the need for the technical skills of each player cannot be overemphasized. This existence or lack thereof, of a technical player, will determine to great length, the market value the said player. Engaging the services top notch sound coaches is a no-brainer in this regard, if the young boys – and girls – are to compete effectively with their peers in developed leagues.
The essence for home-grown coaches to seek to continuously advance their knowledge of the game at the youth level, is an opportunity and a lacuna. Young aspiring coaches will get the break to form part of a backroom staff in a team’s dugout. There is currently, a dearth of young aspiring coaches not being actively involved in domestic club football: this could give rise to foreign technical coaches flooding the football market in Nigeria.
Overall, there exists windows of prospects for the clubs to tap into grassroots football development and youth academy programmes. The absence of these equally pose potential threats not just to football but also, Nigeria’s socio-economic life.
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