Kid Can Play: The Nasarawa United example

By Clement Nwankpa Jnr

There seems to be a conscious effort by the management of Nasarawa United to give youth a chance. This writer has watched the Solid Miners many occasions this term culminating in the recent 2-1 defeat of Katsina United in Lafia and what strikes one is the freshness in the team.

LMC had evolved the U-18 rules which allows a club to register five extra under 18 players outside the original 35. These players don jersey numbers 36 to 40. Then there are incentives for fielding such players in the league.

The essence is to encourage the clubs to feature younger players. Coupled with the NPFL/La Liga U-15 Promises, the clubs have now been encouraged to have more functional youth teams. The clubs now have an impetus to promote players from their feeder teams.

But it is not just enough to give younger players the nod. What are the qualities of the players paraded? This is what stands Nasarawa United out. The quality of young players unveiled there is top notch.

Two seasons ago, the team paraded the best right back in the league in Ifeanyi Nweke. Nweke left for Rivers United the next season and the club unleashed Olayinka Onaolapo. Onaolapo excelled and this season, Enyimba raided and took him away.

You thought you have seen the best right back to don Nasarawa’s famed green colour? Wait till you see Abubakar Abdullahi. They have just unveiled a younger and better version. Abdullahi is Nweke and Onaolapo rolled into one. And he is much younger and more mobile.

A member of the Under-20 national team, Abdullahi is a product of the club’s feeder team. He is an embodiment of all the modern full-back stands for, a major threat in the opposition’s third. Against Katsina United, his quick feet and pace took him past opposing defenders before he laid the ball on a plate for Najeem Olukokun to score.

Then there is the young holding midfielder, Isah Ndala, now preferred in place of the more experienced Eugene Obi. Younger brother to former international, Ibrahim Ndala, he was recruited from an academy in Jos and is also involved in the Under-20 national team.

When Thomas Zenke got injured, another feeder team product Sanusi Ibrahim was introduced. Ibrahim’s introduction caused even more problems for the visitors.

Then there is keeper Mohammed Galadima. A member of the NPFL Under-18 All-Stars to the Futures tournament in South Africa last year, Galadima has been fully integrated into the team’s senior team. He is also in the Under-20 national team.

Other feeder team graduates holding sway in the main team are striker Shammasu Mohammed and winger, Anas Yusuf, who took injured Zenke’s place in the starting eleven against MFM. So Nasarawa has utilized all the available five slots for under 18 players.

The mainstay of the team’s defence is the towering Jide Williams. Recruited from Sunshine Stars feeder team, Williams is in his second season in the top flight. He is largely deemed to be raw, but there is a resolve around the club to smoothen the rough edges. So he is seen as work in progress.

Add these to the hunger in Williams Nwani, former Jigawa Golden Stars striker in his debut NPFL season with Nasarawa and you have quite an entertaining bunch. The new number 9 is the team’s major offensive outlet complemented by the diminutive Kabir Balogun and Douglas Achiv from deeper positions.

The avalanche of young players makes it easier for Kabiru Dogo to deploy his high-pressing pattern. The young boys are complemented by experienced campaigners like skipper Emmanuel Makama and keeper Suraj Ayeleso.

It is not all about fielding kids. As noted, the attraction is in the quality of kids paraded. The ones in Nasarawa seem special. Club chairman, Barrister Isaac Danladi is not planning to change soon.

“We have decided to encourage young players here (Nasarawa). When Enyimba came for Onaolapo, I challenged them that I will produce someone better. And that’s what I have in Abubakar,” he said.

He continued: “The game belongs to the younger ones. The modern game is mobile and these younger ones make it flow. There are many quality kids out there. We are only challenged to dig deeper and unearth them.

“We are not what you will call a buying club. We are a selling club and we have scouts scattered everywhere searching for kids who can play this ball very well. And there are many of them. Here, we don’t discriminate against kids. We give them equal opportunity to play. By the way, the superstars were once like them. We make the stars”.

He isn’t finished: “It doesn’t mean that we don’t have big ambitions. But we work within a limited budget and everything has to fall into place. It is not a coincidence that we have many of our players involved in the Under-20. It is a testament that what we are doing here is being appreciated. If there is a place to get quality kids playing football, it is Nasarawa United.”

Do they have a solid structure for the feeder team or do they just stumble on the players?

His response: “We have a well-structured youth team where we get players from ground zero to 19 years. We pay them between N10,000 to N20,000 monthly allowance. We also placed them under a competent youth coach who incidentally is the Chairman of Nasarawa Coaches Association.”

How are the players scouted?

“Every year, we, in conjunction with Nasarawa FA, organize youth competitions across the state where we select outstanding players. We keep them together with allowances. They form the nucleus of the feeder team that, in turn, form the nucleus of the main team. Even when we shop outside, we still shop from the academies,” he added.

He commended the LMC for evolving the U-18 rule as well as putting in place programmes that aided their developmental projects.

“We learnt this from the La Liga tour where we learnt how to put in place lasting youth structures. We learnt that no proper professional club operates without a functional youth team. The LMC has also followed this up with the U-15 Promises. This challenges every club to have a solid youth team. The under-18 rule further helps these clubs to properly utilize these youth team products.”

Culled from NaijaSportsGrill Blog