SPECIAL REPORT: NPFL/LaLiga U-15 Future Promises: Impacts, prospects & how NFF crisis aborted 2018 edition

By Clement Nwankpa Jr

With the nation instantly reaping the gains of the maiden edition of the NPFL/La Liga U-15 Future Promises in the U17 squad at the ongoing WAFU Zone B U17 tournament, many are astounded that the follow-up edition didn’t hold in 2018. 

The first edition of the NPFL/La Liga U-15 Future Promises was held in 2017. After the NPFL All Stars LaLiga tour of 2016 and the Gauteng Invitational that paraded the NPFL U-18 All Stars, this was another on the line of benefits of the NPFL/La Liga partnership.

That the NPFL/La Liga U-15 Future Promises was a huge success is an understatement. The major aim was to ensure the NPFL clubs adhere to global best practices and have virile junior teams.

This was a model that thrived in La Liga. It helped the La Liga clubs develop a rich reservoir of talents in their junior teams which they fell back on at times of injuries to the main team players just as it helped save funds from recruitments of established players.

It was also a good source of income for the teams as the players came for little or nothing, most times home-grown, but could be sold for good profit. That should be good for business.

Adopting this model was a no-brainer. The NPFL clubs were in dire need of such a fresh dimension. There was apparent need for infusions of fresh talents into the league as stakeholders observed that there was a lot of concentration on the older breed and little efforts to unearth younger players.

The result was obvious in the performance of the clubs. The modern game thrived on mobility and that comes with fresh legs. Technically, then, the clubs needed a process that will facilitate discoveries of fresh talents.

There was also the business angle to it. There was need for clubs to be self-sustaining financially. Clubs needed to evolve other streams of income outside government subventions and LMC prize monies. One sure way of doing this is to have younger home-grown players that would help save some money in securing established players while ensuring good profit when sold.

The NPFL/La Liga partnership factored all these in. Their immediate concern was the viability of the NPFL and the clubs. La Liga sought ways to help NPFL stay along that path that will keep it in good pedestal to attain La Liga’s lofty heights.

Did it have the desired impact on the NPFL clubs?

The huge impact the maiden edition of the NPFL/La Liga Future Promises had on the clubs was there for all to see. The aim was to ensure that the clubs sustained the youth teams. The success of the 2017 edition and the razzmatazz that trailed ABS’s triumph were encouraging.

Every club wanted to do well in the next edition. They all wanted to be seen as being a haven of fresh talents. There was competition as to which club unleashed the best crop of players from their youth teams.

This was further fuelled by the LMC U-18 rules which allowed clubs to register five extra players under the age of 18. There were financial incentives for such clubs when they featured these U-18 players in matches.

These clubs aimed at outshining each other in these regards. They were also aware of the fact that a thriving youth team will make the process seamless. So after the success of the first edition, they all looked forward to the next edition in 2018.

Naijasportsgrill.com.ng checks showed that the clubs were investing heavily in the youth teams ahead of the 2018 edition.

The NPFL/La Liga Coaching Clinic

This partnership did not just stop at the Future Promises tournament. There was a La Liga-powered coaching clinic which involved coaches of the NPFL clubs’ youth teams.

La Liga instructors were in Abuja to tutor these coaches on the peculiar demands of nurturing fresh talents. In the process, they got to know that it takes something extra to notice and unearth a burgeoning talent.

It also entails much more to inculcate the basics of the game in the young players and lay solid-enough foundation for their development.

At the professional level, the coaches meet them ready-made needing just some fine-tuning. But it is at this rudimentary level that kids that were hitherto defenders could evolve into attackers under the guidance of well-versed youth team coaches.

All the clubs were represented at this clinic. So ample work had been put into helping the clubs get it right at this level. NPFL and La Liga had done enough to equip them.

Projected impact of the U-15 Future Promises on the age-group national teams

This tournament came at a time there was increased yearning for genuinely young players to be involved in our age-group teams. There was a conscious effort by the NFF Youth Development Committee led by Seyi Akinwunmi in this direction as league players were barred from the U-17 national team.

The Future Promises was to aid in this direction. It was an era football academies were the major sources of players for the U-17 national team. The U-15 Future Promises was seen as a veritable platform to unleash the next generation of national U-17s.

It should take a natural cause of graduation. Players scouted from this tournament should form the nucleus of the next set of U-17s and the U-17 coaches wouldn’t need an open screening to get the core of their teams. In effect, the clubs through their youth teams should be a major source of talents for the U-17 national team.

With the NPFL/La Liga clinic, it should be assured that such players come better prepared having been under the tutelage of seasoned youth team coaches.

Talents unlimited

The U-15 Future Promises unleashed a lot of quality players that should be useful to an U-17 national team coach.

There was the motivational Rangers skipper, Chukwuemeka Egbuchulam, a central defender with a composure that belies his age. From the same team came the likes of tournament top scorer, Million Koma, defensive midfielder Favour Akem and left back Ikechukwu Onuoha.

Niger Tornadoes unleashed central defender, Mohammed Mohammed , creative midfielder, David Yakubu, defensive midfielder, Yahaya Yahaya and rangy forward, Yusuf Mohammed.

From Plateau United came winger Alpha Mark and attacker, David Henry while Lobi Stars unveiled a playmaking captain nicknamed ‘Messi’, Kelvin Aondoaser. Aondoaser’s sweet left foot was a major attraction in a team that had attacker Moses Ochai and the petite multipurpose player, Sesugh Ajer.

Nasarawa United had keeper Usman Ibrahim to thank for the low scoreline losses by an underwhelming team just as midfield anchor Mohammed Ibrahim deserved commendation.

Shooting Stars projected the forward with an educated left foot, Akinkunmi Amoo and Olubode Hassan with the most valuable player, Olakunle Olusegun coming from eventual winners ABS, who also paraded attacker David Okoromi and attacking midfielder, Mubarak Gata.

Abia Warriors unveiled a number 10 called Henry Udezuka just as MFM projected a playmaker donning same jersey number in Sulaimon Lawal.

These were just a few of the revelations from the tournament. Many more were expected to be showcased by the 2018 edition.

Effect of the Future Promises on the current U-17 national team

The major actors in the current U-17 national team taking part in the West African B U-17 tournament in Niamey are products of the 2017 edition of the NPFL/La Liga U-15 Future Promises.

It is instructive to note that the team’s best players in the two matches played so far are from the NPFL/La Liga initiative. The star of the 2-3 loss to Burkina Faso was Olakunle Olusegun, who scored a brace in the game.

Olusegun captained the triumphant ABS U-15 team in 2017 where he emerged the tournament’s most valuable player. While the Burkinabe raced into an early two-goal lead, Olakunke fired a brace to restore parity before half time only for the opponents to grab the winner in the second half.

In the 5-1 thrashing of Cote d’Ivoire, Akinkunmi Amoo was voted the man-of-the-match. Amoo, a forward that modelled his game after Lionel Messi, enjoys cutting in from the right and aiming at goal with his left. This was on showcase against the Ivorians and he was fittingly acknowledged. He is now one of the front-liners for the tournament’s MVP award.

Meanwhile, Amoo was the star of the Shooting Stars team that thrilled at the NPFL/La Liga Future Promises.

It is therefore, axiomatic to point out that the NPFL/La Liga Future Promises is central to the success of the current U-17 national team that was hit by a gale of disqualifications to key players aftermath of the MRI scan.

What aborted the 2018 edition of the NPFL/La Liga U-15 Future Promises?

Unfortunately, the chain of discoveries has been broken with the inability of League Management Company (LMC), organisers of the league, to host the 2018 edition. It must be noted that this tournament is held during the holidays as most of the players are students. Now that the schools have resumed for the new academic session, it is as good as a foregone conclusion that it wouldn’t hold this year.

Meanwhile, Naijasportsgrill.com.ng checks revealed that the clubs eagerly prepared for this edition. The success of the last edition meant the clubs now had functional and well-funded youth teams in wait of the next edition.

The youth team coaches that had been involved in the last two editions of the La Liga Coaching Clinic were also desirous of showcasing what they had acquired in the La Liga programme. There is therefore a burning desire to unleash the fresh talents they had recruited or nurtured.

If the 2017 edition was so beneficial to the U-17 national team, the 2018 edition would have further enriched the pool from which reinforcements could be made ahead of the African U-17 tournament if the team bags the West African B ticket or subsequently, the U-17 World Cup if they advanced at the African tourney, where the continent’s representatives will emerge.

But the recent NFF leadership crisis botched NPFL’s plans of having a follow-up edition. Naijasportsgrill got a privileged view of the letter from La Liga where the NPFL partners pulled out of this year’s edition citing the crisis.

The letter signed by La Liga Country Manager, Javier Del Rio read thus; “We regret to inform you that the 2018 NPFL/La Liga U-15 Promises Tournament earlier scheduled for this summer will no longer hold due to the prevailing issues and uncertainty within the administration of football in Nigeria.

“However, you are guaranteed our commitment both financial and technical towards the organization of the 2019 Coaching seminar and the Tournament itself by which time we hope all the matters will be resolved.

“Thank you for taking note and please send our apologies to all concerned, especially the participating clubs, coaches and players who have all been preparing and looking forward to this year’s tournament”.

So with the above letter, the 2018 edition was put to rest. This no doubt is one of the major setbacks on Nigerian football occasioned by the NFF leadership crisis. This is a bigger prize to pay as it hampers the future of the game in the land.

For this year’s edition, La Liga had perfected LaLiga tour for a selected team of the tournament. All that has been hampered by the NFF leadership crisis.

NPFLNPFL U15 Future Promises
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