For many football fans, it has been difficult going from watching Austin Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Rashidi Yekini and George Finidi perform their magic weekly to enduring the sights of Christian Obodo, Victor Agali and Pius Ikedia and now to glancing at the likes of Dele Alli, and Jordon Ibe with envy. But are we about to witness another talented generation capable of taking us back to the golden era?
Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets have won the last two editions of the U-17 World Cup, in the process throwing up truly talented youngsters like Kelechi Iheanacho, Musa Yahaya and the Nwakali brothers. And with the likes of Moses Simon, Umar Sadiq, and even Ahmed Musa all on the tender side of twenty, it’s beginning to look like the dawn of another exciting generation for the nation’s most beloved sporting event.
At the 1990 African Cup of Nations in Algeria, where Nigeria got to the final and came agonizingly close to lifting the trophy, only two players in that Super Eagles squad (Friday Elahor and Andrew Uwe) plied their trade abroad.
Four years later, by the time Nigeria won the AFCON title and appeared at her first World Cup in the United States, most of the national team players were playing regular football at top clubs in Europe.
That was the bedrock of Nigeria’s Golden Generation in the 90s.
And by the time the Dream Team won the gold medal at the Olympic Games in 1996, Nigeria’s football was at its ultimate peak. Victor Ikpeba was a royalty in Monaco; Nwankwo Kanu had signed for Inter Milan; Taribo West was an ironman at Auxerre and would go on to play for both Milan giants; Sunday Oliseh and Austin Okocha were earning rave reviews in the Bundesliga; and Emmanuel Amuneke was being courted by Barcelona.
That, sadly, was the last time any Nigerian fan was this excited about Nigerian youngsters.
Thankfully, it’s de ja vu all over again.
After a lengthy dry period when no Nigerian player was deemed talented enough to star for Europe’s best sides, save for Mikel Obi at Chelsea, the football gods have decided to smile good fortune on our football again. European giants are now fighting once again for the signatures of Nigerian footballers.
Kelechi Iheanacho is showing what he can do at Manchester City. Victor Osimhen could have signed for any top side from Barcelona to Arsenal before he decided on Wolfsburg.
Two Nigerian teen stars recently struck deals to join English side Arsenal when they turn 18. And if not that CSKA Moscow was a couple of million pounds greedy in the last transfer window, Ahmed Musa would have joined Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike and Peter Odemwingie in the English Premier League.
The good times are back again.
The 2017 AFCON and 2018 World Cup may come a bit too early for some of these boys and any manager in charge of the national side may have to make do with the other ageing stars. However, when these youngsters finally come of age, their generation may finally return Nigerian football to that enviable height that the set of 1994 so excitingly took it. And the long wait would have been worth it.