Every country which intends to excel in football places premium attention on the grassroots, this way, kids are discovered early and exposed to the best facilities and lectures which prepares them for the tedious path of turning professionals in the Future.
In the ’90s, grassroots development in Nigeria received special attention, no wonder the quality of talented players that graced that era. School sports were well funded and talents spotted and groomed for the national teams.
Those days grassroots championships earned players’ invitation to the junior national teams, which paved the way for them to get lucrative contracts abroad.
In recent times, the neglect of grassroots football development has thrown up ill-equipped, players, who see the game as a means of escaping poverty. Soon it will become difficult to get talents from this country because grassroots championships that brought out talents have been neglected. There is no emphasis on local tournaments, most players that made Nigerians proud in the past were natural talents who dedicated their lives and energy to playing football.
Back in the days, players were selected without sentiments to the national teams, this motivated the youngsters to be dedicated on the pitch whenever they represented the country, this was possible because they felt the responsibility of giving back to the system that brought them out for the world to see. Players like Nwankwo Kanu, Taribo West, Emmanuel Amuneke, late Stephen Keshi, Joseph Yobo, and others are great examples of the success story of grassroots competitions.
If we must grow as a footballing nation, then we must return to the grassroots, football associations should be empowered to give grants to grassroots clubs and academies to support their efforts. The coaches at the grassroots should not be neglected because they play the Biggest role in preparing the stars we see.
A grassroots coach gives up everything to mentor these kids, mixes up with them so as to teach them the art of football, he accommodates their flaws, gets bashed by parents who don’t want their wards to play football, but when money comes, a reward system should be formulated to halt this negative trend.
School sports should be revived not just as an entertainment but for the purpose of talent discovery, football associations should keep proper documentation of talents for proper supervision. The joy of getting prepared to play against students from other schools will definitely bring out the best in the young lads who at this early stage are focused on showcasing their talents and this remains the ideal time to spot budding talents.
In the words of legendary Super Eagles captain, Austin Jay-Jay Okocha:
“When you fail to encourage the youth or guide them or create a platform for them to develop, you will suffer in the future.”
Okocha on youth development
The way forward is massive investment in the grassroots, it is the solution to Africa’s inability to win the World Cup. Football is not rocket science but requires a gradual progression that must be based on a strong foundation which is what the grassroots represents.
The future greats are out there on the streets and it’s in our hands to mold them into gold or allow them to rust off.