The FIFA U20 World Cup kicks off May 20 in Argentina. Nigeria will be one of the four African countries at the tournament. Since her first outing in 1983, this will be Nigeria’s 13th attempt at winning the global tournament.
Only twice have the Flying Eagles come close to winning the trophy in 1989 and 2005 when they won the runners up medals. While in most of her previous appearances, the Flying Eagles attended the competition as African champions, in Argentina 2023, the Nigerians are going as Africa’s third best team, having won a bronze medal in Egypt 2023 U20 Africa Cup of Nations. The team have been in camp since last month and the final squad is expected to be announced by head coach Ladan Bosso, any time soon, before their departure to the South American country for the final showdown.
A lot has been going on at the camp. The Eagles camp is full to the brim and every player is putting in everything to see that he makes the final cut. Sports Vanguard exclusively gathered that there is tension in the Flying Eagles camp. The tension is exacerbated by the underlying currents regarding the makeup of the squad. A source close to the camp revealed that there is a cold war between the home based players, particularly, those who were at the Egypt 2023 U20 AFCON and the foreign-based players drafted in by the Nigeria Football Federation to strengthen the team.
Agreed that the Flying Eagles campaign in Egypt was not as smooth and convincing as was expected, the invitation of the twelve foreign-based players by the Nigeria Football Federation is fraught with unctuous underpinnings. More than the reasons given for their invitation , like the team did not do well in Egypt and needed fortification, our usually reliable source said Players’ Agents and scouts whose players did not have a look-in before the AFCON U20 tournament, were not happy that their wards did not make it to Egypt.
“They fought back and ensured that their players were called to camp to fight for spots in the squad, as they gave the performance of the team in Egypt as an excuse. And because they are agents fronting for some top NFF officials, they had their way,” our source said.
The latest invitation of twelve foreign-based players to camp was a clear indication that the NFF buckled under the pressure brought to bear on them by their powerful agents coupled with their own vested interests. For instance, İstanbulspor central defender Michael Ologo, who trained with the Flying Eagles in Abuja before the U20 AFCON, but did not make the squad has been recalled to the team. This does not in any way put the technical quality of the invited 12 in doubt. They are all active in their various clubs, except Olubi Adams Sirach who is unattached. “Coach Ladan Bosso is helpless”.
With his own interest in the home based, who thrashed Tunisia 4-0 to clinch the bronze medal at the 2023 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations hanging in the balance, Bosso has, as well, ordered his boys to up their game in order to justify their places in the squad. This is because if the 12 invited players make the squad that means 12 from the ‘original squad’ will have to make way. And the technical crew will not allow this to happen. That has drawn the battle line. “It is now a clear fight between NFF’s boys and Bosso’s boys. It’s a cold war,” our source said.
Those invited comprise five attackers, four midfielders and the others are defenders. The twelve, we were told, are training hard. With their exposure to better facilities, more advanced coaching and better football cultures, observers are of the view that their presence in camp has ignited stiffer competition for shirts among the players and brought out the best in them. But will this be a factor when the final squad is announced?
“I hope the coaches will provide a level playing field for all the players so that Nigeria would be represented by the best in Argentina. What we saw at the U20 Africa Cup of Nations was not too pleasing. It is time we won that trophy, which has remained elusive to Nigeria since 1983,” our source enthused, expressing the fear that the technical crew might succumb to the urge of ‘let’s play our own’ at the expense of the others’. “They are humans,” he said, adding, “the NFF too must ensure that these players are protected.”
In like manner, he warned the NFF bigwigs not to flex their muscles by exerting excessive force on the coaching crew as to be tempted to choose who makes the final squad for the coaches. “They must not dictate to the technical crew either,” he warned.
For now, every Nigerian is waiting with bated breath, full of anxiety as they expect the announcement of the final squad by the coach. It is hoped that the battle for spots and the interlocking interests will not affect the quality of the final squad as Nigerians look forward to ending the fruitless chase for a trophy that has remained very elusive since 1983