For most Nigerians, football is more than a sport, more than a pastime, more than a hobby. To most Nigerians, football is life. This combined with immense doses of patriotism means Nigerians pay and will continue to pay rapt attention to football at all levels. With the proliferation of televisions and devices with affordable internet accessibility, Nigerians now monitor all types of football. From women’s under 17 competitions to beach soccer, from the MLS to the J-League, from local five-a-side tournaments to Finnish Futsal, Nigerians watch. We watch in hope that very soon, we’ll produce the next World or more realistically African great. Once in a while, a rare talent shows up on the scene and is hyped to high heavens as a mixture of Pele and Maradona, an unpolished diamond who will definitely end up as the next Zidane or Ronaldo (either Brazilian or Portuguese). The one true footballing wonder that we’ve been waiting for all these years, the player who would take Nigeria to the footballing equivalent of the Shangri-la. Often, these players work hard enough and though they rarely ever reach the expected heights, they do enough for our insatiable bunch to give them our begrudging approval.
However, every once in a while, some of these potential superstars fail to shine and peter out into the football doldrums. For every Nwankwo Kanu, there’s a smiling Pius Ikedia. So let’s take a short stroll down the more recent memory lane and take a look at five of those talents who failed to reach the hotly hankered heady heights;
- Pius Ikedia
It just felt right to begin with him, after all, he’s notorious for being quick off the mark. The ‘speed devil’ as my friends so lovingly called him back in the day practically ‘burst’ onto the scene. Frequently coming on as a late substitute in games to terrorize tiring defenders with frankly outrageous pace, he was definitely on the road to stardom. Nonetheless, everyone agreed on one thing about him; he lacked the end product. Everyone believed (including Ajax who signed him) that with maturity, he’d get it sorted and become a frightening prospect for opposition defenders. He never got it. He’s had frustrating stints in Holland, Ukraine and Azerbaijan and at 32 is currently still infuriatingly flying down the flanks for Magusa Turk Gucu in Cyprus.
- Macauley Chrisantus
He was touted as one of the most natural finishers Nigeria had produced in a long while. Storming the stage in 2007 at Under-17 level, he and his fellow Tella boys conquered the world leaving no survivors in their wake. He was awarded the Golden shoe for his seven brilliantly taken goals and the Silver ball. Interest skyrocketed and he joined Hamburger SV. However, he never made an appearance for the senior team and spent significant periods of time on loan at Karlsruher SV and FSV Frankfurt. He scored goals no doubt, but nowhere near the number his devastating youthful form promised. He has since faded away from all the radars he popped up on and is currently at UD Las Palmas in the Spanish Segunda division.
PS: The instantly recognizable names of Toni Kroos and Bojan Krkic won the Golden and Bronze balls respectively in 2007. I’m sitting here now shaking my head and asking ‘How on earth did Chrisantus get here?!!!’
- Femi Opabunmi
The THIRD!!! youngest player to ever appear at a World Cup Tournament . . . let that sink in . . . two days younger than Samuel Eto’o when the Cameroonian made his World Cup Debut four years earlier and an equally exciting prospect. Coming off the back of a hugely successful under 17 tournament in 2001 where he won a silver medal, the silver shoe and the bronze ball, his sudden decline was probably the most tragic of all the players on this list. The now 28 year old wing wizard was back then on the books of Grasshoppers Zurich when he showed up on the radars of European giants like Manchester United and Lyon after impressive performances for Nigeria. Scoring on his national team debut further accentuated the frenzy over this whiz kid. Unfortunately, he was forced to end his career in 2006 at just 22 years of age because of serious eye problems. He had eye surgery in 2008 but to the chagrin of the expectant Nigerian football fan base, he was never able to take to the football pitch professionally. A truly sad story. . .
- Rabiu Ibrahim
Here’s a much younger man who could eventually come good but has faded away astonishingly in recent times. His skill, speed of thought, passing range, outrageous flair and general laissez faire style of play first garnered admirers at the 2007 Under-17 tournament where he immediately brought back fresh vivid memories of one of the World’s greatest ever footballing entertainers – the mercurial Jay Jay Okocha(so good they named him twice). He instantly attracted interest from numerous European giants but opted to take it slow by joining Sporting CP. In late 2007, he was included by World Soccer in its 50 Most Exciting Teen Footballers list and, in March of the following year, he was featured by InsideFutbol.com in an article on young African footballers alongside the likes of Mario Balotelli and John Obi Mikel. In January 2009, he made Goal.com’s list of 10 African Players to Watch, and The Times’ Football’s Top 50 Rising Stars. He pushed on and performed slightly less influentially but equally encouraging at the Under 20 tournament in 2009 before suddenly diminishing in form. Since then, due to a combination of poor choices and terrible advising, he has, to put it kindly, stagnated. Currently plying his trade at Kilmarnock in Scotland, the ‘new Okocha’ as so many fondly called him is probably going to end up swimming in the unforgiving pools of mediocrity for the rest of his career. As a Nigerian football fan, I genuinely hope
Rabiu dazzled the World in his nascence . . . well . . . he’s still young
- Ayodele Adeleye
In 2005, during the World Youth Championship held in the Netherlands, he emerged. Replacing the inept Monday James after the first game and forming a very austere defense line with the then indefatigable Taye Taiwo(sighs) and Onyekachukwu Apam(sighs x2) as Nigeria ended the tournament as runners up behind a Leo Messi inspired Argentina. Apam got suspended in the semi finals meaning Adeleye was forced to cover the shockingly bad Monday James as Leo Messi hit two spot kicks home to deny Nigeria a trophy we sorely deserved for outplaying our opponents. However, in 2008, during the Olympics Football tournament at Beijing, he was reunited with Apam and they recreated the memorably stingy back line, this time with Echiejile at left back. Once more, they fell short at the final stage to the same opponents they met three years ago. This time, however, they were able to stifle Messi but lost to a Di Maria chipped goal. Adeleye then went on to establish himself firmly in the Senior National team’s ranks. He is remembered dotingly for folding up one of his sleeves and with that basically sealing any holes in the backline. He famously led the defence to a well deserved 1-0 victory in a friendly against France where he bravely repelled attacks from a potent French attack including the potent Karim Benzema. He seemed destined to be a mainstay in the National team and a move to a bigger club from Sparta Rotterdam where he was at the time, seemed a mere formality. Bizarrely, he joined Metalurh Donetsk and has since seen his stock fall both at club level and with the national team. He now plays for
the massive European giant, Kuban Krasnodar in the Russian Premier league. He was an absolute rock in defense . . . for just a while. . . Why?!!!!
In summary, I ask ‘what the hell happened?‘
By I.V Okata . . . an avid football lover
Follow him on Twitter @izutadgaffer