On Friday, May 19, Senegal maintained her dominance of African football after the country’s Young Cubs won the 2023 AFCON U-17 Championship in Algiers for a complete sweep of football titles on the continent. Senegal came from a goal down to beat Morocco 2-1 in the finals decided at the Nelson Mandela Stadium.
By winning the cadet championship in style, Senegal has now won a third consecutive continental title within four months. The West Africans had won the Africa Cup of Nations (CHAN) title in February at the same Nelson Mandela Stadium in Algiers just as they won the U-20 AFCON title in Egypt in March.
It is also important to state here that the dominant performances of Senegal started last February in Egypt where the senior Teranaga Lions against all odds won their first-ever AFCON title as the Sadio Mane-inspired squad edged out Cup holders Algeria in the final match of Africa’s biggest football showpiece. There was no stopping Senegal as they maintained the momentum by winning an African Beach Soccer title later in the year.
So, by emerging champions once again, Senegal is now in possession of all the coveted football trophies on the continent. I stand to be corrected but I doubt very much if this has happened before in the history of African football. Permit me to reiterate that in a space of two years, Senegal has won the senior AFCON, U-20 AFCON, African Beach Soccer title and now the U-17 AFCON trophy. The country’s cabinet of silverware should be filled to the brim by now.
The superlative performances of the national teams of Senegal may surprise some but if the truth is to be told, there is nothing surprising about what is going on because they have worked for their success. The victories are no doubt as a result of long-term planning. Surely, football in the country is not run haphazardly. It is well structured. The country is investing heavily in youth development. Football academies in Senegal are said to be among the best in the world. They don’t run the type of academies we have in Nigeria. In case you are wondering how we do it in Nigeria, let me tell you that here we enrol players in their early 30s as academy players. This may sound funny, but it is true. So, Senegal is only reaping the fruits of a carefully designed youth football development plan which Nigeria has since abandoned. They are not winning by accident.
I have no doubt that very soon some Africans would come out with ridiculous claims that Senegal is using overage players to prosecute youth competitions. Anyone who will make such an accusation is only suffering from incurable jealousy. I repeat that Senegal is not parading men but young boys who have learnt the rudiments of the game under the tutelage of those who have the capacity to transform raw talents.
Personally, I am proud of Senegal and I want her success to challenge other African countries to wake up to their responsibilities. What Senegal has achieved is not rocket science. It takes good planning, commitment and dedication to produce champions. If other countries like Nigeria want to return to their glory days, they should be ready to understudy Senegal with humility.
Yes, Nigeria won Africa her first U-17 World title and first Olympic gold medal but poor administration of the game has now relegated us to the background. Some may want to argue over this but they know deep down their hearts that on present performances, there is no basis to compare Nigeria with Senegal. The gap between the two is so deep that even a Steve Wonder can see that we have since surrendered our dominance of African football to Senegal.
Therefore, I suggest that since we are a nation of committees, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), should bury its pride and set up a committee of knowledgeable football technocrats to go to Dakar in order to understudy the Senegalese Football Association. Surely, the men at the helms of affairs of football administration in Senegal know one or two things that are still hidden from the self-acclaimed wisemen at the Sunday Dankaro House in Abuja. If they open their minds to learn, I am sure the NFF chieftains would return home with a better understanding of youth Football development. The earlier they do this the better because our football is dying at an alarming rate.
One last chance for Ladan Bosso
As you read this, Nigeria’s Flying Eagles will be getting set to take on debutants Dominican Republic in the opening match of Group D at the 2023 FIFA U-20 Championship. Nigeria, Senegal, The Gambia and Tunisia are the four nations that are representing the continent of Africa in Argentina.
Apart from Ghana, no other African country has won the U-20 World Cup. Despite our dominance at the U-17 world championship, at the U-20 level, we have only managed to finish as runners-up on two occasions, in 1989 and 2005. We also won a bronze medal in 1985. Therefore, expectations are that the present squad led by the ever-present coach Ladan Bosso will fight to break the jinx that has made nonsense of Nigeria’s achievements at the U-17 level. It is indeed shameful that we have consistently failed to translate the successes of the Golden Eaglets into victory at the U-20 World Cup.
Well, even as I am not Bosso’s employer, I say this is looking like his last chance to redeem his image with the Flying Eagles. For so many years, he has been in the saddle with nothing tangible to show for the blind trust in him. At his first World Cup in 2007, he led the team to the quarter-finals and that is his best record ever with the team. His only achievement with the Flying Eagles is the WAFU B trophy he won last year in Niger Republic. This was after he failed to qualify the Flying Eagles for the 2021 AFCON.
So, going by his unenviable record with the team, the ongoing Championship in Argentina is an opportunity for him to right the wrongs. If he fails to atone for his past failures, I know every right-thinking Nigerian would call for his sack. Therefore, Bosso who has not hidden his ambition to coach the Super Eagles despite underwhelming performance with the junior national team must win in Argentina to erase all lingering doubts about his capacity to handle any of the national teams.