I have decided to rejig this article in order to provide a clearer picture of the view I raised in the previous piece, which I titled ‘Oduamadi, Hassan, Onyemah, Raheem.’ It was an article in which I tried to highlight the plight of four really talented players I had the pleasure of working with during their formative days at National Grassroots Dream Team, only to see them fail to reach the height of their potentials.
Each of the players lost out to one frailty among four prominent negative factors that account for underachievement among talented youngsters, as Nnamdi Oduamadi fell by the way side because he failed look back at the source of his breakthrough, Riliwan Hassan bowed to injury blight, Phlip Chidi Onyemah had a faulty international transfer at the outset and Kazeem Raimi aka Epa) lost focus at a point he was meant to catapult himself to limelight.
I previously used their plights as a warning for Chile 2015 Golden Eaglets’ revelation, Victor Osimhen, whom I hailed to high heavens during his exploits at the Cadet Mundial, but I feared might get consumed along the line by one or more of the four woes that have accounted for stunted careers of the quartet of Oduamadi, Hassan, Onyemah and Raheem (Raimi).
In broader terms, while Osimhen has apparently been slowed down by contract issues and battles with injuries, the lesson he and other young players need to learn revolves mostly round the need to always remember the sources that produced them.
I believe that the inability of most players to look back to their early days of little beginnings accounts for agonising slumps many of them have been hit with it, in terms of vicissitudes to their careers. That is the summary of sad stories rolling round Nnamdi Oduamadi and Riliwan Hassan – who have both been unable to replicate the real quality they showed as teenagers mostly because they have forgotten where it all started for them.
Incidentally, they both grew up in Orile-Iganmu area of Lagos, and became part of the bursting talent reservoir at ‘White Sand Field’ under divergent dispensations. While Riliwan soon found his way to National Grassroots Dram Team’s sister youth project, Community Action Through Sport (CATS), sponsored by The British Council, ‘Odu’ grew in the ranks of Dama Boys, where he blossomed into one of the then ebullient youth developer’s best players.
The head coach of National Grassroots Dream Team at that time, Osahon Emokpae, who runs Young Stars FC of Satellite Town, Lagos, which produced Joel Osikel and David Enogela for the Chile 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup-winning Golden Eaglets’ squad, soon spotted Oduamadi in action with Dama Boys and promptly invited him to the centre of excellence, while Riliwan caught my attention while playing for CATS at the maiden Dokun Abidoye Memorial U-15 Football Championship in Osogbo, Osun State and I decided that he would stand a better chance of propelling himself into limelight through NGDT.
Both settings provided the appropriate launch points for either of the kids, as Riliwan, who was then in the junior squad, was called up at midnight to join the intermediate team for a scouting competition in Shagamu, organised by FC Ebedei proprietor, Barrister Churchill Oliseh, while Oduamadi was later lined out in the senior side for a programme packaged by Ayo Makinwa’s younger brother, Akin, and England-based lawyer, Larry Ashagbe at Pepsi Football Academy, whose director, Chief Kashimawo Laloko selected the lad for trials with the Golden Eaglets under late Coach Yemi Tella.
Not many contemporary soccer followers know these two stories, as neither of these kids has been cordial enough to reveal the exact sources of their breakthrough, but prefer giving accolades and allegiance to people who only contributed to their progress in latter years of their careers. Nemesis, though, knows that a river which forgets its source will always dry up; hence the sad narration that has seen both Riliwan and Oduamadi fail to live up to the expectations of their raw talents and abilities.
Yes, Oduamadi got as far as the Eagles, even becoming Nigeria’s first player to score a hat-trick in a FIFA senior competition, as he did against Tahiti at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, but those who knew him with National Grassroots Dream Team would always say they never again saw the deft footwork, ball skills and leg-over tricks that made us tag him ‘Robinho.’
While Oduamadi’s fall is adduced directly to arrogance and nonchalance in acknowledging his roots, Riliwan has been unable to catapult himself mostly due to injuries, caused by his decision to forget where he is coming from. However, an appreciate lad like Philip Onyemah, who will show total loyalty and appreciation to his mentors till his dying day, has been in oblivion just because his transfer to Europe was clouded in controversy, while Kazeem ‘Epa’ (Groundnut) lost focus when it mattered most.
The last two examples provide ironies of rancour to the tale of four vastly talented products of National Grassroots Dream Team, whose innate abilities have been belied by their stunted and stagnated careers. A dream move to FC Porto of Portugal arranged by Emmanuel Amuneke for Onyemah failed to materialise in 2001 simply because Laloko alleged that Pepsi Academy had been short-changed in the deal and then refused to issue an international transfer certificate.
On the other hand, ‘Epa’ was taken for a competition in Denmark with Vejle Football Academy by Victor MacDonald but soon returned empty handed, then allowed juvenile delinquency put paid to an official invitation he received from Coach John Sam Obuh to be part of the Flying Eagles in 2011. He finally woke up three years later in FESTAC Town, Lagos, seeking a revival of his floundering career and potentials, only to realise that nature never waits for anyone.