14 September 2007

Nigeria: Golden Eaglets - Return of the Argonauts

Lagos — THEY certainly can be likened to the legendary Greek super heros called the Argonauts who embarked on a daring adventurous expedition to foreign lands and returned triumphantly with the mythical golden fleece.

Indeed Nigeria's Under-17 national football team, the Golden Eaglets, returned to the country on Tuesday in a blaze of glory after conquering the world in South Korea under the auspices of the Federation of International Football Associations(FIFA)-organised World Cup championship. They thus joined the Golden Eaglets 1985 and 1993 to bring honour to themselves and the country by winning the world championship.

The world conquering Eaglets expectedly received a hero's welcome from thousands of wildly cheering fans as soon as the plane that conveyed them from Korea touched ground at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos. The same crowd of cheering Nigerians followed the players and their officials as they were driven in a motorcade to the venue of a grand reception organised for them by officials of the Lagos State Government led by Governor Babatunde Fashola.

Since the Golden Eaglets emerged world champions in Korea, encomiums have continued to pour non-stop from all walks of life as Nigerians see in the development a common ground to celebrate the country's abundant talents and football prowess. To demonstrate how well it appreciates the achievements of the boys, the Federal Government has since given indication that it would soon host the team, presumably tomorrow, to reward them for a job well done in bringing great honour to the country and its people.

There is also indication that various states in the country may not be far behind in planning one form of reception or the other for the boys and their officials. In fact, the Lagos State Government has already taken the initiative in doing this as during the grand reception it organised for the team on its return from Korea, it announced various rewards for the players and their coaching crew, consisting of insurance and shares valued at thousands of Naira. Other states are presently falling over themselves to follow suit.

This, of course, reaffirms the popular belief that everyone loves a winner and that success has many friends. So, for members of the Golden Eaglets, this is a time to savour and cherish the reward of their labour which began when the team was first assembled for the purpose of representing the country at the Under-17 level of competitive football.

It was a journey that started with a lot of uncertainty at the qualifying stage for the African Under-17 championship. Given Nigeria's well-known penchant for shoddy preparation for major sporting events, only few die-hard optimists gave the team a chance of qualifying for the championship which was hosted by Togo.

But the Coach Yemi Tella-tutored lads surprised all pessimists by not only qualifying to play in Togo, but had gone ahead to emerge as African champions at the end of hostilities. It was in that capacity as African champions that the team had gone to Korea for the World Cup.

Prior to that, the team participated in a pre-tournament invitational where it finished as runners-up to eventual winners, Brazil. The performance of the team at this invitational, however, gave a clear indication to the soccer world that the Golden Eaglets were a potential world champions in the waiting. In fact, they narrowly missed winning the invitational which they lost to Brazil via penalty shoot-outs after the match ended 1-1 during regulation time, with the South American scoring the equalizer in the dying minutes of the match.

Against this backdrop, the victory of the Golden Eaglets in Korea came as no surprise to keen soccer followers in the country. Their sentiment in this regard equates with that of the chief coach, Yemi Tella, who maintained right from the time the team left the shore of this country that his boys would certainly win the coveted trophy. And it made no difference to him then that not many people believed him even in the face of overwhelming evidence in support of his optimism. So, it must be quite gratifying that things eventually turned out as the Coach predicted.

Yes, the victorious lads are back with the coveted trophy and it is now harvest time for them in terms of the packages of rewards for them from various governments and corporate institutions who appear prepared to outdo one another in showing appreciation for what the boys have done.

As to be expected, money, and indeed lots of it, will feature as the common denominator in these rewards of appreciation. The implication is that by the time the team would have been hosted by the Federal Government, the various state governments and corporate institutions in the country, the boys and their officials would be rolling in Naira.

What would come to them from this monetary show of appreciation is beside what they had already collected in dollars as match bonuses and allowances before and during the tournament. In other words, these boys would soon join the exclusive club of millionaires in the country just by the mere act of representing the country in a world cup tournament where they fortunately excelled.

But as the players savour their good fortune in this respect, some concerned commentators are calling for caution in rewarding them solely with cash. The argument is that considering the ages of the boys which put them basically at the teenage bracket, it would be counter-productive to subject them to the overpowering lure of money instead of an investment to secure their future.

The belief is that the Lagos State Government has set a good and proper example by rewarding the boys with insurance coverage and shares which offer the boys long-term benefits instead of immediate monetary pleasure which can easily be squandered due to inexperience.

Example is readily cited of past Golden Eaglets players who squandered their monetary rewards and are today living a pauper's life after their football career came to unexpected end either through injury or inability to manage success and their talents. But a counter-argument has it that most of the players are from poor homes and may need the money now to quickly address pressing family financial obligations.

But whichever arguments wins at the end of the day, the reality is that the 2007 Golden Eaglets are the heros of the moment in Nigeria and therefore deserve to be celebrated by all.

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