Word of warning for Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United on top African talent target

Nigeria International

Kelechi Iheanacho has Nigerian fans purring, and Premier League teams watching. But is success at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup a guarantee of future success?

The FIFA Under-17 World Cup has come to an end and once again has produced a few stars which the Premier League will be looking to snap up - including the biggest star of all.

There is no doubt that Nigeria deserved their victory at the competition, as a team containing a 14-year-old Chelsea prospect in the form of Habib Makanjuola, were crowned champions in the United Arab Emirates.

And there was little doubt who the star of the competition was - Kelechi Iheanacho.

The 17-year-old was awarded the Golden Ball for his performances - following in the footsteps of Cesc Fabregas and Toni Kroos.

No wonder why when you consider his vital statistics. He scored six goals in seven games, also providing seven assists - a truly imposing record you must agree.

Now it has been confirmed that Premier League teams such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United are tracking his progress - in particular Arsenal.

Iheanacho is clearly a massive prospect - and Nigerian fans certainly hope that he can one day be as big a name as Jay Jay Okocha or Nwankwo Kanu in world football.

But a word of warning - not all of Nigeria’s impressive under-17’s go on to be stars, one who immediately springs to mind is Macauley Chrisantus.

At the 2007 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in South Korea the likes of Danny Welbeck, Fabio Da Silva, Christian Benteke, Toni Kroos and Mamadou Sakho were all present - but it was Nigeria who came out on top - beating Spain in the final after Asier Illarramendi, Fran Merida and Iago Falque missed penalties in the shoot-out to allow the Super Eaglets the title.

It was a particularly poignant triumph, as just six weeks later their head coach Yemi Tella tragically passed away from lung cancer.

But what of the stars of that team. Of the 21-man squad not many have gone on to have serious success. Rabiu Ibrahim is at Kilmarnock, the captain Kinglsey Udoh is back in Nigeria after an unsuccessful stint in South America, while Kabiru Akinsola is forging a career in Spain’s lower leagues.

Perhaps the only real success has been Lukman Haruna - now plying his trade for Ukrainian giants Dynamo Kiev.

But what is my point? Plenty of the German team and Spanish team from that competition are not doing well. Fabian Broghammer is at Bristol Rovers while star winger Henning Sauerbier plays for Columbia University in the States. The same happened with Spain, sure stars have come from that team but Ximo Forner for instance is now at amateur side R.B Linense.

What about the stars of each team?

Toni Kroos is at Bayern Munich, Bojan Krkic currently on loan at Ajax from Barcelona and Macauley Chrisantus, he is playing in the Spanish second tier for UD Las Palmas six years later.

Chrisantus finished as top scorer in 2007, with seven goals, and was awarded the silver ball - second best player behind Kroos.

Teams from around Europe flocked around him for his signature - in the end Hamburg SV were the lucky recipients.

But he spent much of his time out on loan, never made an impact for the first-team, and is now at Las Palmas where things are finally looking up for him.

Iheanacho, just like Chrisantus, is a tremendous talent - but what is clear when you look through the history of this competition is that being one of, even the best player, does not guarantee a future of stardom.

There is much more to the success of a football player than innate talent.

Look at the likes of joint top scorer in 2003 Manuel Curto, now playing for FC Taraz in Kazakhstan; 1999 top scorer Ishmael Addo, who failed to make impacts in France, Israel, Greece and Cyprus; or Sergio Santamaria, the Spanish star of 1997 who outshone Carles Puyol and Xavi, but went on to have a journeyman career in the lower leagues of Spain and retired at the age of 31.

Iheanacho might just become the next Fabregas or Kroos to emerge from this tournament, or he could become the next Chrisantus, Florent Sinama-Pongolle or Manuel Curto.

Who knows, and he is worth the risk - but each team must treat him right to create a footballing sensation, and not another dud.

image: © niyyie

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