Abandoning The Goose That Constantly Lays The Golden Egg
For so many years he has been working assiduously in the background moulding generation after generation of players who have gone ahead to play for Nigeria at the U17 and U20 level as well as in the Super Eagles
He is Usman Ilerika but fondly called Haruna Ilerika because his style of play was similar to that of the former Green Eagles Legend.
Just like the great Haruna Ilerika, Usman was a star during his school days through primary,secondary and later university levels where he went ahead to play for the Ahmadu Bello University,Zaria before he was signed by NEPA FC. Due to injury he had to cut short his footballing career to focus on coaching and the first thing he did was to lead a group of Youth corps members to the quarter final of the prestigious FA cup later rechristened Federation Cup.
After leaving NYSC to take up a job with FCT Sports Council,coach Ilerika has never abandon his love for coaching especially passing the basic rudiment of the game to young aspiring footballers.
This fondness for teaching kids made him to be appointed by former NFF president Alhaji Sani Lulu Abdullahi to handle the first set of Under-13 players which were picked from across the six geo political zones of the country and later travelled to the United Kingdom where they participated in a youth tournament that had top clubs from England and Germany in attendance but the team did not fail to leave up to expectation as they won the tournament.
These players graduated to the under-15 where they were constantly monitored by the Sani Lulu led NFF before he left office.
This programme led to the discovery of players like Taiwo Awoniyi,Kelechi Iheanacho,Chidera Eze,Taiwo Abdurahman,John Lazarus and many others but their story would not have been interesting if the bulk of the players that were meant to be taken to the African Under 17 championship in Morocco did not fail the MRI scan so the coach in charge of the team was forced to take some of players he initially rejected on the grounds that were too small to play for under 17 team.
The bulk of these players later formed the fulcrum of the team that won the FIFA World Cup in 2013 and Africa Under 20 Championships in 2015.
Unfortunately, the Nigeria football federation has failed to recognise the effort of this great man who has continued to work in the background despite producing some of the players who have gone to play for the national teams,rather the national under 17 job has continually been given to people who know next to nothing about youth football while the man who keeps nurturing them has been left in the doldrum.
In 2014,he took the Nigeria under 15 team to African youth games in Botswana where he won gold in football and in 2018 in Algeria he won silver despite the shoddy preparation.
Recently he took the Under-15 team to a tournament in Japan where they met teams that later participated at the under 17 world cup in Brazil and the teams did not do badly and even efforts were made by the Technical Department of NFF to give opportunities to some of the players who just came from the youth tournament in Japan but it was rebuffed by the same technical team which initially rejected the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho,Taiwo Awoniyi ,Chidera Eze and many more even when some of the players in camp failed MRI tests.
The question now is will NFF listen to the voice of reason and do the needful by allowing Usman Ilerika led U15 technical crew to take charge of the next U17 team and allow the under 15 boys that went to Japan to be promoted to the national under 17 team to ensure continuity?
The ball is in NFF court or like a dog that wants to get lost will they make the same mistake they made in the past by abandoning the goose that lays the golden eggs and give the job to their cronies?