Ammunike: India’s moment to shine, stand up

Nigeria partly owes its FIFA U-17 World Cup 2015 triumph to Emmanuel Ammunike’s presence as team coach. In 2013, he was assistant coach when the team, nicknamed ‘Golden Eaglets’, recorded its fourth U-17 title.

(From left): Carlos Valderrama, Emmanuel Amunike, Fernando Morientes, Jorge Campos and Marcel Desailly unveil the FIFA U-17 trophy at the D Y Patil Stadium.   -  Vivek Bendre

Emmanuel Ammunike’s words carry the weight of achievement. Nigeria partly owes its FIFA U-17 World Cup 2015 triumph to his presence as team coach. In 2013, he was assistant coach when the team, nicknamed ‘Golden Eaglets’, recorded its fourth U-17 title. Three more wins (1985, 1993, 2007) make this exciting, unpredictable African nation the world’s number one U-17 side. The defending champion missed out on qualification for the 2017 edition after failing to make the cut from the African Cup of Nations U-17 event.

Asked to elaborate on dealing with age group talent, especially with reference to host India poised for its first-ever World Cup experience, he said: “We are dealing with U-17 players, they are young players. The most important thing is to make sure they see you as someone chosen to head them, not as a coach. You should try as much as possible to guide them. There are a lot of distractions going on in their mind, so see that you can you can bring them to the level where they can compete with the rest of the World Cup teams.”

The African nation is an under-achiever at the senior FIFA World Cup, with five appearances and no progress into the knockout phase. Ammunike, replying to a query about Nigerian seniors struggle and U-17 success, explained: “After the U-17 World Cup, we continue to dwell on the players’ talent, we forget that they should continue to develop and groom them to be better players.”

He referred to the contrast with youth players in Europe and South America. “In football, mostly in Europe and South America, when the U-17 championships ends, players get enrolled at clubs and continue to grow, continue to get transformed. Unfortunately in Africa, this link is missing.” A former Barcelona player, the 1994 World Cupper tried to put his European experience to use when in charge of the U-17 side.

After starting off as deputy to head coach Garba in 2013, he was given charge of Nigerian U-17 World Cup squad in 2015 and guided the side to the title. “When I took over in 2013, we did a lot of work to bring sanity into football. As a result, Nigeria has a lot of U-17 players from 2013 and 2015 on the national squad. We hope that in the years to come, they continue to give a good account of themselves.”

The Nigerian played at DY Patil Stadium’s mini pitch, displaying glimpses of skill alongside former stars Marcel Desailly, Fernando Morientes, Jorge Campos and Columbian midfield general Carlos Valderamma. The five legends also unveiled the Winner’s Trophy for the Mumbai leg of the Trophy experience.

Later, speaking about home team expectations, the latter said: “To India U-17 team, the World Cup is an opportunity to perform. All the big agents, talent scouts across the world will be watching. So enjoy but take the opportunity. This is the moment to shine and stand up.” India is in Group A, along with Colombia, United States and Ghana.

Valderamma , sporting a distinctive hairstyle, was a hit with the fans watching the FIFA Legends v Indian Icons tie. Arjuna Awardee Bembem Devi was among the performers for the Indian Icons.

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