Sports Features of Fri, 19 May 20171
Wonderkids of the U-17 Nations Cup: Where are they now?
In previous years, the U-17 Nations Cup has afforded fans of the African game a first glimpse of some of the brightest young talents on the continent.
Some of these players have gone on to become household names, while others have fallen by the wayside and failed to realise their considerable potential.
In this feature, KweséESPN remember some of the stars of U-17 Afcons past, and review where these young stars are today.
2005: Winners – The Gambia
Jerry Akaminko, Ghana: Cultured centre-back Akaminko looked set for a long international career after distinguishing himself at the 2005 event.
Things were going to plan until a horror injury on the eve of the 2014 World Cup. It denied Akaminko a spot in Brazil, although his lengthy comeback continued with a handful of outings for Eskisehirspor in the Turkish second tier this season.
Cheick Diabate, Mali: The powerful frontman scored in each of Mali’s group stage matches and was quickly drafted into the senior side and finished joint top scorer at the 2012 Nations Cup.
He’s spent this season back in France on loan with Metz from Osmanlispor, having previously represented Bordeaux, Ajaccio and Nancy.
Simon Zenke, Nigeria: Like Diabate, Zenke netted in each group stage game at the U-17 event, but couldn’t help Nigeria reach the knockout rounds.
He’s yet to make his bow for the senior side, but has carved out a career in France and Turkey before signing for Belgian side Tubize last year.
Ousman Jallow, The Gambia: The hosts clinched a rare international honour when they finished second in their group behind Ghana before eliminating South Africa in the semis then besting the Black Starlets in the final. Jallow struck two against Mali in the group and then clinched the title with an 87th-minute winner in the final in Bakau.
His nomadic career took him to Morocco — with Raja Casablanca — the UAE’s Al-Ain and Brondby in Denmark. He moved to Finnish giants HJK Helsinki following a spell with Turkish side Rizespor, and is currently back in the Veikkausliiga with Klubi.
2009: Winners – The Gambia
Nadir Bendahmane, Algeria: One of the great forgotten faces of Algerian football, Bendahmane looked like future world beater when he helped the North African heavyweights to silver in 2009, but never truly kicked on.
His international career ended prematurely after accusations about his behaviour and lack of focus, and he’s not risen above the French lower leagues.
02011: Winners – Burkina Faso
Bertrand Traore, Burkina Faso: Perhaps the player on this list who most firmly appears destined for stardom, Traore is coming to the end of a fine season on loan at Ajax after being loaned by Chelsea during the summer.
The West African impressed in patches under Guus Hiddink last term, but has come into his own back in the Netherlands.
While the Amsterdam giants were pipped to the Eredivisie title by Feyenoord, they could yet clinch the Europa League, with Traore thriving in Europe this term.
2013: Winners – Ivory Coast
Kelechi Iheanacho, Nigeria: He may have had a testing season with Manchester City, where he appears to have lost the faith of Pep Guardiola, but Iheanacho has already demonstrated that he is an effective and efficient frontman in the Premier League.
Just 20, he’s averaged a goal every 105 minutes of playing time in the top flight, and City’s loss would surely be another club’s gain!
Isaac Success, Nigeria: Like his compatriot, Success has also had a frustrating year in the top flight, where he’s wholly failed to repay his £12.5 million transfer fee after being signed by Watford from Granada in the summer.
There have been glimpses of quality, but in the cut-throat Premier League, it remains to be seen whether Success will be given another opportunity next season.
Souleymane Coulibaly, Ivory Coast: The hitman went on to score nine goals in four games at the U-17 World Cup in 2011 — equalling Florent Sinama Pongolle’s then-record — but that remains the pinnacle of his career.
With 5 goals in 6 games...Souleymane Coulibaly is Al Ahly Player of the Month for April ???????? pic.twitter.com/caaoY6HtYw— Al Ahly EN (@AlahlyEnglish) May 11, 2017
The ‘New Drogba’ failed to make the grade at Tottenham Hotspur, and is currently re-establishing himself with Egyptian giants Al-Ahly following stints with Kilmarnock, Newport County and Peterborough United.
2015: Winners – Mali
Victor Osimhen, Nigeria: Perhaps the most exciting player in a tantalising generation of Nigerian talents, Osimhen won the Golden Boot, Silver Ball and Caf Young Player of the Year award after his performances in the 2015 U-17 World Cup.
He secured a move to Wolfsburg despite reported interest from the Premier League, and made his debut earlier this month in a 1-1 draw with Borussia Monchengladbach.
Kelechi Nwakali, Nigeria: The 18-year-old midfielder signed for Arsenal in 2016 on the back of his sublime performances at youth level, and was sent on loan to Dutch side MVV Maastricht to hone his craft.
Nwakali captained the Eaglets during their victorious 2015 U-17 World Cup campaign, and clinched the Golden Ball.
Could he be the nation’s next great superstar?