Africa: Clubs Should Rethink About Giving Youngsters Playing Time

I don’t think I have been glued to an Afcon tournament like this one ongoing in Ivory Coast.

You have to give a thumbs up to the organisers for ensuring everything is running smoothly so far. That said, it is the quality of games that has stood out for me and in this case, there are no minnows in the tournament.

It is a big plus to see the likes of Mozambique, even though written off before the tournament, put up scintillating displays. Even in exit, they bowed out with their heads high after making giants like Ghana and Egypt seat.

Meanwhile, seeing Equatorial Guinea humiliate the hosts Ivory Coast was eye-opening in many ways. For one, gone are the days when hosts were favoured in 50/50 situations by match officials but the most compelling aspect of that 4-0 drubbing was that Equatorial Guinea fielded a team averaging just 22 years.

In fact, seeing an 18-year-old defender Hugo Buyla put the final nail in the Ivoirians coffin was a joy to watch. I turned to scan through The Cranes setup but I couldn’t find an 18-year-old who is ready for a tournament like Afcon.

Yet in three years’ time Uganda might find itself in Ivory Coast’s situation as hosts if we don’t overhaul the current domestic football setup that stifles youngsters until they burnout before fulfilling their potential.

There was a time when Allan Okello was the hottest property in Ugandan football as an 18-year-old but he never got a look into The Cranes squad. By the time he was drafted into the squad, he had already got so many life distractions that he was never the same.

There so many such examples like Okello and it is on this premise that I blame the top clubs and the Uganda Premier League board for lack of foresightedness in grooming the next crop of Cranes players.

It should be a deliberate effort to ensure that special youngsters are given early exposure to top-level football instead of fearing to risk them. Many countries at Afcon are giving youngsters plenty of time to showcase their talents.

They approach the game with no fear and awe of the European-based African stars and as the results have showed so far, there is a good chance to see a first-time Afcon winner of the tournament.

The key takeaway here is that clubs and the UPL should not sit on talented youngsters as players for the future. Football is evolving so fast that 15-year-olds are now starting games in top European teams.

The author is SC Villa president emeritus

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