After all, going into the tournament in Chile in October, Nigeria had previously won it 4 times, Ghana twice, and both nations have appeared in the finals more times than most.
It is no longer history that the Nigerian youngsters overcame the African U17 champions Mali, who were previously unbeaten in the tournament, 2-0 to win a record fifth title.
On individual level, the performance of Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen was remarkable, to say the least. Ten goals in 7 matches is no mean feat and he rightly entered the record books as the highest scorer in the history of the tournament. Nigerian team captain Kelechi Nwakali was very mature in his work on the pitch and was rightfully voted Player of the tournament.
When the confetti settles though, we need to take a look further into certain areas.
The question has always been asked, and will reverberate even more, following this recent triumph. And that is: if Africa can be world champions at youth level this many times, why is Africa not yet a world beater at senior level?
Why have the players in the Nigerian team of 1985, 1993, 2007, or 2013; or the Ghana players of 1991 and 1995 graduated to senior level to take the world by storm in successive years?
We see bright sparks. From 1993 we had Kanu Nwankwo, who grew to be a true legend of African football. From 2013, everyone is talking about Kelechi Iheanacho who is making a name for himself in Manchester City. From Ghana we recall Samuel Kuffour in 1991 and 1993, Michael Essien in 1997. But these are minority cases, and it has not transformed into the Super Eagles of Nigeria or the Black Stars of Ghana at global level.
Something needs to be put right. Where is the problem, if any?
How can we transform the lives of these young successful stars, keep them on the straight path, not allowing them to fall into the hands of agents and hawks that will not make realistic plans for their progress, and ensure they stay together and graduate to make Africa proud at senior level?
Education is key here. Mentoring is important. And this is a challenge to the Nigerian and Malien Football Federations to take the bait and genuinely nurture these youngsters who were on show in Santiago, Chile yesterday.
The challenge is to see them develop within the realms of reality – not building their castles up in the sky, and not allowing people who do such building to find a way into the young players’ heads. The challenge is to see them call the players’ parents and help talk to them to tone down their expectations from these boys and allow them to grow naturally.
The talent is there; the will is there, as is the zeal. Many of the Nigerian and Malian players will get to the top, if they take it nice and easy, and walk before they run.
Agents are not the best protagonists of this gradual, patient development of young players. Nor are parents in our African society. Which is why the buck should stop with federations, who will, effectively be the long term beneficiaries of a good transition project – with success upon success in all cadres of national football, using the model of effective transition by monitoring and mentoring.
We want to see Africa rule the world at other levels than Under-17. We want Africa to show that youth football is really what it is – a bedrock for future growth. We want to keep persistent pessimists quiet and prove that Africa can really grow from the youth. A smooth and effective transition is the tonic that is needed.
Congratulations Africa, but the hard work should start now.