Nigeria U-17 Coach: My attack can destroy any team on their day

Nigeria U-17 Coach: My attack Kelechi Iheanacho can destroy any team on their day

The Golden Eaglets of Nigeria will face Mexico tomorrow in their first game of the FIFA U-17 world cup hosted by UAE.

Nigeria have won the tournament three times in the past and maintain a good record in the history of FIFA U-17 tournament.

The Golden Eaglets coach revealed that is team plays "total football" which most U-17 teams would not want to play as it requires players to be very hit, attack in numbers and defend in numbers.

Coach Manu Garba, when asked to describe his philosophy of football, pauses, takes a breath and, in the way of someone about to shock with a brash answer, responds: “Total Football.”

“It’s not been an easy philosophy to pass on to these young boys,” admitted Garba, who played in the first Nigerian team to reach a FIFA finals when he won the African U-20 championship of 1983. “They have no league experience. They are amateurs,” he insists of his side who have spent two weeks in Dubai preparing for the tournament opener.

“They play for local teams, or at their secondary schools, but it is this youth that can make them very adaptable to new ideas,” he adds, a tone of warning building in his voice. “They are right to call us favourites.

“I give my players a special freedom, a freedom to express themselves,” he continued, conjuring the spirit of the Rinus Michels, the late coach of Ajax and Holland, who is credited with founding, or at least refining, Total Football.

“When we have the ball, we all attack. When we don’t, we all defend,” said the coach, who was an assistant in 2007 in Korea the last time Nigeria won a U-17 World Cup. “Take a chance; go forward, another man will cover you.

All my players have the freedom to go anywhere, and it’s a responsibility they understand. Think Barcelona, think Spain, think entertaining, think passion and possibility.”

“I don’t see any defence that can stop us,” he said, citing an 11-0 win over Spanish club Espanyol’s youth academy team last month as a rather forceful example. “We know a World Cup is a different story, but, man, my attack is blistering. They can destroy any team on their day.”

It’s clear. No false modesty here. This is a man who believes in his boys, his system, and expects a record fourth Nigerian title here in the Gulf. Anything less simply would not do. “We don’t rely on just a few players to score or lead,” he added. “We have so many attacking options, we’ve multiplied them. We can hurt you from all over the pitch. We’re not just 11 individuals playing a game. My players aren’t just numbers on a chalkboard. They are individuals with their own personalities. I have faith in them.”

Faith or not, football – Total football or any other kind – is played on a pitch, not in a hotel lobby. Goals win games and in their mouth-watering Group F opener against Mexico, Garba and co will meet up with the defending world champions in this age category. “I like the way the Latin American teams play, the way they ping the ball around, it’s a lot like Ghana, a lot like us,” he said. “But we can beat anyone.”

Garba is a man with a plan. It’s clear when he stalks the touchline during training sessions. “Enjoy yourselves, enjoy!” he often shouts, at the top of his lungs, urging his young players to express themselves. Total Football, after all, is still a kid’s game, with 22 bodies, a bouncing ball and a pair of goals.  

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