It was the last working day which kick starts the weekend of a busy week that has been full of hope,dreams,inspirations,education,adventure to mention a few of what these budding talents have experienced since they came into the hustling and bustling city of Lagos, for some of them they were jolly just come while some have had the opportunity of visiting the city before only that the mission this time around is symbolic because in years to come its memories will invoke a special feeling or better still set the tone of their successful football stories when its being told.
Eight of the over three thousand schools that participated in the 2017 Copa coca cola U-15 football championship made it to the National finals in Lagos after going through the rigour of district,state and zonal/regional finals, the last four eventually emerged after another round of competitive football hostilities which signposted the relationship between success and hardwork,a lifestyle these young players are expected to imbibe as they navigate the pathway to greatness.
The cloudy sky on the D-Day created some apprehension for spectators who wanted an unmitigated soccer action but the spectacular make over of the stadium no doubt brightens the mind and created a turbo charged atmosphere which doused concerns over the weather.
The glitz,glamour,pomp and ceremonies that set the ball rolling at the packed Onikan Waterfront Stadium betrays the drills,training,conditioning,inspirational talk which the main cast of the day had gone through enroute the long road to the grand finale.
A visibly elated Cletus Onyebuoha,Marketing Manager Coca-Cola Nigeria could not hide his fulfillment in his comment on the journey to the last day of the event.
“It is been total phenomenal and for me this has been the most rewarding of all the CopaCocaCola,We’ve seen the result of years of investing in the development of soccer at the grassroots and it has come to fruition with what we have seen here today,its climactic”.
Like the saying goes all that’s well ends well,the sponsor Coca Cola was able to prove that the 9year old tournament has come of age,through the organization of the competition and making sure that the developmental programme has all the elements that is set out in its objectives.
“This platform was created for the singular purpose of helping soccer talents that abound in Nigeria to thrive because it’s based on insight that some of these talents are actually underprivileged and they are based in the remotest part of the country in the back desert of Katsina and in the creeks of Portharcourt”,Onyebuoha buttressed.
The exposure of the players to world class training techniques and tactics from day one by ex Internationals like Garba Lawal,Victor Ikpeba,Mutiu Adepoju,Austin Eguavoen,Taju Disu,Taribo West,Celestine Babayaro who were at every zone of the country has being a culture enshrined in the project right from the onset.
Mentoring the players through a session of inspirational talks as well as advocating the importance of education to a successful football career were other highpoint of a programme which demonstrated it by giving well over 22million naira as scholarship fund to 66 players who made up the best three teams of the tournament,aside the coveted trophy won,each player of Progressive College of Osun who are Champions went home with a Cheque of 500,00 naira as Education Trust Fund while each player of the first runner up Owerri City College got 300,000 naira ,players of Fosla Academy,the third placed team got 200,000 naira each as scholarships excluding the 2.2million naira prize money for the schools which the Champion got 1 million naira,the second placed got 750,000 naira while the third placed team got 500,000 naira, an International Soccer Camp in Johannesburg, South Africa for eight exceptional players in the tournament as a window of international exposure.
In her words the Marketing Director,Coca-Cola Nigeria, Patricia Jemibewon,pledged the continuous support of the brand to give teenagers with passion for football the opportunity to showcase their talent.” We are forever committed to unlocking the potentials of exceptionally talented teenagers because we believe in their passion. Some of the young men you see here today displaying all the amazing football skills would someday become our legends. Coca-Cola is proud to be a part of their journey towards stardom”.
Copacocacola scored a high as the young players had the opportunity of being mesmerized by the skills of two of Nigeria great footballers they adore,Kanu Nwakwo and Austin “Jay Jay” okocha were around to add colour to the event as well as inspire the budding talents.
Basking in the excitement of the moment, 14-year-old Lawal Ismail, Captain of the winning team, Progressive College said “Coming this far in the tournament and winning the grand prizes is such a thrill to me. I am so glad that my team’s hard work paid off. I am also excited to have met Jay-Jay Okocha and Kanu Nwankwo. They are my all-time favourite footballers, and I am still in shock that I got a handshake from the both of them. I will cherish the moment forever.”
Lawal Ismail is not the only one who had an indelible impression about the experience Copacocacola offered young people, as a reporter am also left with discoveries I made during the tournament as names like Enoch Emmanuel, Akinlade Adewole, Moses Aluko, Adeshina Kumata, Henry Williams that struck a cord will I look for in future national and international squads just like Wilfred Ndidi and Idowu Olajide are beneficiary of this project.
The spectators, mostly young people who were enthralled by the soccer artistry of the players and the musical performance of Ycee and Lil Kesh who brought the needed spark to the atmosphere, can only dare to dream because what Copacocacola preaches is that empowerment comes the way of those who follow their dreams.