At grassroots football venues around the globe, it has become quite common to notice some people amongst the spectators looking rather more intensely at proceedings on the pitch. The grand-finals of the GTBank-Lagos State Principals Cup played on Tuesday, 30th May, 2017 at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Surulere were no different. These men (and in some cases, women) are often not familiar to people around; they would have flown in (from Europe especially), enjoyed the city’s hospitality and patronized the transportation, then show up promptly at the stadium with their notepads and cameras. Guess who they are: Scouts. Much like prospectors for minerals, they comb football pitches around the globe, looking for talent. Does it pay off?
Legendary English Football Club, Liverpool, have yet to surpass the huge cash outlay with which they procured the services of Andy Carroll from Newcastle United over 7 years ago. Today, for an 18 year old French prodigy, reports say they are willing to more than double the 35 million GBP Carroll had cost. But even that may not suffice, as Manchester City – one of the English Premier League’s Biggest Spenders – is lurking with a more audacious cheque. Kylian Mbappe of AS Monaco in France will be the subject of one of football’s most coveted pieces of business this summer. There are many who suppose that he would be sold for more than what Manchester United paid Juventus for Paul Labille Pogba last year. Mpappe, Pogba, and other young boys now at the center of football’s biggest transfers didn’t just appear on the scene; they were dug up from minefields akin to the Principals Cup, polished, primed, and exported. The search for such treasures is why coaches and scouts ransack the world. It is why the GTBank-Lagos State Principals Cup evokes interests and is talked about beyond these shores.
In sponsoring the Principals Cup, Guaranty Trust Bank plc yet again sets out to build a subsector that will expand Nigeria’s economy while creating a spiral of jobs in the process. The Bank’s corporate banking continues to support and strengthen large corporations; its strategic disposition to the SME sector has seen it float initiatives that are catalyzing the upsurge and success of small businesses, particularly in the Food/Agriculture and Fashion industries. Now, with the stage set for the discovery of both male and female football talents in Nigeria, GTBank is seeking to bring more and more Nigerians into the global economic umbrella of football which currently shelters up to 265 million people or 4% of the world’s population. Indeed, it is a unique and laudable approach to banking when a bank first builds its market.
It is not all speculation, testaments of how strategic the GTBank-Lagos State Principals Cup is for football in Nigeria exist. The competition, at different times, has thrown up football greats into the world stage. MFM’s Stephen Odey, the current highest goal scorer of the Nigerian Professional Football League, is an alumnus of the competition. Graduating from Dairy Farm Secondary School in 2012, he lifted the trophy in the boys’ category and broadened the expectations of team coaches from center-forwards. Yetunde Fajobi of Government Senior College, Agege and Esther Adeboye of State High School, Alimosho who featured in the 2014 edition of the tournament helped The Flamingoes – Nigeria’s U17 National team to qualify for the FIFA U17 World Cup, and played at the championship in Jordan last September.
As a mill that continues to grind, the competition revealed more diverse prospects in the season that just ended. In no small part, Ijaiye Housing Estate Senior Grammar School’s success this season is down to the heroics of Raheem Habeeb, their reliable goalkeeper. He made jaw-dropping saves that suggest to many that a fresh pair of safe hands could join the Nigerian Football Goalkeepers’ Bench sometime soon. While Raheem provided fantastic cover for his team, his team mate, 16 year old Moses Toriola’s predatory advancement into opposing teams’ territories proved summarily effective. Two more sensations from the Season 8 of the GTBank-Lagos State Principals Cup: the girl, Ojo Patience of Government Senior College, Agege and, the boy, Oki Habib, Ikotun Senior High School’s Goalkeeper; they, together with Raheem and Moses, lit up the competition with their sharp performances. However, the most exciting individual player this season was an 11 year old girl in JSS 1 – Aliyat Saheed. In just her first year, she has bagged a Principals Cup Winners’ Medal, actively taking part and scoring audacious goals for her team. For her and for her school – Isale Eko Grammar School, Lagos Island – there are almost certainly more to come.
After Tuesday’s finals, the scouts may not have enough time to complete their player dossiers before the big one sets in: the UEFA Champions League Final in Cardiff, Wales; the stage where global football sojourns bound for success lead. As cnn.com put it, “Glory, millions of dollars and a place in history beckon, all played out in front of fans spread across more than 200 countries”. The stadium’s sitting capacity is 66,000, but over 350 million people will watch from around the world. Before the men’s final on the 3rd of June, there would have been the women’s on the 1st, played in the same city. When Lyon face Paris Saint-Germain, it will be the second time two teams from the same country face-off in the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final.
How will our little boys and girls grow into this global spectacle? What will they need? GTBank’s perpetual presence in the frontiers of global trends make them capable of running the Principals Cup, year after year, so that it steadily locks firmly with the public and private platforms that take the O Level graduates of the Principals Cup onwards as they journey to bigger and bigger turfs. As a rule, all such football prospects must be dedicated to their classroom development as success in their final exams, not the Principals Cup, is paramount.
While the GTBank-Lagos State Principals Cup may lead to grand athletic futures for the individual players, participating in it is an end-goal in itself. Whatever on-pitch outcomes players and coaches have, they know that learning and imbibing the rules of the competition are crucial: discipline, hard work, and integrity. Good breeding and good sportsmanship also required that the eventual winners were magnanimous in victory, as a long tournament devoid of rancor and ill-feeling and abounding in friendship was generally a good outing for all participating schools. So for those who will not go on to become professional footballers, they set whatever careers they choose on a solid foundation. As we wait 7 months for Season 9, we know the hunger for success has been awakened in many children across Lagos. They will work and train harder, and it will impact positively on their growth and development. All round, what a great idea the Principals Cup is!