Ugbade: We must live up to Nigeria's rich U-17 tradition

Nigerian Nduka Ugbade is in the history books as the first captain to lift the FIFA U-17 World Cup. That was in 1985 when the young defender captained the Golden Eaglets to victory in the first-ever FIFA tournament at that age level.

Ugbade shares his memories of China 1985 with and looks forward to Chile 2015, where the west African country will be looking to secure a fifth U-17 crown.

Ugbade admits that when the team arrived in China 30 years ago, they were at first overwhelmed by what they saw. “We had the desire to do well, but we did not expect to win. Seeing all the big teams participating in the competition and playing in stadiums filled with 80,000 people was something we did not expect. Of course we had heard of FIFA and seen the World Cup on television, but the magnitude of the competition was not known to us until we got to China.”

Some 27 years later, Ugbade had an opportunity to again experience glory in the competition, when he assisted Manu Garba as the Golden Eaglets won their fourth title, beating Mexico 3-0 in the final played in Abu Dhabi. Interestingly, it was the fourth U-17 World Cup played in Asia and Nigeria have won all of them.

For Ugbade, being part of the set-up again showed him just how different times were. “Back then it was about making a name for ourselves and representing the country, but for the players today there are different aspects. The level of poverty is high now, and what drives most of the youths is the desire to play well, win and be signed by big clubs all over the world. At the end of the day they want to make it , so that their lives can be changed.”

Different times and rewards Ugbade scoffs at the idea that he is bitter about playing in a time when players were rewarded with small scholarships instead of receiving lucrative contracts. “I can't be disappointed because that is what it was for our time. The time we live in now is totally different. If I say I am disappointed, what about the likes of legends like Christian Chukwu and Segun Odegbami and the rest. They played great football in the past - among the best the country has produced, yet they had no opportunity to make money. What they received for playing in the national team was a name.”

The 45-year-old, who spent three years playing in Spain and also played for clubs in Singapore and Malaysia, believes that the Golden Eaglets will face a very tough challenge in Chile. “The Chileans have just won the Copa America and the pressure is on them to produce an U-17 team that will be able to beat the world.

It changed my life in that I became very popular and today I can enter anywhere and I am known by Nigerians.

But the Nigerian players should have an understanding that we were the first country to win this event and a lot of teams from Nigeria have won it, with Nwankwo Kanu and others. Most of the players who won it in 2013 are playing abroad and making millions, so they should know that they have their destiny in their hands, and that even though they are young they have to be highly competitive.”

For Ugbade, winning the World Cup was a highlight of his life, though it did not bring riches. In fact, he and his team-mates are still trying to get officials to live up to promises they made to the players after the 2-0 victory in the final against Germany. “But it changed my life in that I became very popular and today I can enter anywhere and I am known by Nigerians and wherever I go all over Africa, whenever I am introduced, people listen to me.”

Ugbade is still disappointed that he was never able to play in the senior World Cup. “I played in the qualifying matches for the 1994 World Cup and came on as a substitute in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994 when we beat Zambia. But when the squad for USA 1994 was announced, I was not selected. I don't know what happened. I am still asking until this very day, though I have put it behind me. I have tried to forgive and forget, though I felt very bad for years. That would have been an opportunity to make it totally big. If I had played for even just one minute. I would have gotten a bigger club and a better deal.”

He has tried to continue to stay involved in the game however. "I found out later that the World Cup will always continue, that if you don't go as a player someday you can maybe participate as a coach, and I am on that path."