The ongoing CAF Under-17 Championship in Gabon has just reached the halfway mark but already served some attractive football and again showed why the juvenile competition is a good conveyor belt for talents and must never be ignored.
For Ghanaians, the performance of the Black Starlets in their first two games has been very inspiring and immediately rekindled interest in a competition which had been put on the back burner in recent times.
It took a 4-0 thumping of Cameroun for the Starlets to look a side to beat, and after hammering hosts Gabon 5-0 last Wednesday to clinch a ticket to this year’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup, the Ghanaian side are beginning to look a good bet for the African title.
Qualifying for the World Championship may have been a key target for Coach Samuel Paa Kwesi Fabin and his young talents, especially after Ghana had missed the last few editions. But beyond making it to the FIFA party in India later in the year, there are very good reasons why Ghanaians must be happy with this Starlets team.
After Ghana was banned for using overage players for which they missed the last tournament, it appears the Ghanaian authorities and Coach Fabin decided to do the right thing by scouting for players with the right ages mostly from second cycle institutions and lower division sides. Not only does it bring integrity to the team, but it also gives the FA a good pool of young talents around whom to build a team for the future.
It may be too early to start dreaming of a third continental title, but the Starlets have looked a good bargain so far, showing great technique and sound tactical display that have seen them score nine goals in two games. It is an indication that Coach Fabin and his backroom staff have done a good work on the boys.
In the past, Ghana took the under-17 competitions very seriously as it provided an opportunity for the Starlets – some of whom looked more mature for their ages -- to dominate FIFA age-group competitions which became an escape route from poverty for the many talented players who earned good contracts with European teams and developed further into world-class stars.
Some of the current players might be fortunate to follow a similar path to riches and stardom as was once taken by stars such as Samuel Kuffour, Mohammed Gargo, Nii Odartey Lamptey, Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, among others.
But beyond the opportunities the African Championship and the FIFA Championship present to these players, the FA needs to put in place a structured programme to ensure that these players with an average age of 16 years, are groomed to become the next generation of Black Stars players using a graduation system that will see them becoming the nucleus of the under-20 team, Olympic team for 2020 and then to the senior team for the 2021 AFCON and 2022 World Cup.
The inability of the FA to raise good Starlets teams in the recent past truncated the graduating system which resulted in the inability of Ghana to sustain the development process. This time, it is hoped that the GFA will begin to put in place a sustainable and structured development process to groom the next generation of stars around these Starlet.