Former victorious Golden Eaglets 1985 squad player, Fatai Atere, who is today based in the United States (U.S.) has revealed that he would not have made the historic Nigerian team if not for providence.
Atere, who was stopped from playing professional football in England by the Nigerian government which said all the squad players are government properties, disclosed that he nearly did not make it to China in 1985.
He noted: “It’s actually a funny story. I was just one of many players invited to train with the Golden Eaglets ahead of the first-ever U-16 World Cup. At the time I was only 13 years old, and I was seldom given the chance to actually play in the time leading up to the tournament. But in one of the sessions, a player was injured and the coach saw me sitting on the sidelines. He noticed that I was not wearing my boots and he asked me why. I told him that I did not think I was going to get a chance to play. He told me that if I did not immediately put on my boots and enter the field of play, I could go home and need not come back.
“So I put on my boots and played. I changed the complexion of the game and from that moment on, I was in the starting line-up.”
The 13-year old Atere played in every game the Golden Eaglets played in China, including the final which they won to be crowned as the first world champions at that age level. Two years later he captained the side that again made it to the final. Atere missed out on the semi-final and final though after picking up an injury.
Atere says that the pressure on the youngsters now is far greater, but he thinks the team that recently emulated the 1985 heroics can push Nigerian football to bigger heights. “The team that won in Chile has some tremendous players and I think they can go far. I was particularly impressed with the captain, Kelechi Nwakali, and the top scorer Victor Osimhen. They are certainly players who can take Nigerian football forward and both of them have been called up to train with the U-23 side.
“When we played, we had little chance of being used at a higher level. But things have changed between then and now. The tournament is of course much bigger and the preparations are so much better. When we went to China, many people did not even know that we went. Today the while country was behind the side, and the players can concentrate on simply playing football.”