The 8th of February 2015 was marked into the annals of football history as the end of the 30th edition of the AFCON and a day when four-time African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure led the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire to their second African Cup of Nations title.
Watching the Ivoirian skipper hoist the trophy in front of television made a huge impression on Kelechi Nwakali – Nigeria’s U-17 team at the 11th African U-17 Championship Niger 2015.
“Yaya Toure is a player who wants to win everytime he plays and I want to be like him,” said Kelechi, younger brother of Chidiebere Nwakali who was a member of Nigeria’s 2013 FIFA Under-17 World Cup-winning team. “Yaya fights to win, he doesn’t like losing; works hard on the pitch and he’s a disciplined player.”
According to Emmanuel Amuneke, the trainer of Nigeria’s cadet side, Nwakali was selected captain of the Golden Eaglets for the 2015 CAF U17 finals because of exemplary discipline and “the value he brings the team”.
Speaking to cafonline.com ahead of start of the CAF U17 Niger 2015 championship; Nwakali also named former World Player of the Year, Kaka as the other player he admired.
“I have watched many games involving Kaka of Brazil, and I admire him so much,” he said adding: “But since he has retired, the player I admire would love to be like him is Yaya Toure. I’m looking up to Yaya Toure and Kaka and want to become a great player like them with hard work and discipline.”
Born June 5, 1998, Nwakali cut his football teeth at ASJ Soccer Academy in Owerri- one of Nigeria’s notable soccer cities that produced FIFA Under-17 World Cup and African football legend, Nwankwo Kanu.
But how well Nwakali can go in emulating his cherished forbearers would be seen at this African Under-17 Championship in Niger where he reckoned Nigeria was not here to make up the numbers.
Are you guys under pressure playing against the hosts Niger in your opening fixture on Sunday?
No, we are not under pressure. It is a great honour for us to start the competition against the hosts and we are ready to face the challenge.
How have your coaches been preparing you for this opening match?
They have told us that this is the most important match for us because if we win, it would boost our confidence for the other matches in order to qualify for the World Cup in Chile.
Once we win our first game, we would be relaxed to play the other two group matches and we are confident we can do it.
Does this not put pressure on you being the captain?
The coach is not putting pressure on us. He has been telling us what to expect and what to do in the game.
What has been the experience of playing under coach Emmanuel Amuneke?
It has been great because he is a no-nonsense coach who always tells us the truth. It is either you are ready to work with him or you are not ready. He is always telling us that it is only hard work, focus, discipline and consistency that guarantee success. When you work hard, God will do the rest for you. We believe that with God and hard work, all things are possible for us.
What has been your experience being the captain of the Golden Eaglets?
It has been a good experience for me because this is the first time that I was made a leader of a group of players. Being the captain of a national team is a big privilege and responsibility but the players and officials of the team have made my job very easy for me. I think it is a great honour. Anybody would have loved to be the captain but I thank God that I was eventually picked.
What makes your team special when compared with the last Golden Eaglets that won the World Cup in Dubai in 2013?
In the last team, we had a lot of talented players but we believe in our collective ability in this team. We may not have a collection of skilful players like the last set but we are a very strong side.