MTN Football Scholars: Grooming talents for Super Eagles
Nineteen year-old Isaac Sampson, an undergraduate physiology student with the American International College in the United States, was among thousands of young soccer players who started the journey into the MTN Football Scholars programme in Lagos five years ago.
The mission was to unearth budding football talents between the ages of 14 and 17 years and provide them with a viable platform to excel and become top-flight footballers.
Five years on, the MTN Football Scholars platform, which gives the lad an opportunity to combine education with soccer, has successfully delivered on its promise of putting smiles on the faces of beneficiaries.
Sampson and some of his colleagues can now boast a lifetime opportunity to fulfill their dreams. Like other beneficiaries, Sampson’s dream is to play his way into the Super Eagles squad in the nearest future.
He spoke with The Guardian at the University of Lagos sports complex at the end of the 2015 MTN Football Scholars programme under the supervision of ex-international including Joe Erico, Henry Nwosu and Tajudeen Disu.
This year’s edition of the MTN Football Scholars had a unique twist, as the organisers decided to focus on home ground leveraging of the scholars who have been on the programme.
The scholars, who are in various institutions in the United States, were brought home for a tour round the country, during which they played novelty matches against four higher institutions: University of Abuja, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, Federal University of Akure and the University of Lagos.
The tour was a major success for Sampson and his colleagues. To him, every minute spent partaking in the programme was a giant leap towards realising his dream of donning the green white green colours of Nigeria. “Studying in the United States and at the same time playing football is a wonderful experience for me,” Sampson explained. “Football is my passion and I hope to represent Nigeria one day. “I am very grateful to MTN for providing us this opportunity to set in motion the processes to achieve our dreams.
There are many young footballers like me who have dreams of playing at the highest level. This programme has undoubtedly proved a very good launching ground for us and we are thankful,” Sampson said. Former Super Eagles midfielder, Mutiu Adepoju, was present in one of the novelty matches.
He was full of appreciation to MTN for providing the platform for thousands of young Nigerians to commence their football career.
Adepoju said: “It is not that we lack good footballing talent in Nigeria, but what we require is a credible platform for them to excel and get exposed to the world.
Programmes like this MTN Football Scholars are what we need to achieve this. As I am sitting here, I have spotted some talented boys who are capable of featuring for our junior national teams. Kudos to MTN for putting this together.”
In the same vein, former Green Eagles skipper, Henry Nwosu, said it was a great initiative for MTN to bring the players from their various schools in the United States for the tour of high institutions in Nigeria.
Nwosu said: “The progress of the players is amazing and they are doing quite well. If we had this kind of encouragement in our youthful days, the sky would have been the limit.
MTN has really done well with this programme and I urge other corporate organisations to emulate them.” Former Green Eagles goalkeeper, Erico, who is the permanent coach of the MTN Football Scholars, was in joyful mood: “I am very delighted at the progress of these boys.
They have developed so fast on this platform. I have been involved in this programme since its inception and the good thing about it is the joy you derive from it. It gives the kids room to combine their education with football.
That is the key.” During the tour of higher institutions in Nigeria, the MTN Football Scholars suffered a 1-3 defeat to University of Abuja in an entertaining first of the novelty matches. It was a wake up call, as the Scholars went on to thrash the UNEC team by the same score-line, played 1-1 draw with FUTA before handing a 2-1 defeat to Unilag Warriors in Lagos to round up the tour.
Apart from Sampson, other members of the MTN Football Scholars team like Tapshak Augustine, who is studying at Saint Lawrence University, Edemba Ifeanyi Charles (Knox College) and Okeke Ebuka (Valley School of Legionier) were so excited to be part of the tour of Nigeria five years since they started their programmes in the United States. It was not a winner takes all event, as some students of the universities’ teams also emerged winners in varying degrees.
Yakubu Yahaya, Joseph Okorie, Salami Ismail and Owolabi Ifedunor all emerged the MVPs for their universities team and were rewarded with a N250,000 scholarship each for their exploits. In addition, the students got Samsung Galaxy smartphones.
MTN Project Fame and the telecoms giant ambassador, Iyanya Mbok was at every stop, providing music from his array of hit tracks.
There were also raffle draws, where the winners became owners of new Samsung Galaxy smartphones. Others went away with goodie bags and airtime equally to light up a momentous 2015 edition of the MTN Football Scholars.
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