Kelechi Iheanacho has attracted interest from top clubs across Europe after his impressive displays at the 2013 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
The Golden Eaglets forward was named the Most Valuable Player (Golden Ball winner) at the tournament after scoring six goals, including one in the final, to help Nigeria make history as the first country to win the competition for the fourth time.
Neymar’s nine goals in the Peru championship helped Brazil to win the competition for the eleventh-time.
“Iheanacho is highly talented and he can be like Neymar, Ronaldo and Messi,” the Saudi’89 FIFA Under-20 World Cup silver medallist told our correspondent on the telephone during the week.
“I’m very happy that big European clubs are chasing after his signature, but I think it’s too early for him to move to Europe.
“Brazil didn’t allow the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid lure Neymar away from the country to Europe when he emerged as one of the hottest properties in South American football.
“Big European clubs were ready to pay any amount of money for him but the Brazilian Football Federation resisted them.
“As a result, Neymar was forced to stay back in his country to develop for four year (at Santos) before joining Barcelona.
“The Brazilian FA did what they did to ensure that the player’s career was not ruined by European clubs who will put him under much pressure to deliver.
“The Federal Government or the Nigeria Football Federation should stop Iheanacho and other players who won the World Cup in UAE from leaving the country for Europe now.
“They are very young to leave for professional careers in Europe. They should stay in the country and play for the likes of Enyimba, Kano Pillars, Enugu Rangers and Warri Wolves to hone their skills.
“If they play regularly for their (domestic) clubs, they will develop better skills and attract interest from clubs in Europe. The players should only leave when they are guaranteed first-team football by clubs in Europe and not their reserve or feeder teams.
“We made mistakes in the past by allowing our players leave for Europe after winning the Under-17 World Cup. Some of the players were overage and they fizzled out immediately they got to Europe.
“It’s like someone repeating primary six when he is supposed to be a graduate. Where are the players who moved to Europe after winning the Under-17 World Cup in 2007? How many of them are playing for big clubs today?
“Macaulay Chrisantus joined Hamburg after he emerged as the top scorer at the tournament in South Korea. Where’s he today?
“Perhaps he would have been in the Super Eagles today and be in our World Cup squad if he had stayed back in the country to develop himself.
“Christian Benteke, Eden Hazard, Mamadou Sakho, Danny Welbeck, Victor Moses (represented England) and Toni Kroos played in the tournament and they are going to the World Cup. We won the competition and we should have many of the players playing for top clubs, but how many of them are in the Super Eagles? None.
“Our aim should be to develop players for the senior World Cup and not winning the age-grade tournaments. We can engage the players who won the World Cup in UAE by arranging Under-19 competitions for them before they move to the Flying Eagles.
“There should be more grassroots competitions in the country. I featured in a number of competitions where I was picked for the Under-17 World Cup in Canada.
“We also have to develop our coaches. They need to be current because the game is changing fast.
“The rich ones should go overseas for coaching courses and return home to organise seminars.
“Nigerians who had successful football careers in Europe and emulate their Sudanese and South African counterparts who bring foreign coaches to help develop the game in their countries.”