The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a safe and painless test that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed pictures of the body organs and structures. An MRI scanner consists of a large doughnut-shaped magnet that often has a tunnel in the centre. Patients are placed on a table that slides into the tunnel. Some centres have open MRI scanners that have larger openings and are helpful for patients with claustrophobia. MRI scanners are available in hospitals and radiology centres.
During the examination, radio waves manipulate the magnetic position of the atoms of the body, which are picked up by a powerful antenna and sent to a computer. The computer performs millions of calculations, resulting in clear, cross-sectional black-and-white images of the body. The MRI device is used to determine problems with the eyes, ears, heart and the circulatory system. Above all, it could also be used to determine the true age of a growing child and so the world football ruling body, FIFA, opted to use the MRI test to determine the true ages of all players competing at the U-17 football event.
Since the introduction of MRI, it has been tough for African countries to raise U-17 national teams. Nigeria is not an exception as many talented players have failed this test in the past. The test is said to be near excellent, but not 100 per cent accurate. For example, Leicester City midfielder, Wilfred Ndidi, failed the MRI test at U-17 level, but he featured in the U-20 competition for Nigeria and today, he is one of the prominent players in the national team.
The MRI test has denied many players the opportunity of representing the country. The coaches at that level are expected to play safe with players who are of the true age for the competition. We believe it is easy to play safe.
Players warming up to participate in the U-17 competition should be in secondary schools. It is only in exceptional cases that U-17 footballers will be in tertiary institutions. We are aware that some universities in the country, including the University of Lagos, will not admit a new intake under the age of 16. It also means only a few of such are in the tertiary institutions.
The domestic league players are mostly from the grassroots, not the schools and so, getting U-17 players from the league is very difficult, if not impossible.
During the week, Nigeria’s U-17 team’s preparation for the African Junior Championship suffered a major setback when 15 of the 40 players listed for the final team selection failed the mandatory MRI age-test ahead of the zonal qualifiers in Niger next month.
It was also learnt that the number of players who failed the screening could even be far more than officials were ready to divulge.
The players affected include four of the team’s star strikers as well as a highly-rated centre defender.
It was further learnt that all the players have been sent packing from the team’s training camp in Abuja. Another set of 15 players are now to undergo the MRI scan to replace those who failed.
Ordinarily, if the right things are done, those who fail the test should not be more than two or three, but we condemn the evaluation of the coaches from the beginning. The situation in the team now is a case of starting all over since the failure affected 15 players.
Current coach, Manu Garba, has passed through this route before and it was shocking that this is happening to him. We expect the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to give him all the support to enable him raise a solid team for the African qualifiers.
It is important to clearly state that the aim of FIFA for this competition is to help affiliated countries identify and develop young talents from tender ages. Theses talents are also expected to be nurtured and made to go through transition to the U-20 and U-23 teams before joining the senior rank. While the transition works perfectly in other countries, it does not in Nigeria.
The country has won the world title five times at the U-17 level and it has not affected the fortunes of the senior national team, the Super Eagles. It is absurd that most of the players failed to make it to the U-20 level, not to talk of the senior team. Philip Osondu, Chrisantus Macauley, Kabiru Akinsola and Victor Oshimen are some of the players who showed promise at the U-17 level but never made it to the senior team. Nwankwo Kanu, Wilson Oruma, Celestine Babayaro and Jonathan Akpoborie are some of the players who were able to follow the transition process successfully to the Super Eagles.
We urge NFF to monitor the U-17 team closely so that Nigeria can also reap from the system FIFA put in place to ensure smooth transition. It should not be a win-at-all-cost mentality. The current setback is not the end of the world for Garba and his wards as we expect him to make the best out of the situation.
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