Posted by Nelson Dafe, Benin City | 14 April 2015 | 6,626 times
Wednesday, April 8, 2015 will be an unforgettable day for the group of young football players of BJ Foundation FC of Benin City.
When BJ FC won the Edo State FA Cup on that day by beating the more fancied Kukuruku Dragons of Auchi 2-1 in the final, it was a positive culmination of a campaign that saw them starting as one of the least favorite sides.
Yes, BJ had a rich history going into the competition, being the first Nigerian side to win the Dana International Cup for Under-13 teams around the world which held in Hjorring, Denmark in 2000, and has also won a slew of youth tournaments within and outside its Edo State base. Also, the grassroots outfit has catapulted the career of many players who have gone on to represent the various national teams of Nigeria and are playing for a number of prestigious local and international clubs around the world. However, when it came to the Edo FA cup, BJ in the 15 years of the club’s existence had found it hard to make significant progress – until now.
Several factors accounted for this. There was Bendel Insurance, the then Premier League club, but now in the Pro-League Division One, who dominated the competition with better experienced players and overwhelming support from Benin fans who saw them as the most reliable representatives of Edo state in the national challenge cup competition.
Then, the emergence of Dynamite Force, a national amateur side added to the mix, making the competition harder for BJ.
While BJ was proving successful at the grassroots and under-age levels, it was generally felt that the Edo FA Cup was beyond its ken because of the young age of the players. Winning the cup was thought to be for men and not boys.
However, like Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, chief coach of BJ FC Douglas Idahosa is a man very faithful to his ideals of picking young and energetic players. For Idahosa it was always a matter of developing stars and not just panicking to bring in big and old names all in the name of chasing cup glory.
So it was with this attitude of mind with which Idahosa prepared his BJ team for this year’s championship.
But as the competition neared its kick-off, the club’s preparation was seriously threatened when a new grassroots club called Crown FC emerged in Benin City. The club, said to be owned by a wealthy religious leader in Edo State, used its financial power to lure the cream of players Douglas had planned to use to prosecute the Challenge Cup. More than five top players of BJ were lost to Crown, leaving BJ coaches in an awkward position, to say the least, and their fans feeling betrayed.
“I did everything to stop those players from leaving. Naturally, it was painful to see them go because I had been building the team for months with them in mind. I tried my best to persuade them to stay, but when I saw they'd made up their minds, I felt that life must go on. I just took it as God clearing the way for me to a different successful direction,” Idahosa said after his team qualified for the national FA cup by beating Dynamite FC 5-3 on penalties in the semi final.
The direction Idahosa took after the loss of his players to Crown was to trust in the remaining lads while adding a couple of other young players from some obscure Benin city neighborhoods. In came striker Francis Ikpomwonsa and lanky and intelligent box-to-box midfielder Alma Asemota. They proved to be very inspired signings. Ikpomwonsa ended up as highest goal scorer of the FA cup with 5 goals, including a hat trick in the opening game, which was the first ever competitive match he was playing for BJ, while Asemota epitomised the spirit and desire of a young player aspiring for greatness as he put up superlative performances even though he was visibly struggling with a painful groin injury.
One player who benefited from a more guaranteed playing time was Michael Enaruna, a creative attacking midfielder whose passes, movement and general composure on and off the ball wowed spectators. Fittingly, he was voted as Most Valuable Player of the competition.
By a distance the most remarkable aspect of BJ FC's triumph in the FA cup was how young the squad is. With an average of 17-18 it has surely gone down in history as the youngest team to win the Edo challenge cup.
Coach Idahosa told pressmen his team won because they were younger. “Football belongs to the young players now,” he said.
With the National FA Cup to come, it is hoped by many in Edo State and beyond – who were impressed by the technical skills, physical, tactical and mental toughness of this young team – that the BJ boys will equally set the national stage alight as they did in Edo State.
•Photo shows line-up of 2015 Edo FA Cup champions, the BJ Foundation FC of Benin City.
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