Lula, meet Kanu

Circa 2004, there was a Brazilian U-17 youth international named Lula who looked as good as any player I have seen at his age. I remember how amazing Nwanko Kanu was when I saw him play for Nigeria in the 1993 U-17 FIFA Youth World Cup – phenomenal!

Lula had a similar effect on me.

He played as an attacking midfielder and ran through defences like the proverbial hot knife cutting butter. He was full of flair, speed, strength, imagination, determination, vision, and all the other attributes that made me feel that the kid was the real deal. Of course there could be thousands more Lulas in Brazil at any given point in time – some make it some don’t. I’ve lost track of Lula. I suppose he would have made headlines by now if he had made it as a senior pro.

Such is the uncertainty of youth.

Kanu has had a marvelous career. He’s won the following titles/medals at least once:

o Nigerian Premier League
o FIFA U-17 World Cup
o Olympic Gold
o Dutch Eredivisie
o UEFA Cup
o UEFA Champions League
o UEFA Super Cup
o Intercontinental Cup
o FA Cup
o English Premier League

A heart valve defect slowed but did not stop his career. There aren’t too many players (dead or alive) who can match Kanu’s list of accomplishments. And he wasn’t just a passenger on those teams. He was a superb footballer.

The 2009 edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup kicks off tomorrow in Alexandria, Egypt. In previous tournaments, we’ve seen stars like Maradona and van Basten emerge. I can forgive you for not having noticed that the tournament is already upon us. The groups are as follows:

Group A: Egypt, Italy, Paraguay, Trinidad & Tobago
Group B: Nigeria, Spain, Tahiti, Venezuela
Group C: Cameroon, Germany, South Korea, United States
Group D: England, Ghana, Uruguay, Uzbekistan
Group E: Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Czech Republic
Group F: Honduras, Hungary, South Africa, United Arab Emirates

Will the star players of the next generation emerge? Will there be any Kanus or Messis? Will there be any Lulas?

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