It is time for Nigeria's most promising duo of Henry Onyekuru and Kelechi Nwakali to come of age

EARLIER this week, a new CIES Football Observatory report revealed a list of the world's100 most valuable young footballers, detailing the value of the planet's best youngsters under the age of 21. Nigeria's Wilfred Ndidi was rated as the 11th most expensive young footballer in the world in the report, valued at a staggering £57m.


Ndidi, 20, is playing in his second season in the English Premiership, having joined Leicester in January this year from Belgian Club Genk for £17m. Now a mainstay of the team as well as for the Super Eagles, Wilfred is considered one of the best ball winners in the game and has made more successful tackles than any player in the English Premiership this season.


Also on the list was Nigeria and Arsenal's Alex Iwobi,  who is ranked number 34 on the list with a price tag of £27.7m. Ndidi's Leicester City team mate Kelechi Iheanacho is also on the list at 56th with a market valuation of £17.04m.


Several Nigerian-born players who have opted to play for England like Dele Alli, Jordan Ibe, Ademola Lookman and Tammy Abraham were also on the list. It was no surprise to see Paris Saint-Germain and French striker Kylian Mbappe, 18, top the list with a market valuation of £160.9m, based on his current red hot form that has seen him score eight goals in 17 games this season.


Other big names on the list include Manchester City winger Leroy Sane (£109.6m) and Manchester United's Marcus Rushford (£102.8m). Premier League players dominated the top 10, with Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus valued at £95.4m, Manchester United forward Anthony Martial estimated to be worth £75.3m and Tottenham defender Davinson Sanchez priced at £58.4m.


Real Madrid winger and Champions League final goalscorer Marco Asensio, was 14th on the list with a valuation of £44.6m. Chelsea's Danish defender Andreas Christensen, is among the top 20 and valued at £41.9m, while Liverpool's Joe Gomez (£30.1m), Spurs' Harry Winks (£28.8m), Swansea City's Tammy Abraham (£35m), Leicester's Demarai Gray (£21.2m) and Everton midfielder Tom Davies (£37.1) are also on it.


Now, most of these young players will grace Russia 2018 where they will display their prodigious talents for the whole world to see. How well a lot of them perform will determine how far their countries get in the tournament and if they live up to the promise, we may be in for an unbelievable explosion of talent.


For the first time since the 1990s, Nigeria's Super Eagles are looking like contenders again after the impressive way in which the team qualified for Russia 2018 and the recent 4-2 victory over Argentina. We have a young team and the general consensus among football fans worldwide is that Nigeria is going to the tournament to compete rather than just participate as has been the case lately.


What makes this team stand out is that it has a lot of unknown promising youngsters who are fully capable of leaving Russia having established themselves as world class players. This is why when one looks at the roaster of players Argentina and Croatia both drawn in our group, it does not bother any Nigerian football fan as we know that even though our players may not  be as well known, they are just as good if not better.


In 1994 when Nigeria announced her arrival on the world stage, very few had heard of Austin Okocha, Sunday Oliseh or Daniel Amokachi but after the tournament, they became household names. Likewise, after our victory at the 1996 Olympics, everyone took note of the names Taribo West, Celestine Babayaro and Nwankwo Kanu.


Looking at the current squad, I can easily see youngsters like Francis Uzoho, Tyronne Ebuehi, William Ekong and Wilfred Ndidi becoming household names after the tournament. When you add them to the experience of Victor Moses, Leon Balogun, Mikel Obi and Odion Ighalo, we have the basis of a very strong team that can go on to surpass previous feats.


Of late, we have had the added bonus of Joel Obi returning to fitness after years of injury and establishing himself as a regular in the Torino side in Serie A. Our only quality natural left footer, Joel brings a new dimension to the team and were I in Gernot Rohr's shoes, I would not even think about it twice before playing him as my leftback.


Against Argentina, the new faces like Uzoho and Ebuehi showed what they bring to the table, elevating our standard of play way above what we witnessed in the qualifiers. It would be extremely naive of us to think that the team which got past Swaziland, Cameroon, Zambia and Algeria would be good enough to face Argentina, Croatia and Iceland.


Just to use an analogy, if a team is in the second division and is seeking promotion, it will need a group of roughty toughty fighters who can battle their way to promotion. However, upon getting to the premier league, those players will not be good enough to make a title challenge and will need to be replaced with quality.


As we are due to commence the real business in June next year, Herr Rohr needs to use the next two friendlies coming up in March to get his starting 11 sorted out, which means ditching his sentimental attachment to certain long term players, who helped us qualify for the World Cup but are simply not good enough for the big dance.


If we want to compete with the best, we not only have to take along our best but also have to act like the best. Perennial World Cup favourites like Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Spain and France never apply sentiments to team selection and make no mistake about it, they will not be doing so next year.


With the nucleus of the team in shape, Rohr just needs to sort out the problematic position of playmaker that every side needs if it is serious about wining things. One just needs to look at the quality the likes of Neymar, Modric, Ozil and Hazard bring to their teams to understand where I am coming from.


For me, the matter is pretty straightforward and simple. We need a highly talented playmaker who can spray 50 yard passes, deliver cross-field balls, pick out team mates with deadly accuracy, split defences with the outside of his foot, play subtle one-twos of the edge of the opposing penalty area and disguise passes to team mates if we want to do well in Russia.


At 30, Mikel Obi no longer has the legs for this and even if he did, we desperately need his leadership and defensive experience in front of the back four. Along with Ndidi, Mikel and Ndidi can provide the shield that will make our defence hard to get at and enable tort Eagles to keep possession of the ball.


Whether we like it or not, we thus need a playmaker playing in front of Ndidi and Mikel, whose talent can prise open stubborn defences as we are certain to face in the form or Argentina, Croatia and certainly Iceland.  Now is the time for Kelechi to step up to the plate, come of age and stand up to be counted.


Worldwide, his age mates are showing they are good enough and he is certainly talented enough to match their exploits. Unfortunately, he has not been able to establish himself as a regular at Venlo in the Dutch League, which for me is a total aberration because at 19, Nwakali is older than Mbappe and should be matching him stride for stride.


Another Nigerian youngster who is not living up to his promise is Henry Onyekuru currently on loan to Anderlecht from Everton. Like Nwakali, Onyekuru was heralded as another of the world's finest youngsters, which is what prompted Everton in the English Premiership to sign him before sending him out of loan to Belgium.


In all fairness to Onyekuru, he has done far better than Nwakali, establishing himself as Anderlecht's best player and is probably always the first name on the team sheet. If Nigeria is to do well in Russia, we need both of them firing on all cylinders and delivering the goods as we know their contemporaries Mbappe, Alli and Rushford will at the World Cup.


Herr Rohr needs to have a word with both players in the hope that he can affect them positively as their problems are clearly psychological and down to confidence rather than a lack of ability. If Nwakali and Onyekuru can establish themselves as top class players before the end of the season, deliver the goods in March's two friendlies on the international level and remain fit and healthy, I see no reason why they cannot become sensations in Russia.


I like to dream of a Super Eagles team playing 4-3-3 with a rejuvenated Ighalo playing as our targetman with Onyekuru and Moses on either side of him and Nwakali playing at the tip of a midfield trio that involved Mikel and Ndidi playing behind him shielding the defence. With the width Ebuehi and Joel can provides us from the flanks, this team can set an African record of reaching a World Cup semi finals for the first time.


Supported by our Onyibo wall of Ekong and Balogun and another potential world class player in the form of Uzoho in goal, I see no reason why we should not come back from Russia with at least the bronze medal. It is my sincere hope that Herr Rohr will use the March friendlies to sort out all these selection matters and then use the pre-World Cup periods between May and June to work on team chemistry.


This may be the chance of a lifetime and we cannot afford to take it lightly or dismiss it as something that will pass in the hope that there will be a next time. In 1938 and 1954, Hungary got to the final of both World Cups but ever since have struggled to make an impression in European and global football.


Hungary's Magical Magyar's as they were then called, last qualified for the World Cup in 1986 where they were humiliated 6-0 by the Soviet Union and have remained nobodies in world football ever since. Holland too reached two successive World Cup finals in 1974 and 1978 but as we all know, will not be in Russia to try and better this record.


To assume that the future will always be kind is naive and is throwing away the promise of today in the hope for an uncertain future. Nigeria should not play kalo-kalo with Russia 2018 but take it seriously and aim to win the whole thing as we do not know what headaches we may face with future World Cups.


Herr Rohr has the nucleus of a potential World Cup winning-team and with just two or three additions, he could have a legendary side. However, the players need to play their part two, so Onyekuru and Nwakali, Nigeria needs you, so please, stand up and be counted.


My World Cup team: 4-3-3