The football league in every country is one of the major yardsticks to measure the growth of the game. It is important that there are basic templates for the league to flourish. In Nigeria, for example, professional football league started in 1990 but we can say authoritatively that all the conditions laid down in the books for the clubs were not met and yet the league kicked off. All the clubs that started the professional league at the time and also others that featured prominently failed to meet 60 per cent of the conditions. Because of the anomaly in the take-off, the Nigerian league has been neither here nor there in terms of development.
This, we believe, is one of the reasons why the country’s representatives in club football competition fail to excel at continental stage over the years. There are only few exceptions especially the back-to-back wins of the CAF Champions League by Enyimba Football Club in 2003 and 2004. The feat at the time was due to the interest shown by the then governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, who took over the administration of the team. Kalu also motivated the players and charged them to break the jinx of the competition for Nigeria. Nigerian clubs are still owing players’ salaries, they do not have offices, they play on poor pitches and most are not quoted on the country’s stock exchange. The League Management Company (LMC), ‘owners’ of the domestic league are making efforts to better the fortunes but the body is not strict enough to stick to its rules and boost the fortunes of the competition.
As the Nigeria Football Professional League (NFPL) ends this week, we acknowledge that many changes were made to get this far. The most crucial is the decision to align the country’s league with that of Europe and most parts of the world. This is commendable and it is important to state that the current leadership of the league, the LMC, made it happen.
The current abridged season has been smooth despite the sloppy start due to the controversy about the number of teams for promotion and relegation. The abridged situation was caused by the crisis in the football family but it is all coming good for the entire system and administration of the league. Since last week at the Agege Stadium, Lagos, six teams have been competing for honours to determine the very best team for the season. They are: Rangers International, Lobi Stars and Enyimba from Group A of the league while Akwa United, Kano Pillars and FC IfeanyiUbah emerged from Group B. Sunusi Ibrahim of Nasarawa United won the highest goal scorer gong due to his good disciplinary record.
He was tied on 10 points with Akwa United’s Mfom Udoh but the organisers activated provisions in Rule A9.4, A9.5-2 which stipulated considerations to choose the lead scorer in the event of a tie by two or more players. Sanusi had one yellow card all season while Udoh had two. A total of eight teams were relegated with four coming from each group. Insurance of Benin, Kwara United, Niger Tornadoes and Remo Stars were relegated from Group A while Gombe United, Go Round and Yobe Desert Stars went down from Group B. It is impressive to state that the abridged league went smoothly and it is expected that a true champion will emerge after the Super 6 hostilities taking place at the Soccer Tempo in Agege. However, a critical element of what is missing in the league is live coverage on television.
The Chairman of the LMC, Shehu Dikko, only recently said N15 million was required for the live transmission of just one game in the league because most of the stadia in the country do not have adequate facilities to host live games. This is a tough call but the LMC will have to find a way to bring our domestic league back on television.
We are aware that cases of bad officiating and hooliganism were recorded in the current season, but they were not new to the entire system and that informed the overall pass mark given to the abridged league. It was well managed but much work is required. The NPFL is not new on television.
Cable network, SuperSport, had television rights agreement with the LMC two seasons ago and it was fun for everyone including the players because the league was on global stage. The N15 million required for a match is huge but the chieftains of the NPFL should work towards bringing back live coverage to help boost the growth of the league. Dikko should bring corporate Nigeria to help the NPFL in concrete terms.
Apart from not seeing the league on television we frown at the unserious disposition of the leadership of the domestic league. Dikko, the LMC boss, was in France for the Women World Cup at the time Super 6 was taking place in Lagos. LMC chieftains should leave the national team for the NFF and concentrate on the domestic league. The league deserves better. We charge the NFF and the LMC to be more serious with the administration of the league to make it attract sponsors and top players from other parts of Africa to Nigeria.
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