The last domestic football season in the elite class, the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), ended on August 1 with Akwa United emerging champions ahead of Rivers United (second) and Enyimba (third). It was a record first for the Uyo-based outfit and a departure from the recent favourites like Enyimba, Kano Pillars and Plateau United.
As usual, three months after, we are surprised like many other people following the game that there are no indications about the next kick off date of the new season. And so it was not a surprise that Akwa United and Rivers United crashed out of the CAF Champions League in the early stages of continental club football competition. Unfortunately this has been the usual pattern in recent times. Rivers United won a match and lost the second round tie, so, they got demoted to the Confederation Cup.
Bayelsa United also crashed out of the Confederation Cup early. We charge the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to show more interest in the domestic league which is usually the best way to evaluate the standard of the game in any country. The exploits of the Super Eagles and the individual Nigerian stars in their respective clubs are not enough to rate the country’s football high.
The NPFL, and other tiers of the league, must be strong and viable in all ways. It must be on television and the marketing arm of the League Management Company (LMC)/ NFF must ensure sponsors come in to provide not only the glamour, but more importantly the financial wherewithal which is the lifeblood of any successful professional sporting endeavour. The uncertainty of the NPFL kick-off date is a major issue for the clubs and in some cases the CHAN team players. They get invitations to the CHAN Eagles camp while on holidays. There must be a consistent template such that teams, sponsors, coaches and players can key into it for respective purposes.
It is really sad that everyone is in the dark over when the NPFL restart is. There is a tentative date of November 21 but no one is sure about this because of the antecedents of the LMC. We make bold to say that the effect of the uncertain kickoff date and overall calendar imbalance in the NPFL is taking a toll on the results being posted by the country’s clubs on the continent and the national CHAN Eagles team. The players should be kept busy with weekly league games so that they will be match fit to face their other counterparts from other countries.
The situation is becoming a recurrent case and it’s like marching on the same spot without any progression. Every year, Nigerians cry out over the poor performances of the country’s representatives in continental club football competitions. The Super Eagles are highly rated in Africa; in fact, Eagles are constantly among favourites anytime Nigeria files out for the Africa Cup of Nations.
The country is also respected because of the exploits of some Nigerian players in their respective teams over the years. And so the performances of the clubs and the national team are not the same. In the CHAN competition organised for home-based players on the continent, Nigeria is yet to lift the trophy. This speaks volumes about the overall quality of the domestic league. The number one club competition on the continent of Africa is the CAF Champions League and in the over 20 years, Nigerian teams only feature in the tournament to make up the numbers. Enyimba of Aba is the only Nigerian club in history to have won the coveted trophy.
This was achieved back-to-back in 2003 and 2004. Since that time, it has been tales of woe for the country. No doubt, the talents are there in the domestic league but complex administrative issues have been the bane of the league. The welfare of the players has been a big issue in the Nigeria Professional Football League as some teams do not pay salaries of players regularly while officials also make them travel for away games under very difficult circumstances like travelling long distances or travelling in the night.
In this age, some teams get to match venues barely one or two hours to an away game. Facilities, including the pitches, also affect the standard of the league. The officials of the LMC inspect all the match venues before every season but bad pitches will still be approved for use at some centres. Standard of officiating is getting better now but it can still be improved upon because some video playbacks of goals scored or disallowed are shocking. Calendar imbalance is the most crucial issue which the LMC seems not to have a solution to. The NPFL starts at any time, and ends anytime.
In the past five seasons or more the LMC repeatedly promised to address this but has so far failed to do so. We recall last year, it was Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, that insisted the league must start on a particular date and as it is, the NFF and the LMC seem to be waiting for such a thing again. If the administration of domestic league remains this way.