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Need to end our yearly continental football heartbreak

Domestic football in Nigeria has been stagnant over the years. There are so many reasons leading to this poor state of affairs in the country. Over time, we have discussed some of them but it is obvious that the authorities running the country’s football have failed to address the issues. We recall the problem of imbalance in the calendar in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) was raised and solutions proffered but these fell on deaf ears. The NPFL starts and ends any time without a clear cut time table and so the continental club representatives of Nigeria are thrown into battle at a time they are not ready.

This happens virtually every year and till date has defied solutions. Poor welfare, standard of officiating and bad football pitches are some of the other pressing issues affecting the domestic league across all the cadres but it’s highly unlikely that anything will change any time soon. For example, the NPFL is currently on break and yet clubs on the continent are in action in the CAF Champions League and the Confederation Cup.

It beats our imagination as to why the League Management Company (LMC) cannot ensure that the calendar of the domestic league is scheduled for a permanent period that will help the country’s flag bearers to be in top shape for their respective assignments. And so it was not a surprise that the country’s representatives are already falling by the wayside.

It is so sad to reflect that the two teams representing the country in the first tier competition – the CAF Champions League – have already crashed out without getting to the group stage of the tournament. Nigeria is a strong country in football at global level and in Africa, the country’s football teams fail to make an impact. The winner of last season’s NPFL, Akwa United, could not move beyond the very first stage of the competition.

In the first match, Akwa United defeated CR Belouizdad of Algeria 1-0 in Uyo and it was clear this was not enough as the Nigerian champions slumped to a 2-0 defeat in the return leg to crash out as the North Africans progressed 2-1 on aggregate. The second team, Rivers United, lost 1-0 to Young Africans of Tanzania away in the first leg but they rallied to record a 2-0 win in the return leg to move on to the final qualifying stage in the competition. But against Al Hilal in the next stage, Rivers United recorded a 1-1 draw against the Sudanese team, in the first leg and lost 1-0 in the return leg to crash out on 2-1 aggregate score.

Rivers United will now drop into the second tier event, the CAF Confederation Cup. Still in the Confederation Cup, Bayelsa United defeated Ashanti Golden Boys of Guinea in a one off match which was the first in the series. However, when it mattered most, Bayelsa United could not score more than one goal in the first leg match against CS Sfaxien of Tunisia. In the return leg, Bayelsa United lost 4-0.

The good news concerning our clubs on the continent so far is the progress of Enyimba FC. Under the tutelage of exinternational, Finidi George, Enyimba recorded a 1-0 away win against ASC Diambars FC of Senegal and in the return leg, the Peoples’ Elephant won 3-0 to advance to the final playoff 4-0 on aggregate. As it is, Nigeria only has Enyimba and Rivers United in the Confederation Cup and will compete to be among the final eight teams for the group stage in the competition. We make bold to say that it is bad enough that the teams in the Champions League are already out.

The two in the Confederation Cup should be well supported to get results good enough to be in the final stage or go all the way to win the trophy. After Enyimba’s exploits of winning the CAF Champions League in 2003 and 2004, no Nigerian club has won anything on the continent. The poor string of results has affected the country in the CHAN tournament organised for national domestic league players. Nigeria is yet to win the tournament and has been generally poor at the competition. A veteran in the domestic league, Victor Ezeji, who featured for about seven clubs across over 20 seasons/ years, said there were many issues affecting football in the country.

“We have to evaluate our league system and put in place measures that would make our clubs compete better against other teams on the continent. We should look at the calendar, welfare, facilities and many other things in the organisation which will boost the general results of the league,” Ezeji said. The NFF should be more involved in the running of the domestic league because the LMC over the years has been inconsistent in decisions. We also expect that the league should be on television to boost the chances of having a sponsor take up the NPFL. We must stress that Nigerian football deserves to be better than this, especially because the standard of football in every country is measured by the domestic impact in the game. The time for change is now!

 

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