The last days of the month of May were full of surprises, twists and turns in the last matchdays of the European leagues. In the English Premier League, Manchester City were already champions before the last day just as Inter Milan and Bayern were also winners in Italy and Germany before the last matchdays. In France, Lille stole the show to clinch the league title ahead of the favourites, Paris Saint German, while in Spain, it was Atletico Madrid that held firm to emerge champions ahead of an inconsistent Real Madrid on the last day.
Many other dramatic situations played out in the fight for places in the Champions League in various leagues. For example, Chelsea lost 2-1 to Aston Villa but they still earned a top four place because Tottenham Hotspur defeated Leicester at home. Spurs did themselves a favour to book a place in the newlyintroduced European Conference League. Good enough, the summer won’t be a boring one for lovers of European football as the European Championship postponed last year because of COVID-19 takes centre stage from June 11.
The best of football will be on parade just as the Copa America will also be held this period. After the carnival of football this period, the season will get underway with similar calendar across Europe in August. The EPL will start on August 4. Other leagues will get kick-off dates before June runs out. This is good planning, focus and respect for development of the game.
The European leagues have sponsors at all fronts – kits sponsors, title sponsors, partners and TV rights. The involvement of the corporate world makes it difficult for the administrators of European leagues to toy with the calendar. Of note is the fact that the European football governing body UEFA shows interest in all the leagues and also plays an advisory role when necessary. During the toxic lockdown period, UEFA played a key role in the league restart on the continent and somehow the administrators in various countries adjusted such that the effect of COVID-19 was only felt with the time of resumption for the just concluded season. Many of the leagues did not have more than three weeks break instead of about 10 weeks. Today the calendar is back and running – August to May. The situation is not the same in Africa, especially Nigeria.
The horrible calendar imbalance in the Nigeria Professional Football League has been a big issue over the years. Keen followers of the domestic league in Nigeria are concerned over the poor performances of the continental teams. The poor show is as a result of the late start in the domestic league. Plateau United and Enyimba took part in the CAF Champions League and lost out early while same happened to Rivers United and Kano Pillars in the Confederation Cup. The League Management Company told Nigerians that the NPFL has been modeled after the EPL and since then we expect to see a semblance of what obtains in England here but it’s far from it. Confusion is currently brewing over the June 30 registration deadline day given by CAF for the continental games next term. The NPFL is still running and will end in August.
It was learnt the CAF deadline came abruptly but the calendar time is fixed such that the domestic league authorities should have worked towards ending the league in May or early June. The politics in CAF is a big issue creating problems in the administration of the game on the continent and in the country. Officials of the NPFL confirmed that the Nigeria Football Federation has opened discussions with CAF on the registration deadline but how well this will work is another matter entirely.
South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, Tunisia, Mali and DR Congo could meet the deadline to join Mozambique and Zimbabwe who have completed their football season. Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, and Senegal have same problem with Nigeria with multiple games left which cannot be completed before June 30. This time, the problem is not only with Nigeria but some other top countries on the continent. As we expect CAF to give few weeks of grace, it is important for the LMC to speed up the remaining fixtures such that a true winner will emerge while efforts should be made to re-adjust and ensure the next season kicks off latest early September so that the calendar will be same with that of Europe, CAF and other parts of Africa.