After a long time break in the 2016/17 Nigeria Professional Football League, the most prestigious league in Nigeria (NPFL) will begin on Sunday January 14 and here are the key contenders and new faces coming into the league.
Kano Pillars: Sai Masu Gida appears fired up for the new season if their eye-catching pre-season form is anything to go by.
They won both the Ahlan Cup and Gold Cup, and their non-involvement in CAF club competitions could be an advantage in comparison to their fiercest challengers, all of whom will have to juggle domestic and continental obligations.
Coached by Ibrahim Musa, Pillars have signed quality players such as Stephen Eze, Nzube Anaezemba and Ifeanyi Nweke.
Added to their smart recruitments, the management have increased the team’s bonus for away wins this season, a major incentive for success.
Speaking, Anaezemba has revealed the team’s confidence that they can enjoy a standout year domestically.
“I strongly believe we will win the league title, base on our excellent pre-season form and the calibre of players we have in the team,” the new boy began. “I look forward to a second league title with Kano Pillars come end of the season.”
Akwa United: Aiteo Cup winners Akwa United could emerge as title contenders if they start the season strongly.
The club management has done well to retain the services of experienced coach Abdul Maikaba, creating continuity and stability.
Equally, they have signed seasoned league campaigners such as Kelly Kester and Etim Matthew, also bringing in exciting youngsters Adeshina Gata and Victor Mbaoma from relegated duo, ABS FC and Remo Stars.
Consider also the financial strength of the Akwa Ibom State Government, who double as club sponsors, and we tip the Promise Keepers as possible title contenders.
Plateau United: The reigning champions could be gunning for a second successive title after a fine campaign last term.
The Tin City Boys have undergone some major surgical changes during the off season but retained the spine of the team from last year, including Coach Kennedy Boboye, Dele Ajiboye, Daniel Itodo, Peter Eneji and Emeka Umeh.
The champions have recruited smartly, adding the likes of Okiemute Odah, Terna Suswam, Charles Henlon and King Osanga as they prepare for a CAF Champions League challenge.
The club sponsors handsomely rewarded the team for bringing glory to the state last season and that financial support could continue this season, driving them to further glory.
Enyimba: The Aba millionaire has been the major contenders in the league but all of a sudden, their story changed as the Enyimba International are no longer consistent.
Though, they finished in the third position at the of 2016/17 season, which earned them confederation Cup ticket and the Aba side will be a serious threat to the likes of the League holder, Platuea United, Kano Pillara and Akwa United.
Ifeanyi Uba: The team owned by the billionaire and holder of Capital Oil, Ifeanyi Uba came into the league with a strong impression, especially their first time in the league. However, the team couldn’t make a serious impact despite the huge amount being spent by the oil guru business man.
Though, they won the Nigeria Federation known as FA Cup in their first season and also played in the final of the 2016/17 NPFL season, it lost the final to Akwa United.
The New Boys
Heartland FC: The Naze Millionaires make a return to the top division after topping the Southern Conference in the Nigeria National League last term.
The Owerri-based team, who are five-time Nigerian champions, did well to bounce back after suffering relegation for the first time in their history in 2016.
If the club management can secure adequate funding for recruitment from their sponsors, the Imo State Government, and can ensure steady payment of wages, Heartland will be confident of beating the drop.
Go Round FC: Rivers State will be the second state with two representatives in the NPFL this season – after Abia State – following the promotion of Go Round FC, who join Rivers United at the top table.
The privately sponsored team – the NPFL’s third after MFM FC and FC Ifeanyi Ubah — are based in Omoku and reached the top flight after finishing second in the NNL Southern Conference last term.
Failure to adequately prepare for life amongst the big boys could see them go down the same road as ABS FC and Remo Stars, two privately sponsored teams who were relegated last season.
Kwara United: Nicknamed the Harmony Boys, the Ilorin-based team won the NNL Northern Conference with a few rounds of matches to spare last term and are coached by former Golden Eaglets and Flying Eagles coach John Obuh.
They have signed the likes of Chima Uluocha and Ismaila Gata from Abia Warriors and Enyimba respectively to provide the required top flight experience, while Michael Ohanu, top scorer with 22 goals last season, has promised to continue scoring in the NPFL.
Yobe Desert Stars: To say Stars are enduring tough preparations for the new season is an understatement, and they could be heading straight for relegation if they continue to struggle financially in the new season.
Based in the troubled north eastern town of Damaturu in Yobe State, the team coached by Mohammed Babaganaru, pulled out of the Nigeria National League Super 4 due to the unavailability of funds and a failure to attract younger players.
- Super Eagles remain unbeaten in 35 World Cup qualifying matches, dating back to a 0-1 loss to Angola in June 2004.
- No head Coach led a team to more home wins since the start of 2015/16 #NPFL season than Ladan Bosso with El-Kanemi Warriors.
- Austin Oladapo scored 7 league goals during the 2016/17 #NPFL season, at least three more than any other Gombe United players.
- Having not qualified for final of a major tournament before 2015, Akwa Ut have now progressed to 2 of the last 3 #AiteoCup finals.
- Nigeria has now gone 450 minutes in the #WAFU2017 without conceding a goal – the longest by any team ever in a #WAFU tournament.
- Rabiu Ali has scored two of Nigeria’s last three goals against Benin Republic in all competitions.
- Plateau United scored 49 goals this season, at least three more than any other #NPFL team this season.
- Plateau United conceded the fewest goals (25) by any #NPFL team and kept the joint most (17) clean sheets.
- Plateau United accrued most (13) away points by any #NPFL side this season. 0 replies 39 retweets 15 likes
- Plateau United have won the #NPFL title for the first time, to emerge as the 19th different winner of the league. Congratulations
- Enyimba Int’l have now won 12 of the last 13 games on #NPFLfinal day to finish 3rd and qualify for next season’s #CAFCC.
- Samuel Oyedeji has scored 6 goals this season, all have come as penalty kick – no player has converted more spot kicks.
NPFL Managers for 2017/2018 Season
Abia Warriors – Rafael Everton
Akwa United – Abdu Maikaba
Elkanemi Warriors – Imama Kweku
Enugu Rangers – Gbenga Ogunbote
Enyimba FC – Paul Aigbogun
FC Ifeanyi Ubah – Ladan Bosso
Go Round FC – Ngozi Elechi
Heartland FC – Ramson Madu
Kano Pillars – Ibrahim Musa
Lobi Stars – Solomon Ogbeide
Kastina United – Abdullahi Usman Biffo
Kwara United – John Sam Obuh
MFM FC – Fidelis Ilechukwu
Nasarawa United – Kabiru Dogo
Niger Tornadoes – Erasmus Onu
Plateau United – Kennedy Boboye
Rivers United – Stanley Eguma
Sunshine Stars – Duke Udi
Wikki Tourists – Bala Nikyu
Yobe Desert Stars -Mohammed Baba
MOST ASSISTS IN 2016/17
Sikiru Olatunbosun – 10
- Babawo – 9
- Zenke – 8
- Sherriff – 8
Daniel Itodo – 8
Ikechukwu Ibenegbu – 6
Gata Adeshina – 6
Rabiu Ali – 6