With Adebayo Olodan
The decision of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to reduce Nigeria’s Champions League slot to one is a huge blow to our domestic league; the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
Our league has no doubt made progress following the introduction of the League Management Company (LMC) under the leadership of Shehu Dikko, in terms of sponsorship, improved officiating and welfare of players and officials. However, on the continent, the fortunes of our domestic clubs have continued to plummet as none of them have been able to conquer Africa since the back-to-back success of Enyimba in 2004 and 2005.
For 13 years now, the likes of Kano Pillars, Lobi Stars, Warri Wolves, Enugu Rangers and other Nigerian clubs have consistently suffered premature exit in both the CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup with Enyimba being the last casualty. The Peoples Elephants crashed out of the semi-finals of the Confederation Cup last week after a 1-3 aggregate loss to Raja Casablanca of Morocco.
After suffering a 0-1 loss at the Aba Township Stadium, it was almost impossible for the Aba Millionaires to stage a comeback in the return leg in Morocco and their woes was compounded after two defensive errors away from home. Though former ABS FC striker, AbdulBashir AbdulRahman pulled one back as a substitute, his effort was however a little too late for any possible comeback.
With the exit of Enyimba last week, Nigerian football fans may have lost hope in our domestic clubs in continental football. After winning the league or the Federation Cup, every season, Nigerian representatives in CAF competitions promise the fans so much but ended up offering little or nothing.
For keen followers of the league, the raging question is; where did it go wrong for our clubs? Well, for space and brevity, I have decided to list three major reasons.
Lack of consistency in squad
One of the major reasons our domestic clubs have consistently faltered on the continent is the way and manner they go about recruiting players and officials ahead of a new season. Unlike what is obtained in Europe, South America or even in the South African and North African leagues where teams make little changes in their squad, our domestic teams are fond of signing as many as 15-20 players for a new campaign. This practise makes team cohesion difficult, especially with the huge number of new players in the team. It would be recalled that the successful Enyimba team was largely made up of players who have played together for about five years such as Vincent Enyeama, Dele Aiyenugba, Musa Aliyu, Kingsley Elvis, Yusuf Mohammed, Musa Aliyu, Obinna Nwaneri, Emeka Nwanna, Onyekachi Okonkwo and Victor Ezeji among others.
Funding, poor players, coaches’ welfare
It has been observed that most domestic league clubs do not make adequate financial provision for their continental campaign. Even when such funds is released, some self-centred officials divert huge proportion of it for personal use, thereby making the players and their coaches to go through shoddy travelling arrangements and also lodging them in substandard hotels on the eve of matches.
Also, it is only in this part of the world where players are made to honour matches on empty stomachs as the financier of their clubs or management most times held on to their salary and bonuses. Some officials reportedly keep money meant for players’ salaries and bonuses in fixed deposit account with the intention of making some money as interest for their personal use. Similarly, there were cases were managers of domestic clubs siphoned fund for hotel accommodation thereby making players and coaches to embark on night journeys and sometimes arriving match venue few hours before kickoff. Under such situation, fatigue is expected to set in thereby resulting in scandalous defeat for our domestic clubs.
Wrong league schedule
Though the league has made tremendous leap under the LMC, one area that should be addressed urgently by football stakeholders is the timing of the league.
The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and the LMC must seriously consider scheduling the league in such a way that the players will not be match-rusty during CAF competitions unlike it is the case these days. It is wrong for the league to be on break at a time CAF competitions are running.
Also, the transfer window must be scheduled in such a way that players registered for CAF competitions will not abandon their clubs midway for contracts in Europe or Asia.