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Bayelsa’s ouster, warning to Heartland

By Jacob Ajom
THE Nigerian Premier League has definitely seen its better days. In those days, when it was run as purely amateur, it was far more competitive, produced better players and the national team was the better for it as most of Nigeria’s celebrated stars of yore were products of the local league.

The Odegbamis, the Chukwus, the Nwosus, the Keshis, to mention but a few all came out as proud players of the Nigerian domestic league. Not even the civil war that ended in 1970 was able to destroy the league.

In the late nineteen eighties, when club owners and the then Nigeria Football Association realised that Nigeria was lagging in the evolving money-spinning global soccer industry, they all voted for the game to go professional in Nigeria. Late Chief Nathaniel Idowu chaired the committee that midwifed the Nigerian Professional Football League.

The committee set criteria for a club to qualify to be registered in the league. The club’s financial strength, players’ welfare and the ownership of a stadium were some of the cannons a club must meet to be registered in the professional league.

The league has been on for twenty years, yet some clubs are still playing at hired grounds, players are still being owed match bonuses in arrears of up to a whole season, while coaches are yet to be given their due respect in the scheme of things.

The plight of Nigerian players under the various club managements is lamentable. Take the case of Bayelsa United, last year’s surprise champions of the league: the players went on strike three days to their second leg first round encounter against Gazelle of N’Djamena in the 2010 CAF Champions League. After playing out a 0-1 defeat in Chad a fortnight earlier, the Chadians cmae to Nigeria and held Bayelsa to a 2-2 draw to see their hosts out of the champions league.

A lot of reasons have been adduced for the failure of a team that emerged Nigerian champions last year and were runners up in the CAF Confederation Cup. Hunger, poor welfare, an uncaring management that tends to aspire for bigger things that will better their pockets than think about the players well-being and lack of motivation from the state government. No team can do well under such harsh conditions. Where else, if not Nigeria that you hear of players going on strike?

The same scenario is beginning to unfold in Owerri. Heartland Football club of Owerri are also in similar circumstances. The players were practically begged to honour their last weekend fixture against Niger Tornadoes of Minna.

They played a 1-1 at the Dan Anyiam stadium. It will be pertinent for the club management, and indeed, the Imo State overnor, Ikedi Ohakim to intervene before the club embarks on another heartless chase of the 2010 Champions League.

In contrast, Warri Wolves, one of the youngest clubs in the country has been riding on the crest of good planning and purposeful management watered by the inspirational leadership provided by the Delta State Governor, Emmanuel Oduaghan, to achieve great strides within a short time.

The Delta state team has within two seasons in top flight football shaken the bigger names to their marrows. Very soon, it will become a model for others to follow. The club’s aggressive marketing style and its pursuit for excellence singles it out as the best student of modern football.

One hopes the management will not rest on their oars as all eyes are on them to restore Nigeria’s hope in continental football.


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