By Paul Bassey
Before last week end, I told one of my colleagues that in all the years I have associated with football, I have never come across a situation where, in any league in the world, over ten teams were available for the drop with just one match to spare.
That was the situation in Nigeria, one that was as electrifying as it was exciting, fueling even speculations of match fixing! Let me quickly bring out the example of the Kwara teams and the belief that the Sports Minister and Chairman National Sports Commission was not going to allow the Kwara teams go down!
A day before the matches, there was an intelligent piece in the Sun Newspapers by George Aluo, citing the hopelessness of ABS, against a Warri Wolves team that surprisingly found itself needing three points to stay afloat. Kwara United did not believe they needed any help. Playing at “home”, with 49 points, against an Akwa United team that had 50 points, Kwara believed they could pull off a win easily.
What Kwara United did not know was that Lokoja was not HOME. What was not added in the equation was the fact that Akwa United was desperate and aware that just a point was enough to survive the drop and with over one hundred thousand bucks for grabs as “survival bonus” the gallant Uyo boys went for broke and stayed alive!
Elsewhere, Wikki Tourist had the battle of their lives in Port Harcourt against a Dolphins side that also needed to stay afloat, rubbishing the theory that a king pin of the NFF was going to throw a life line to the NFF President to allow a team from his State stay afloat.
In all of these, I feel proud that the days of states hosting AGMs to overturn league tables are over. I am happy that today we have leaders who are honest, disciplined and focused not getting themselves involved in messy situations that posterity will record negatively against them.
Credit must also go to the organisers of the league and the officials. In the past, teams like Akwa United will never go to Warri and Lokoja and win under such difficult circumstances.
But for cases, a lot of cases of unimaginable differences between the Organising and Disciplinary Committee and the Appeal Committee in the interpretation of the Rules and Regulations of the league, it will be safe to say that this league ran its course.
And this brings us to one of the primary motives of doing well in the league which is to represent this great country of ours in the continent. Last year was a nightmare as ALL the clubs but one survived the first round . Rangers that got as far as the group stage fell victim of organizational maladroitness.
I pause therefore to congratulate Pillars of Kano, Enyimba of Aba, perhaps the best club this year ( won Federation Cup and came second in the league) Bayelsa United and Warri Wolves who will fly our flag in the continent next year.
During a visit to Congo Brazaville, Dolisso, for the CAF Champions League match between Leopards and Orlando Pirates, I was told how Pillars played very well and earned the respect of all, only to fall by a last minute goal despite a 4-1 first leg advantage in Kano. Pillars are going back to Africa realizing that even such a result at home is not a guarantee for success. Enyimba are the Nigerian masters of Africa. Warri Wolves and Bayelsa United are no strangers either, yet everything must be done to ensure that the enviable place Nigeria occupies in Africa is not rubbished. Apart from engaging a sound technical bench and contracting quality players ( Not registering all at the same time )These clubs must as a matter of urgency engage the services of consultants , well placed to advise them on issues like food, weather, playing surface, flight bookings, strength of the opposition and the culture and politics of playing in Africa, issues that make a difference between the Domestic league and the Continental one.
The NFF can also lend a helping hand by bringing all the clubs under one roof to look at what went amiss last year for the purpose of moving forward this year ( After all the NFF benefits a percentage of whatever monies the clubs make in Africa ! )
This league has been worthwhile, the champions are good enough to dominate Africa. I know.
I saw Iran
The Golden Eaglets are up against Iran in the knock out stage of the competition, a stage where a fluke goal is enough to send you packing no matter your pedigree. I saw the Iranians against Austria and I am happy size does not play football. Ask the Swedes. Not only are the Iranians bigger, stockier, they play with so much power and speed….going directly to goal.
The Eaglets handlers must therefore find a way to protect our fragile defense line against the bulldozing Iranians who in strength make up for what they lack in skill. Semi final here we come.
The tormentor called Moyes
I refuse to repeat what has been said already about this cousin of Sir Alex who has given us so much psychological torment that the mere mention of his name sends shivers of fear down our proud spines.
I don’t look forward to week ends any more as the dreaded Old Trafford has become the Theatre of Expectations and Hope for teams like Southampton, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke……just imagine.
Tired of being the laughing stock of my friends, I sent out some text messages last Saturday saying win, lose or draw, I refuse to have anything to do with the so called Moyes of a man!
See you next week.