By Tony Ubani
Chimdi Eke is one of the many Premier League fanatical fans. He supports Chelsea ‘for life’ and brags about the Premier League. He is also very knowledgeable about his club and many other clubs scattered over Europe. He recites the names of players in the Premier League as if it was a nursery rhyme. His only handicap is the Nigerian League. He knows next to nothing on the Nigerian clubs and has never watched any live match of any Nigerian club. The ones he watched on Television, according to him, ‘’killed’’ the little patriotic zeal he has.
Last week Sunday, he was forced to be part of history at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu, where Rangers International shattered a 32-year drought to win the Nigeria Professional League trophy.
Chimdi said that he was yet to come to terms with the mammoth crowd and the quality of football played by Rangers and El-Kanemi players. ‘’I find it difficult to believe that Nigerians could turn out in their thousands to watch a local match. I came because all my friends came and I didn’t want to be the only one at home. From what I saw, I’ve adopted Rangers as my Nigerian club’’, he said with the innocence of a child who was born after the millennium.
Chimdi’s case typifies the attitude of many Nigerians who have for long lost interest in the Nigerian League either because of the baldness of the pitches or the insecurity at the stadium or the foreknowledge of results that characterised the lea
gue before Honourable Nduka Irabor came to the rescue with the League Management Company. Co-incidentally, Enugu was the first port of call for Hon. Irabor in 2013 when his journey began with bringing back the glory days of Nigerian football. And with the packed stadium in Enugu, Irabor no doubt popped champagne with Chairman of the LMC and second vice president of the Nigeria Football Federation, Alhaji Shehu Dikko.
The League trophy took 32 years to arrive at the coal-city. But the wait was worthwhile. Chairman Christian Chukwu said so. ‘’Enugu people have been thirsty for a League trophy and I must admit that the wait was worth it’’, Chukwu, the most successful captain and coach of the Antelopes said almost in tears. ‘’What else can one wish for? I won these trophies when I was playing and also won the last trophy in 1984 as coach of Rangers. 32 years after, as Technical Director of Rangers, the trophy is back to Enugu’’, he said amidst shouts of ‘Chairman, Chairman, Chairman’ from the crowd that circled around him.
Rangers played high-tempo, pressing football in El-Kanemi’s half of the field. The emphasis on wing play, with ceaseless quest to set up two-against-one situations down the flank panned well with quick, elusive wingers. The Predator, Chisom Egbuchulam made good use of his position and hit a hat-trick in the 4-0 humiliation of El-Kanemi. Humiliation, perhaps with the scorline. El-Kanemi were master of their own game with their sublime passes and shots that raised the temperatures of Enugu fans including Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who relished the moment.
The tactical scheme of coach Imama Amapakapo neutralised and minimised El-Kanemi. This title, in all honesty, is a direct consequence of his work. The coach won the League for Rangers. No controversy.
‘’Nobody should take the credit away from Imama. He worked tirelessly for this title. We salute him. We’re a family and we thank Governor Ugwuanyi for his support, moral and financial’’, Chukwu said.
‘’I’ll remain indebted to the people of Enugu, the players, and management of Rangers. They showed that football runs in their blood’’, Amapakapo said.
Before the match, African Sports Journalists President, Michel Obi together with Hon Irabor, Alhaji Shehu Dikko displayed a picture of a mammoth crowd recorded in the 80’s during a Nigerian League game. Little did he know that that record was going to tumble like the Naira. Indeed, the fans came in droves to the Cathedral singing their ‘’Holy, Holy song in anticipation of ‘’Enugu Rangers becoming another Champion’’.
With the improvement so far recorded in the League, one expects more from LMC. One grey area that should be handled properly is that of refereeing. To get the best of the referees, the LMC should totally be in control instead of allowing the NFF to appoint and handle their affairs. That way, the referees would be totally submissive and know that the hammer would descend on them once they err in matches.
And with the good presence of the old players who added colour at the Nnamdi Azikiwe stadium, the LMC should try to integrate the old into their plans. That way, the new would be re-assured that there is life after football. They should strive to create new opportunities in terms of partnerships and news works. The La Liga partnership is a good one. Absorbing old players help you see old things in ways you haven’t seen them before. There is no doubt that our League is back on the front burner and our Rangers are back on top where they belong.