By Jacob Ajom
After months of waiting, and weeks of preparations, the 2018 Nigeria Professional Football League season begins this weekend at various centres across the country. Every club in the land look ready for the commencement of hostilities as they have put in so much preparing for this day. For most of the clubs, it is the first step at the start of the campaign that provides a glimpse of what the season would look like. That is not the case with most others who could be termed as late starters. Yet nobody loves starting late as they say, early to bed, early to rise.
On that premise, the opening games are bound to produce all the fireworks and peculiarities of a new beginning. Fresh and raring to go, players will have no injuries, no hangover effects, no excuses. For some of them who are making debut appearances in new club colours, it is an opportunity to prove that they were worth every kobo used in acquiring them…they have lots of points to prove. Those who are still in their old clubs, must dish out commanding performances to justify the confidence their managers have in them. It is a win win situation for both managers and players.
A look at the opening fixtures show some very exciting pairings. However, the most eye-catching encounter is that between CAF Confederation Cup campaigners, Akwa United Football Club of Uyo and the 2015/16 champions, Rangers International Football Club of Enugu who escaped relegation by the whiskers last season.
With a continental campaign before them, Akwa United have done a lot of homework ahead of this season. Coach Abdu Maikaba has secured some of the best legs in the land. Last weekend, 16 new players were unveiled to their teeming fans at the magnificent Godswill Akpabio Stadium, venue of tomorrow’s season’s opener against Rangers.
The new players consisted mostly of youth players from other NPFL clubs and academies. The players include Kenneth James (El Kanemi Warriors); Aminu Nuhu (Adamawa United); Aniekeme Asuquo (Akwa Starlet); Katoh Haggai (GBS Academy, Jos); Ubong Essien (Wellcome Time Academy Kano); Emmanuel Charles (Akwa Starlet); Daniel Ekpo (Rivers United).
Others are Victor Mbaoma (Remo Stars); Ajibola Otegbeye (Sunshine Stars); Adeshina Gata (ABS); Gabriel Wassa (Rivers United); Yenne Tenton (GBS Academy); Kelly Kester (Enyimba); Dennis Nya (Lobi Stars), and Etim Matthew (Enugu Rangers). Akwa United kick-off their NPFL campaign against Rangers International of Enugu.
Rangers on their part have fortified their team to the tilt with the recruitment of Coach Gbenga Ogunbote and the return of Davidson Owunmi at the helm. Ogunbote has on his recruited no fewer than 14 new players who were unveiled Thursday at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu on Thursday. After two week pre-season camping at Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, Rangers played six practice matches, won five and drew one.
Ogunbote’s expertise combined with Owunmi’s administrative acumen could steady the ship and relaunch their bid to return to the pinnacle of Nigerian football. All this will be settled tomorrow at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo. Niger Tornadoes will be welcomed to Ilorin by the John Obu-tutored Kwara United. It is expected to be an exciting match as the two teams have a rivalry that dates back to their amateur days.
Yobe Desert Stars coach Mohammed Babaganaru has said he is satisfied with the players at his disposal for the 2017-18 season. Babaganaru recruited massively shortly after he was named coach of the newly-promoted side. And he expressed satisfaction with his wards’ performance in pre-season ahead of their season-opener against FC IfeanyiUbah at Nnewi, tomorrow.
Nasarawa United will welcome the defending champions, Plateau United tomorrow. Coach Kabir Dogo said, “We are prepared for the game. In the last three or four seasons, we have been finishing among the top five. We are working very hard to win the league. If Pillars, Plateau United can win the league, I feel we are also capable of doing that.” With this combative, I-can-do-it spirit in coach Dogo, his opposite number in Plateau United, Kennedy Boboye should expect a tough duel at Nasarawa tomorrow.
It could be dicey for the champions but chief coach, Kennedy Boboye has said his players are not ready to let go their title. Plateau were the most consistent team with the most away wins last season. Whether they will carry over that form to the new season is what every football fan is waiting eagerly to see.