January 6, 2019

Whither Nigeria Football League?


By Patrick Omorodion

Nigeria’s football has never witnessed disorganisation in its entire life like it has done these past few weeks following the decision of the League Management Company (LMC), organisers of the Nigeria Football Professional League, NPFL not to conclude the 2018 season. And what Nigerians are seeing is the result of shifting the goalpost after the commencement of a football match. In essence, changing the rules of a competition after it has started. And in an attempt to pacify some or all of the participants, ridiculous decisions and counter-decisions have been made therefore, ridiculing the entire country.

To refresh our minds, the genesis of the crisis was the decision, by the LMC to suspend the NPFL following the resurrection of the leadership tussle between Amaju Pinnick and Chris Giwa. This coupled by the fact that the league had also lost some weeks as a result of the ill-advised decision of the LMC to suspend the league because of the 2018 FIFA World Cup made it impossible to conclude the season early enough for the country’s representatives in the CAF elite club competitions, the Champions League and the Confederation Cup to be known.

In order to beat the deadline, a decision was reached, with the acceptance by clubs in the NPFL to end the league at Week 24 and submit the name of the club leading at the time, Lobi Stars of Makurdi as Nigeria’s representative in the CAF Champions League while the second team, Rangers of Enugu was registered for the Confederation Cup.

Warri Wolves ready for 2018/2019 NNL Campaign

Clubs in the NPFL may not have resisted the decision to end the season at Week 24 and nominate Lobi Stars and Rangers for the continental assignments because of the additional clause that no team would be relegated to the lower division.

Unknown to the LMC, the managers of the lower league, the Nigeria National League, which was supposed to promote four teams to the elite class also had their plans. Different versions of  their plans have been bandied about and it has confused, not only the masses but even those who made the decisions. Some said that the NNL and the club managers agreed that eight teams, four from each of the two conferences, north and south would advance to take part in a Super 8 from where four teams will emerge to join the NPFL.

However, another news sprouted from God knows where, that there will no longer be a Super 8 as all the eight teams would be promoted to the NPFL. With the elite league not relegating any club, it then meant that Nigeria will have 28 teams in its Premier division, the highest in the world.

The thought of this scenario may have forced the NFF to say that the Super 8 must hold to produce only four teams to make the NPFL 24 teams, still the highest anywhere in the world. And so the rat race began.  Some officials of the NNL have resigned to protest the ‘high-handedness’ of the NFF and LMC on the issue of Super 8 while some club owners have vowed that they won’t present their clubs for the Super play-off.

As at the last count, the Super 8 was to have started yesterday but again, it was gathered that it has to be shifted by one day to start today. Whether the clubs actually agreed to proceed to Aba for it or not could not be ascertained as at press time yesterday.

Like the Super 8, the kick-off of the 2019 NPFL season has suffered several postponements with the latest being that it will commence January 13. This day is not sacrosanct as others before it, making Nigeria’s entire football, not only the league, an embarrassment to all that love football.

Even though Dikko, the LMC Chairman has assured the NPFL will begin unfailingly on January 13, again it depends on the Super 8 starting today and concluded on time for the four promoted teams to be included in the fixtures. Aside the confusion of the Super 8 and the constant postponement of the kick-off of the NPFL, Dikko’s recent statement shows that in giving Lobi Stars and Rangers the continental tickets, the LMC took a gamble.

“Already the decision to put Lobi on the continent has paid off. They have qualified for the group stage (of CAF Champions League) meaning the decision has worked. If it didn’t work, we would have taken the flak as well. Rangers as well are on the verge of qualifying for the (CAF Confederation Cup) group stage, God willing”.

I believe that it was a gamble taken too far. Wouldn’t it have been better for the LMC to have continued with the league even after listing Lobi Stars and Rangers for the CAF competitions? That way, the season would have ended properly and candidates for relegation would be determined. This would have saved them the problem of having to play a 24-team league format, which is now  bringing the idea of an abridged league of 12 teams in the north and south conferences.

On a final note, it is like the sports minister, Solomon Dalun is not done with his fight against the Amaju Pinnick-led Board of the NFF after his attempt to make Chris Giwa take over as president failed.

He was recently quoted to have said that the NFF should make some refunds on the World Cup money approved for the Super Eagles participation at the 2018 World Cup. Even if he has to say it, must it be through a press confrence? Is there no means of communication with the NFF? This was again followed by another unsubstantiated story of travel ban on Pinnick and probe believed to have come from the minister’s camp. The NFF must be accountable I agree, but the minister should seek a better way to ask them to do that, if they have not already done so.