Amidst the buzz that followed Enyimba’s Championship playoffs conquest, a video emerged on social media. It was a sight that TV viewers were not privy to because of the imminent but dead rubber game between Kano Pillars and Lobi Stars.
Enyimba’s title winning gaffer, the “relatively unknown” Usman Abd’allah was getting the “bumps”. The players hurled him into the air, then caught him. Up again, he went and again their outstretched arms formed some cushion for him. Ab’dallah was laughing. The nearby fans were cheering. Everyone was loving it.
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There may never be a more popular cliche in the Nigerian Professional football League than that of Enyimba being the most successful football club in the country. The truth however is that the events of the past four years had some believing that the glory days were in fact dead and buried.
Enyimba have risen yet again, showing the strength of the yesteryears, such strength that carved its history. Resilient Akwa United had in them enough firepower to dent hopes for the Aba Elephants, on this day however, they were soundly trashed.
Not even the staunchest Enyimba fan had his eyes set on a record eighth Premier League title. The Championships playoffs presented at most, just a route back into the Continent. Enyimba had done OK in the course of the abridged League season, but there were better teams – both in points accrued, goals scored and away wins. Enugu Rangers and Akwa United had topped their respective Groups with 12 and 11 wins respectively. Enyimba literally gate-crashed the party with a miserly eight wins. The worst, of the participating sextet.
But Enyimba turned a different beast in the playoffs. Centre back, Ifeanyi Anaemena, was the leading goal scorer for the club in the regular season. Here in Lagos, the Enyimba strikers let him focus primarily on his defensive responsibilities.
He even missed a vital spotkick in the shock 2-0 defeat to eventual runners up, their old foe, Kano Pillars. Strikers Reuben Bala, Abdulrahman Bashir and Stanley Dimgba each embraced their attacking responsibilities as manly as required. The trio would finish the 5-match-day Championship joint-tied as top scorers.
Off the pitch, the club was not without it’s grey areas. Coach Abd’allah had huge question marks surrounding his performance in his full first year as Head Coach of the Aba Giants. After shadowing Coach Paul Aigbogun in the latter’s third stint at the club, Abd’allah shockingly got installed into the hottest seat in Nigerian local football when Aigbogun was made the U-20 National team head Coach.
In more than one instance, the fans nearly descended on him when the team failed to defeat relatively weaker opposition at home. Many saw him as one whose days at the club were numbered.
Then of course is the big elephant in the room, Chief Felix Anyansi Agwu, who has himself been a constant in all of Enyimba’s successes. News emerged recently, that his tenure at the helm of the club was effectively ended. And while the decision of whether he stays or leaves remains pending, it was clear to see how much this triumph meant to him. Receiving the trophy with club captain and longest serving player at the club, local boy, Andrew Abalogu, Anyansi was walking on air like a child who had just finished top of his class.
It is said in that city that, while the Aba man may not have so much to take pride in, in Enyimba, he can at least boast of a mammal colossal enough to make emphatic statements on the big stage. How true.
Sam Nnaji writes for DigitSport, New Jersey