… Rangers still in cloud 9 after breaking 32-yr jinx
The 2015/2016 Nigerian professional league has come and gone, but the memories, both bittersweet, still linger in the minds of those who closely followed the drama, the explosive thrilling moments and the controversies that almost put a stop to the event.
It is noteworthy that the league ended last Sunday with Rangers International FC of Enugu emerging the winner, 32 years after last lifting the elusive Nigerian league trophy. In the process, the team smiled home with N40 million.
The league started on a promising note with clubs like Rangers, Rivers United, Wikki Tourists, FC IfeanyiUbah, Lobi Stars, Sunshine Stars,Kano Pillars, El Kanemi Warriors FC, Enyimba International, Nasarawa United, Niger Tornadoes, Plateau United, Abia Warriors, Akwa United FC, Shooting Stars, MFM FC, Warri Walves FC, Heartland FC, Ikorodu United FC and Giwa FC, all contesting so hard to win the league.
But circumstances prevented some of them to make it to the finishing line. Limitation also kept Giwa FC out completely.
Rangers were to be the trickiest of the title contenders, but they were later transformed to a side that scored goals both home and away. Rangers kept up their impressive away form, beating Ikorodu United in Abeokuta, while Rivers United’s slip at home to Abia Warriors, was an icing on the cake for the Coal City team’s vcitory.The Enugu club remained the most consistent side in the championship from day one, rarely leaving the top four range all through the season.
Organisers of the league, the League Management Company, has raised the banner of the Nigerian league. It has indeed improved the lot of the local league.
Although, the Salihu Abubakarled LMC was embattled with series of court cases, its determination to instill discipline into the league and make it more marketable to the outside world prevailed.
The present LMC inherited great fortunes and wonderful master plan template which it is using to achieve its goals and aspirations. For the first time, it entered into agreement with a foreign league, La Liga of Spain and injected fresh ideas into the system.
At the beginning of the league, the LMC took the officials to the class. The referees, match commissioners, clubs spokespersons and backroom staff were retrained to refresh their brains on modern trend in officiating and club management.
Referees were noted be too slow and not fit, as they are not running as fast as the players and the ball.
The centre referee should be able see everything on the field. He should not rely so much on the assistant referees. Nigerian referees lack the rudiment of the profession. They really need to improve ahead of next season. The referees lack confidence and some of them have bad eye sights.
The league was smooth running because the LMC paid referees indemnity promptly and there were few cases of bias officiating.
The referees conducted themselves well and made sure they were fair in their respective officiating.
The security arrangement in the league was superb. The privatelyowned clubs are fantastic. They had enough resources to provide adequate security during their home matches. They ensured good security network and guarded the visiting team well from hoodlums and violence. The LMC and the host teams always work hand-in-hand to ensure that the atmosphere around the match arena is conducive enough to host a match.
The home teams also have it in their minds that they may be punished in case of crowd disobedience or violence. This year’s league recorded fewer cases of crowd violence.
The standard of the league is gradually improving, with clubs trying to live up to their billings, as the LMC tried to encourage them by selecting outstanding players as a team for a tour of La Liga in Spain.
The players, although, not good enough to get the attention of the La Liga clubs when they went to Spain on playing tour, had the opportunity to play the best games for their clubs and changed the fortunes of the league.
At least some of the players were able to make it to the national team. Few made the last Olympic team to Rio, Brazil and possibly, the new Super Eagles Technical Adviser, Gernot Rohr, may likely experiment with some after the short break.
It is no longer news that Nigerian clubs now wear branded jerseys to play in the league. The clubs in the professional league have the opportunity to sign endorsements.
It seems there are enough funds in the local league, as the winner went home with N40 million. The LMC did not complain of insufficient funds throughout the series as they managed the resources at their disposal to perfectly run the league effectively.
The clubs had no choice than to meet up with the task of keeping their players on better welfare package. The LMC had ordered the clubs to pay their players and officials as and at when due. Clubs who defaulted the order were fined and sanctioned by the LMC.
The league is enjoying good followership with the stadium almost always filled to capacity. Die-hard fans of foreign clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, among others, still come to the stadium to watch local league matches, with their phones to also monitor their clubs on tweet and live score. The fans love good football and they were excited to see their local clubs in top form. The season has produced the best the league could offer and the fans are expecting to see an improved league next season. The La Liga experience is making the league more interesting and entertaining. The confidence of football supporters and fans is gradually returning to the league. For example, FC Ifeanyi Ubah came to Agege Stadium last Sunday with a big bus filled with fans from Onitsha to cheer their team.
This season, some matches were played under strict but conducive condition. LMC mandated clubs to play their matches on better pitches. All the national stadia played host to some matches. The stadium in Port Harcourt, Enugu, Ibadan and Kaduna hosted some games.
I know we are champions after the hard fought win at Ikorodu United, but I wanted us to be pronounced officially as champions after the final day clash against El-Kanemi Warriors
Obaje relishes top-scorer AWARD
Wikki Tourists’ striker, Godwin Obaje, has described as a dream come true his emergence as the top scorer in the 2015/16 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
Although the Nigerian marksman shot blank in his side’s 2-0 win against Sunshine Stars in Sunday’s top-flight, final day, week 38 clash at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium (ATBS) in Bauchi, he has already capped an impressive season with 18 goals.
Mubarak Umar and Chukwudi Samuel scored each to hand the Bauchi outfit a third spot finish as well as CAF Confederation Cup ticket.
Obaje said the recently concluded top-flight will certainly go down in history as a successful season for his side.
He said, “Compared with last season when we missed the continental ticket by some whiskers on goal difference, this season is hugely a successful one.
“I set out two targets at the start of the season: to win the league title and the highest goal scorer’s award.
“I’m not disappointed that we did not win the league crown, though it would have completed our day, but I’m happy I achieved the individual award as well as a ticket to the continent.
Coach Amapakabo thankful
Rangers finished the season-long battle with 63 points, playing 36 matches, winning 18, drawing 9 and losing 9, ahead of Rivers United FC, who ended the league with 60 points.
Wikki Tourists were third on the log with 57 points, with FC Ifeanyi Ubah coming fourth with 56 points.
For the first time since 2012, the stranglehold of the ‘big two,’ Kano Pillars and Enyimba International, on the league title was broken. Kano Pillars claimed the title in 2012, 2013 ad 2014 before Enyimba nicked their dominance to claim a seventh record title last season.
But that has become history, as Rangers, with their brand of freeflowing attacking football are now kings of the Nigerian League.
Rangers’ head coach, Imama Amapakabo, said: “We are thankful to God that Enugu Rangers are champions of the 2015/16 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
“This glorious performance happened after anxiously waiting for 32 whole years.
“The players have been exceptionally wonderful from start to finish and they truly imbibed the catchword campaign ‘believe’.
“I’m excited beyond words and I need to sleep and wake up, as well as pinch myself to be sure that what is going on at the moment is not a mere dream but reality.
“I know we are champions after the hard fought win at Ikorodu United, but I wanted us to be pronounced officially as champions after the final day clash against El-Kanemi Warriors.
“I’m happy winning the top-flight title in my first stint as coach of Enugu Rangers.
“I want to sleep over what is going on right now. Perhaps when I wake up, the celebration will start in full swing.”
Gombe Utd, Katsina Utd seal promotion to top flight
Meanwhile, Gombe United and Katsina United have been promoted to the Nigerian top flight league after final day victories against Supreme Court and Kogi United respectively.
The Desert Scorpion defeated Supreme Court 2-0 in Abuja to secure their topflight status, finishing atop of the Nigeria National League division A2 with 28 points from 14 matches.
For Katsina United, a 1-0 win over Kogi United through an Usman Bello cracker in a Week 14 encounter played at the Karkanda Stadium, Katsina meant the Katsina side finished as NNL division A1 winners with 26 points, securing the sole promotion ticket from that division, and returning to the elite division for the first time since 2001.
Gombe and Katsina joined already promoted Remo Stars as teams to play in the top tier next season with the fourth qualifying side yet to be decided