Champions League ouster reveals alarming gaps in local football


For the second consecutive year, Nigeria will have no representative in the Confederation of African Football [CAF] Champions League group stage – a year in which clubs from Botswana, Guinea, Swaziland, Togo, and Uganda made it through to the lucrative stage.

MFM FC came second in the Nigeria Professional Football League last season and thus qualified for the CAF Champions League, but taking a 2-1 lead over MC Alger to Algeria, they were overrun and spanked 6-0 to crash out on 7-2 on aggregate.

While this annihilation could have happened to any team on their bad day – remember Brazil were thrashed 7-1 by Germany at the 2014 World Cup; MFM’s loss though looked shambolic and predictable – even after their 2-1 first leg win.

The Algerians were four goals up by the 30th minute and cruising. The second half was a stroll but the insight was if the Algerians had needed to score a dozen goals, it would have been possible with the ease at which they carved up the Olukoya Boys at will.

The League Management Committee [LMC] has made a big testament of training the coaches in a programme sponsored by Nigeria Breweries but on the evidence of this showing, more needs to be done.

Away to MC Alger on Saturday night, MFM players were at sixes and sevens, confused by the rapid and lateral movement of the Algerians thereby continuously chasing shadows and conceding goals.

Football basics is about receiving, retaining, and releasing the ball. Coaching enhances these qualities and harnesses it within a team. But the reality for MFM last Sunday was they looked like rabbits caught in the harsh glare of a meteor. Their manager, Fidelis Ilechukwu must have had so many seizures on the touchline as he huddled in his black parka to ward off the Algiers cod.

It was the showing of a tactically and technically inept team exposed by the dark arts that prevail and pervade the local league.

Bimbo Adeola said on Twitter, “How can a Nigerian club be this beaten? Shows the level of our so-called development. Didn’t they recruit before the season started? Heard Sikiru Olatunbosun wasn’t registered for the competition because he was leaving. Stupid excuse, to say the least.”

Then followed Plateau United on Sunday. Needing a 2-0 win to cancel out their first leg 4-2 loss, the Plateau team had the second leg moved to Kano three days to the encounter and then the match was fixed for 2pm.

Who plays football in the tropical sun when the weather is at its hottest and most humid? Well, local intelligence triumphed on the assumption the hot sun would hurt the North Africans. That must have been on the assumption that the Nigerian team would wear digital air conditioners under their jersey.

They laboured and scored just once – in the 24th minute in the first half and one at that point believed NPFL’s defending champions would get a second but it proved a dream as the Tunisians successfully defended till the last whistle.

Henry Nwosu was a midfield giant with the all-conquering NNB side and the Super Eagles, and an integral part of the 1980 Nations Cup triumph. Having played and coached in the local league, Nwosu told Premium Times that clubs and coaches must take the major share of our successive failures in not reaching the Champions League group stages.

“I tell you we do not know the politics of the game yet as it concerns club activities. The national team understands it now but the clubs have to learn it and abide by it.

“Apart from that, probably our teams don’t prepare well. In preparing, they must watch the opponent’s games in the past and prepare. Watch different games – both at home and away.”

Nwosu was however particular is slating some of the clubs and coaches for allowing their choice of players to be coloured by personal interests. “Most of our clubs choose their players on favouritism, which shouldn’t be so. We have players from various interest groups. If Nigerian clubs will succeed, we must allow the coach to choose his players.

Nwosu added sceptically, “We have not started.”

Ojeikhere Aikhoje has covered the local league for about 15 years and features on Super Sports’ Naija Made, wrote on Twitter, “It is common sense that 2pm kick-off will NOT favour both teams. Moreover, is 2pm regular training time for the team? Crazy decision,” he added.

The Nigeria Professional Football League currently provides two teams for the Champions League based on the CAF five-year ranking, a table on which Nigeria is currently placed 12th.

The 2018 ranking has just 18 countries, which could translate to the NPFL not been in any present danger of losing out.

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