The long, tortuous road to new football season in Nigeria

Rangers secure dramatic victory over Kano Pillars to win 2018 Aiteo Cup
Rangers International

Going for a break during a football season is nothing alien across the world but surprisingly in Nigeria, it brought about the unimaginable.

Barring any last-minute changes, the 2018/19 Nigeria Professional Football League season will finally kick off on Sunday, January 13.

This is over seven months after the last game was played in the last season with Nigeria yet again setting a ‘record’; albeit an unpleasant one.

With 14 matches yet to be played, Lobi Stars, who were then topping the table were ‘elected’ as champions while none of the 20 participating teams was relegated.

Long Wait

It had been lamentations up until now as players, coaches and businesses built around the league were left languishing when the days started turning to weeks then to months with no sign of the domestic season resuming in Nigeria.

Head coach of Rivers United, Stanley Eguma complained that the situation was taking its toll on his team as endless training exercises with no start date to the league were psychologically draining.

The veteran coach said: “The situation is not very palatable as we keep working without knowing what we are working for. This situation has already gotten out of hand and I hope the NFF and others involved can swiftly arrest the situation, so it will not escalate more than it has.”

While there was no start date in sight, a couple of players also left the country to play in other leagues in Egypt, Tunisia and even Zambia

Shehu Dikko, Chairman of the League Management Company, LMC, the body saddled with running the league gave insights into the intricacies that hampered the league during an interview on Channels TV, but he was thankful, they have finally found a way out.

Me Dikko explained that the power tussle that came on the heels of Nigeria’s exit from the World Cup which almost led to a FIFA ban for the country was the clog in the wheel of the League.

Genesis

He said: “This crisis that happened after the World Cup, the league is the biggest casualty.

“To start with, the timetable for the league was released since November 2017 and we had the plan to go on break during the World Cup. And that was why we played a lot of matches before the World Cup.

“By the time we came back from the World Cup, it was not possible to resume the league. By the time we were ready to resume the league, we had just five weeks or thereabout to the deadline CAF gave for us to submit our teams to play on the continent.”

The LMC boss said they had another 14 matchdays to play and eight matchdays to play in the Aiteo adding it will be impossible to meet the deadline.

“So, a decision was taken to do what we did, that is to end the league and plan to start by November. That is also the date CAF expected us to start so that we can finish in May (2019). All that was done by August 30. And we thought everything was settled.

“All of a sudden, we had this issue about promotion, no promotion, eight teams, four teams and what have you. That now delayed the resumption of the league till 13th of January. And I think now common sense has waded in and everybody is talking.

“We have agreed on what to do. Everything will be resolved, and the league will commence on 13th of January. Then we will see how we can recover some of the ‘commercial’ things we have lost over this period.”

Not Yet Uhuru

While the league is finally starting, it is not without some complaints as the forced situation to excuse as much as 12 teams from the opening day games is interpreted in some quarters as undue advantage.

The fixtures involving newly promoted teams Bendel Insurance, Remo Stars, Kada Stars and Gombe United as well as the two teams campaigning on the continent Lobi Stars and Enugu Rangers have all been moved forward.

“Though one may say the LMC have their genuine reasons for the teams they excused, I don’t think to start on January 13th was a do or die (affair). If this weekend is not feasible, the league should have started on 20th January

“For me, some clubs have been given undue advantage and it will be easier for other matches to be manipulated when clubs have already known the results of matches played earlier, ” a club official who craved for anonymity stated.

Also,

bared his mind on the adopted abridged league format by the League Management Company for the 2018/19 season.

The coach told journalists as they rounded off their close camping exercise in Abuja that it will be very difficult adding that one of the greatest disadvantages of an abridged league is that it encourages match-fixing.

“It is a difficult format because if you make mistakes, it will be very difficult to recover due to no time. But we will try our best to make sure we have a good take off. It will help us in the beginning of the league to be on top of the log and we can be able to finish in the top position. It will qualify us from the group to contest for the champions.

“The disadvantage is that if you make mistakes, you will not recover because there is no time. Secondly, it is better to be a champion when you meet all the teams, you will rank better as a champion. In abridged format, you can come from an easy group and become the champion; you might not be the best. Not like when you play 38 matches, “the Plateau United coach said.

OFFICIAL MATCH DAY 1 FIXTURES OF NPFL 2019 SEASON
(GROUP A)

January 13, 2019

Wikki Tourists vs Insurance (pp)

Rivers United vs Remo Stars (pp)

Rangers Int’l vs Niger Tornadoes (pp)

Lobi Stars vs Katsina United (pp)

Kwara United vs Sunshine Stars

Enyimba vs MFM FC

(GROUP B)

January 13, 2019

Yobe Desert Stars vs Gombe United (pp)

Go Round vs Kada Stars (pp)

Nasarawa United vs Abia Warriors

Plateau United vs FC Ifeanyiubah

Kano Pillars vs Heartland

Akwa United vs El-Kanemi Warrior

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