Posted: Nov 16, 2011
THE 2010/2011 Nigerian Premier League (NPL) football season finally came to an end on Sunday, November 13, 2011, exactly one year and one week after it kicked off in November, 2010.
Soccer pundits have tagged it as probably the longest ever season in world football history and suggested that the NPL board should apply for it to be listed in the Guinness World Records! But we shall come to that presently.
Somehow, the season ended on a “peaceful” note, despite all the boardroom powerplay and on field controversies that dogged it all the way. Davidson Owumi who was installed and later removed as NPL chairman is still hoping that the courts would reinstate him in place of the incumbent, Victor Ramson Baribote; while the alleged match-fixing scam involving Sunshine of Akure is yet to be resolved conclusively. But last Sunday, Dolphins of Port Harcurt emerged champions by overhauling long-term league leaders Sunshine on the last day of the season.
A forthnight ago, I was a guest on NAIJA MADE, the SuperSport programme that focuses on Nigerian football, especially the Premier League. The presenter Mozez Praiz and studio analysts Colin Udoh and Aikhoje Ojeikere were unanimous that Dolphins, second in the table at the time, would be champions because the last two fixtures favoured the Port Harcourt side more than leaders Sunshine and so it proved. Whereas Dolphins faced already-relegated Zamfara at home and mid-table Bukola Babes away, two clubs who had nothing more to play for; Sunshine had to face relegation-threatened Ocean Boys and continental ticket-chasing Kano Pillars both away from home.
Dolphins would go on to beat Zamfara 4-0 and Bukola 1-0 while Sunshine drew 2-2 with Ocean Boys but lost 1-0 to Pillars. Dolphins subsequently overtook Sunshine and won the title with 73 points, two ahead of Sunshine at 71 points.
Conspiracy theorists claim that Sunshine were sabotaged because their “General Overseer,” Mike Idoko, supported Owumi against Baribote in the tussle for the NPL chairmanship. They point to the late-season swap of Sunshine fictures which condemned them to two successive away matches on the crucial last two days. They also point to a “clear penalty kick” that the Akure side were denied against Pillars in Kano.
While some of the allegations have some validity, what is unquestionable is Dolphins’ overall superiority. In a league where away wins are a rarity, the side led by Stanley Eguma managed to win five times on the road, the highest by any team in the league. Surely, the Port Harcourt boys deserve some credit.
At the other end of the table, the most remarkable thing that happened was that Shooting Stars of Ibadan (3SC) finally escaped relegation after a season-long dog-fight. Going into the last day of fixtures, 3SC, Plateau United and Ocean Boys were all at risk of joining Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) FC, Crown of Ogbomoso and Zamfara United in the journey to the lower league. But it was Plateau (44 points) who fell short while 3SC and Ocean (47 points each) survived for yet another year in the Premier League.
When Mozez asked me whether I would honour another invitation by Naija Made in the near future, I said to him I would come only if 3SC survived relegation! Now that the Oluyole Warriors have managed to retain their Premier League status, I hope that the Oyo State government will fund the club adequately in preparation for next season to spare their fans another “heart-attacking” campaign.
Marathon NPL Season
lTALKING about the length of the just-concluded NPL season, I decided to check on the Internet whether it is truly a candidate for the Guiness World Record.
I found that Nigeria’s 12-month season had actually beaten the 11-month unofficial “record” set by the Egyptian league in 2003/2004. Due to several postponements, including a 70-day break for the predominantly home-based national team, The Pharaohs, to participate in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia, the Egyptian league ran for 321 days, forcing the local media to tag it as the “longest season on earth.”
But before Nigeria starts celebrating the breaking of the Egyptian “record,” the Russian league is set to raise the bar even higher with what the Russian media have tagged the “Super-long Season.”
This weekend across Russia, specifically on November 18, the “second phase” of the 2011/2012 season will get under way and it is scheduled to run till May 2012. Considering that the “first phase” started on March 12, 2011, the full season would run for 14 months!
The Super-long season is Russia Premier League’s strategy to finally align itself with the rest of Europe, an objective which the Nigerian League, ironically, shares.
“Yes” To Abridged Season
Last week, the NPL circulated a press release debunking speculations that it was planning an abridged league next season in order to bring the Nigerian season back on track with the European season. Signed by acting executive secretary Tunji Babalola, the press statement claimed to be “severely and vigorously” denying the story alleged published in the Sun newspapers.
I was amazed at the NPL’s “vigorous” denial because I actually thought that an abridged season was a good idea and I still think so. In my opinion, the quickest way to bring our league calender back on track is to play a six-month season next year, starting January 2012 and ending in June, 2012. The 2012/2013 season can then start in August 2012 and end in May 2013.
I heard Baribote on SuperSport after the Pillars-Sunshine game last weekend suggesting that the NPL plans to correct the disruption to its seasonal calender “over the next few years.” That is absolutely unnecessary when we can do it once and for all in under one year by playing one abridged season.
My suggested formula for the abridged season is that rather than play a 38-week season, let’s play a 24-week schedule. Not all the 20 teams will get to play each other twice (home and away) but they will meet at least once.
Each team will play 12 home games and 12 away games. The fixture will be made exclusively by a computer programme and what you get is what you get in terms of opponents during the season.
I hope the NPL board will consider this suggestion seriously when they meet to plan for next season. As we have all come to realize, the good health of the Premier League has a big role to play in the good health of our national team, the Super Eagles.
Who’s The League Goaledor?
I THOUGHT the matter of the highest scorer in the just concluded season was cut and dried until news emerged as I wrote this article that the title was being contested.
Jude Aneke of Kaduna United was called up for Stephen Keshi’s Super Eagles’ coaching debut against Bostwana which ended goalless, as replacement for injured Osaze Odemwingie on account of his (Aneke’s) 20-goal haul which League purists thought had won him the goaledor’s title. But Sunshine Stars have reportedly petitioned the NPL that their top scorer, Ibrahim Ajani, who is credited with 19 goals also actually scored 20 to tie with Aneke. The matter had not been resolved by the NPL until I closed this column.
I am interested in this matter because I pledged a N100,000 prize for the goaledor on behalf of Complete Sports during my appearance on Naija Made. The programme had launched a prize-money campaign for the goaledor by pledging N100,000, followed by Channel TV’s Toyin Ibitoye who chipped in N50,000. Complete Sports N100,000 took the total prize to N250,000 and that is how much the goaledor will get from us Media Friends of the League when the winner is finally resolved.
This is just a token to motivate our local league players to strive for the best. We must continue to encourage them because, as Mozez usually puts it when signing off on Naija Made, “Dis na our game.”
Keshi’s Looming Sack!
CHIEF Segun Odegbami of Complete Sports and Pius Ayinor of The Punch have already sign-posted the sacking of new Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi by asking the question in their respective columns:
“When will Keshi also be sacked?”
I was hoping the answer from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) would be “not-so-soon” until they (NFF) emerged with a contract demanding that the Big Boss must take Nigeria to the “quarter-final of the 2014 World Cup.”
Effectively, Keshi must turn the Super Eagles into one of the best eight teams in the world in less than three years from now! “These people are still living in fools paradise,” I concluded. Rather than being drowsy from “Sack Fatigue,” the NFF haven’t recovered from what I call “Delusion of Grandeur.”
The NFF is wrong to tie Keshi’s contract to a quarter-final placing at the World Cup. It’s not that it’s unachievable. But the implication of putting it in the contract is that even if the Eagles are eliminated on penalties or via a controversial last minute goal by the hosts, Brazil, or defending champions, Spain, in the Round of 16 at the World Cup, Keshi must be sacked because he wouldn’t have met the terms of his contract, a la, Samson Siasia, even though the circumstances would have been completely different.
Of course, we all know that would be ridiculous and stupid.
As far as I know, not even the FAs of the very top football nations set such arrogant targets for their coaches. Even as hosts, Brazil have not contractually ‘demanded’ that coach Mano Menezes MUST win the World Cup because they know that football is unpredictable and that Spain, Argentina, Holland, Germany and a couple of other countries have the quality to stop them (Brazil) from even reaching the final. Brazil have the potential to win the World Cup on home soil but they have to respect their opponents by not making arrogant, definite demands on their coach. It is however taken for granted that the coach must qualify for the major competitions failing which his contract stands terminated.
What the top FAs do is to schedule the expiration of their managers’ contract for the end of the major events like the European Championships, the Copa America or the World Cup. At the end of the competition, they would then take stock of the team’s performances and the circumstances of their overall outcome before deciding whether to renew the manager’s contract or not.
For example, England decided to retain Fabio Capello after the 2010 World Cup despite losing 4-1 to Germany in the Round of 16 partly because of the controversy surrounding Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal which, had it stood, may have affected the outcome of the match. By contrast, Argentina decided not to renew Diego Maradona’s contract because of the circumstances of their own 4-0 elimination also by Germany in the quarter-final. And, coming back home, Nigeria retained Jo Bonfrere as coach despite losing the 2000 Nations Cup final to Cameroun partly because of the controversial nature of Victor Ikpeba’s miss in the penalty shoot-out.
Realistically, Nigeria cannot even set a definite target for new coach Stephen Keshi at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations because that would mean dismissing, beforehand, the likes of Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroun, Tunisia and Egypt who all have the quality or pedigree (or both) to stop us at any stage and it won’t be regarded as an upset. Even Guinea have shown they can stop Nigeria entirely from the Nations Cup. Yet, the NFF is demanding a coach to take us to the World Cup quarter-final or he would be sacked. That clause should be removed from Keshi’s contract.
In my opinion, qualifications for 2013 Nations Cup and the 2014 World Cup are the reasonable targets to set for Keshi. The tenure of his contract should therefore expire at the end of the 2014 World Cup.
Failure to qualify for either competition should lead to automatic termination of the contract. But if he wins the tickets, he should be spared of any unnecessary additional pressures.
An Appeal To Readers
FIRST, I apologise to Soccertalk readers that I have not featured their feedback for several weeks now, despite the deluge I received from them at the height of the Samson Siasia sacking saga. From all your passionate messages, I arrived at the following categorizations:
A. Shaibu Amodu supporters who said they prayed for Siasia to fail because they felt Amodu was unjustly sacked in 2002 and 2010.
B. Siasia supporters who feel he should have been retained and are now praying for Stephen Keshi to fail!
C. Stephen Keshi supporters who feel Siasia deserved to be sacked.
Now, my SECOND appeal:
A. To Amodu supporters: Please support Keshi now because Amodu himself has endorsed him. Keshi says he is “together with Amodu” in this new assignment since they were both sacked together in 2002.
B. To Siasia supporters: Please support Keshi now because Siasia himself has endorsed him. You all heard what Siasia said when he graciously attended Keshi’s unveiling ceremony in Abuja and handed him a Super Eagles jersey. He wished him the very best! No bitterness.
C. To Keshi supporters: Just support Keshi!
D. To Everybody: It’s time to forget the bitterness of the past and unite behind the new coach of the Super Eagles. Following this appeal, I hope I will not receive any more bitter messages from aggrieved Amodu and Siasia supporters. Let’s forget the past and move forward together, I beg you.
Thank you and God bless.
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