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Coaches, players agitated over delayed 2019/2020 NPFL season kick-off

Three months ago, the abridged version of the Nigeria Professional Football League ended with Enyimba FC emerging as champions at the playoffs in Lagos.

Prior to the commencement of the 2018/2019 season, the League Management Company, LMC, revealed that plans were in place for the 2019/2020 season to begin at the same time with the major leagues in Europe.

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However, after eight weeks into the Premier League, Ligue 1, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A which are the top football leagues in Europe, the 2019/2020 NPFL  is yet to start. To add salt into injury, nobody can say for sure when the league will commence.

Consequently, club chairmen, coaches, players and fans of the 20 NPFL clubs who are major stakeholders have continued to express their frustrations over the failure of the LMC to start the new season.

In a related development, a director in the LMC, Hon. Nduka Irabor recently said the new season is yet to kick-off because of the ongoing investigations of Nigeria Football Federation chieftains by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Special Presidential Investigation Panel (SPIP).

His explanation did little or nothing to assuage the mounting agitations from football stakeholders over the delay in the commencement of the league.

In the face of the complaints, the Minister of and Sports, Sunday Dare came out to announce that the league will kick off on October 20.

According to him, a notification has been sent out to all the NPFL teams apprising them of the new date. He, however, did not disclose when the draws for the season would be conducted.

As reassuring as his words may be, many stakeholders received the announcement with a pinch of salt because the LMC themselves had made a similar pronouncement that the league would commence on September 22 but that didn’t see the light of day.

Going by the procrastination on the part of the LMC, there are also fears in some quarters that the league organisers may once again settle for another abridged format of the league to meet up with CAF deadlines for registration of clubs in the Champions League and Confederation Cup.

The same scenario played out in 2017 when with 14 matches left to play, the league was stopped abruptly and Lobi Stars were declared champions to the consternation of many football fans who saw it as an aberration.

Although some of the clubs, especially those who stood a good chance of winning the league kicked vehemently against the decision, the carrot dangled by the LMC that no club would be relegated made the aggrieved clubs to accept that the league season should be abridged.

Hopes were then high that with the abridged format, the 2019/2020 NPFL season would be realigned with the leagues in Europe, but with the current situation, it is obvious that the realignment of the league is still an illusion.

The kick-off date announced by the sports minister had not gone down well with some of the club owners.  In his reaction, the Secretary of Kano Pillars Football Club, Sayyadi Abdullahi told Trust Sports that he got the information about the new kickoff date via social media.

“We don’t know what made them postpone the league, but as far I am concerned, I saw it in the social media that the league will commence on October 20.

“I am yet to receive any official memo from the LMC. I will ask my computer operator if they have received a message from LMC about the kickoff of the league.

In the same vein, the chairman of Sunshine Stars, Tajudeen Akinyemi said he got the news on the pages of newspapers while describing the kickoff as unwarranted.

Akinyemi who is also a director in the LMC and chairman of the Ondo State Football Association also condemned the minister for doing usurping the power of the LMC.

“The LMC is not doing the job all Nigerians want them to do. This is unpalatable and unwarranted.

“The approach here in Nigeria is fire-brigade. As I am talking to you, we don’t know our opponent, if the league commences on the 20th. Nobody has communicated to us. It is only on the pages of newspapers that we learnt of the date.

“The sports minister announced it, but it is not his job to announce a date. It is the LMC that should give a date and send letters to that effect. I am a director in the LMC, nobody has called me or told me anything,” he said.

When Trust Sports spoke to some of the coaches and players in the NPFL to get their reactions to the topical issue, most of them expressed disappointment in the failure of the LMC to get the season underway.

The captain of Katsina United, Usman Barau said the delay is bad for the image of the country.

“It is bad. If the management of European leagues like EPL, La Liga says the league will start on a particular day, they must start on that day. But in Nigeria, they are always changing dates.

The technical adviser of Heartland FC and assistant coach of Nigeria’s U-23 team Fidelis Ilechukwu said the delay is responsible for the embarrassing results scooped in recent times by NPFL clubs in the continent.

“It is not good at all. You can see the poor results posted recently by clubs like Kano Pillars, Enyimba FC and the Home-based Super Eagles.

“At the same time, do you want me to blame LMC or NFF? Who do you want me to blame? I’m confused. Is it ICPC? When two elephants fight, the grass suffers. The most important thing right now is for them to kick start the league,” he said.

Illechukwu who said he is envisaging another abridged season reiterated that the ongoing investigation of NFF chiefs is causing more harm than good to the game.

“All the fights against Pinnick, Dikko and Co is not even affecting them but us. I don’t understand this country and don’t know if the 20th is the real date.

“I pray these issues are sorted out in time for the league to commence. I can see another abridged season happening in the end,” he said.

Speaking in the same vein, Delta Force forward, Nafiu Kabuga expressed hope that the 2019/2020 season would start on the new date.

“We hope the league will start on the 20th as they have said. We are getting frustrated by this inconsistency.

“It is so unfortunate that we are usually given between a week or two to prepare for the league,” he lamented.

Plateau United captain, Elisha Golbe also said the delay is highly frustrating as he said it can affect the psyche of the players.

“The situation is very discouraging as we kept preparing without knowing exactly when the league would commence.

“It kills the morale of the players as they would have put in their best in anticipation of the kick-off. It affects the psychology of the players.

“Our clubs’ performance in continental football is also affected by the delay in kick-off. The friendly matches don’t offer much as regards mental preparedness. You know when you have competitive matches, you are prepared mentally.

“If you look at our opponents from countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria, they are always better prepared than us because their leagues run smoothly.

“I call on the LMC to put its house in order for the league to commence. If this is not done, Nigerian clubs may suffer more embarrassing results in CAF competitions in 2020.

The chairman of the Club Owners Association, Barrister Isaac danladi also shared the views of the players and their coaches on the ‘no action’ period in the NPFL.

“We have not made so much noise, but as club owners, we understand what the LMC is passing through and the efforts being made for the league to commence.

“Let me let the cat out of the bag. We are having a meeting with the LMC by Monday so that we can know how far they have gone and also see how we can come in to ensure this league starts.

“As club owners, we are not resting on our oars as everything that is happening affects us directly. We are the ones feeling the pinch and we are mindful of the challenges the LMC is facing,” he said.

However, in his contribution to the topic, a former Super Eagles captain Henry Nwosu said “I think it is better to start later than do it in a hurry and not do properly.

“Even though we may start late, it is better late than never.

“The delay might affect us, but we can still manage the situation in our usual way,” he said.

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