Tuesday and Wednesday, April 18 were sad days for Nigerian football fans as three of the four Nigerian Professional Football League clubs that represented the country in the continent crashed out of this year’s Confederation Cup.
While the reigning NPFL champions, Plateau United first went down in far away Algeria where they were thrashed 4-0 by Algerian giants, USM Alger, the other two clubs, Akwa United and MFM followed the path of ignominy the next day as they also exited the second tier CAF club competition after failing to get the desire results in the return legs of the playoffs.
For many football fans, the lack-lustre performance of the clubs didn’t come as a surprise because they had not taken control of the fixtures right from the first leg.
Playing away from home, Plateau United only managed to win 2-1 at the Agege stadium against USM Algers, while MFM were beaten 1-0 by Djobila of Mali at the same venue the following day just as Akwa United lost 0-2 away to Sudanese giants, Al Hilal.
From the results posted by the four clubs after first leg matches, only former African champions, Enyimba FC who forced Bidvest Wits of South Africa to 1-1 draw in South Africa stood any chance of progressing.
Interesting, they are the only Nigerian club left in the continent after they were forced to 0-0 draw in the return leg played on Wednesday at the UJ Esuene stadium Calabar. They qualified for the group stage on the strength of the away goal scored by former El-Kanemi Warriors striker, Mustapha Ibrahim. Thus, they will be among the clubs that would be drawn into different groups later today in Cairo.
It will be recalled that Plateau United and MFM started their campaign in the CAF Champions League from where they dropped to the Confederation Cup after failing to pass the test of North African opponents in the elite competition.
Once again, the standard of Nigerian Professional Football League is what has come under serious scrutiny by Nigerian football analysts. Many are of the opinion that the local league is not as vibrant as the organisers would want everybody to believe.
Thus, immediately after the continental mishap, Nigerian football analysts took to the social media to react to the dismal performance of the clubs and also proffer solutions.
In his reaction, former BCC Lions captain and Super Eagles star, Moses Kpakor said it is becoming clearer by the day that Nigerian clubs don’t know how to navigate their ways through North African teams who usually send them packing from the continent.
He, therefore, suggested that some of them who conquered African teams in the past with their clubs should be consulted for guidance anytime Nigerian clubs are scheduled to play against North African opponents in CAF competitions.
He said “I think Nigerian teams playing in African competitions, especially against North African teams need to hire former BCC Lions players like Edema Fuludu, Sam Pam (Jr) and my humble self for two weeks of technical and tactical lectures before they play them.
“BCC Lions in our time were invincible to North African teams,” he said.
Also reacting to the failure of the NPFL clubs, the Technical Adviser of Niger Tornadoes, Hamza Abara told SHOT! that Nigerian clubs would do well in the continent only when worthy champions emerge from the league.
He said once officiating improves and the league is won fair and square, the best teams will naturally pick the tickets to represent Nigeria in the continent.
“It is a sad commentary on the Nigerian League. In Kano during a post-match interview, journalists asked me a similar question and I told them that what is affecting our league is officiating.
“If we have fair officiating, our teams will do well in the continent because only the best teams will qualify to represent Nigeria. So my opinion is that once we start having true champions of the league, we shall do well in the continent.
“The best clubs should be allowed to win the league. If we can correct that our league will be among the best in the world. The League Management Company is doing its best but they must not rest on their oars,” he opined.
Former international, Garba Lawal also said it is a huge disappointment that out of four clubs, only Enyimba are left in the continent.
He said he had expected at least three clubs to fly the country’s flag in the CAF Confederation Cup group stage.
“It is a sad development to say the least because only one Nigerian club is left in the continent. This does not speak well of our league.
“The performance of the clubs has once again brought to the fore the issue of the quality of the domestic league. If our clubs cannot withstand opponents from the other leagues in Africa, it means something is wrong somewhere.
“We have the talents. What I think we lack is organisation. As long as we cannot run our clubs professionally, we shall continue to reap such disappointment,” he noted.
Meanwhile, a player of Plateau United who spoke to SHOT! on condition of anonymity blamed the team’s ouster on poor motivation. He said a lot of things are wrong in the club and if not addressed immediately, they won’t even defend the title they won for the first time last year.
He said several months after winning the league title, almost all the promises made to them by the government have not been met.
The unhappy player also noted that shortly after they qualified to represent Nigeria in the Champions League, MFM were hosted and given N50million by the Lagos State government.
He added that apart from the money, MFM had their home ground which is the Agege township stadium renovated by the government preparatory to their participation in the Champions League.
“I am personally not happy with our performance in the continent. In as much as I wouldn’t want to give excuses, I wish to say that Plateau State government too did not help matters.
“We lacked the necessary motivation going into the continent. It may interest you to know that after we won the league, we were promised money and land but as we speak, none of the promises has been fulfilled.
“The General Manager of the team keeps promising but nothing is forthcoming. Consequently, the players got demoralised and I think it is part of the reasons we failed to do well.
“If you compare our treatment with that of MFM who came second in the league, you will understand how we felt about the whole thing. MFM were hosted and given N50million to prepare for the competition. We waited for so many weeks before we were hosted and handed empty promises, he said.
As it is, the only surviving NPFL club in the CAF Confederation Cup, Enyimba will know their group opponents later today. It is expected that they would use their continental experience to atone for the ‘sins’ of the other NPFL clubs that fell by the wayside.
It will be recalled that Enyimba FC won the CAF Champions League back to back in 2003 and 2004 when Orji Uzor Kalu was the governor of Abia State. 14 years after, the ‘peoples elephants’ are yet to taste continental success so they would like to win the Confederation Cup to join the class of TP Mazembe who have won both the Champions League and the Confederation Cup.
Other clubs that have qualified for the group stage are AS Vita (DR Congo), USM Alger (Algeria), El Masry (Egypt), Raja Club Athletic (Morocco), CARA (Congo), El Hilal (Sudan), Gor Mahia (Kenya), UD Songo (Mozambique), Aduana (Ghana), Young Africans (Tanzania), RS Berkane (Morocco), Williamsville (cote d’Ivoire), Djoliba (Mali), and Rayon Sports (Rwanda)