FIVE THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND ACROSS THE WORLD OF FOOTBALL

The ‘bread and butter’ of league football that has kept our weekends alive and our eyes glued to the TV screens providing sensational entertainment reaches its climax as major leagues across Europe enters its final stretch this weekend. For most of these leagues like The Premier League, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, the winners have already been sorted but the La Liga is going down the wire whilst Juventus can add the Serie A title to the Coppa Italia they won midweek with a game to spare. Here are five things to expect from the weekend action across the league with the NPFL also making a return.

The NPFL returns: After an extended break that saw all outstanding matches settled, the NPFL resumes this weekend but this time only on the pitches and not on our screens, the LMC are yet to sort out the issue of live broadcasting of games (this has to be resolved sooner rather than later) but the league still has to go on. League leaders Plateau United will be hoping to continue their strong hold at the top of the table away at Katsina United. 2nd on the log MFM could go top at the end of the day as they host 5th place Akwa United whilst defending champions Rangers of Enugu who are witnessing some rejuvenation welcome Gombe United. It is a reversal of the last round of fixtures from the last day of the first half of the league, here is the full list of Match-day 20 games;

Sunshine Stars VS Lobi Stars

Shooting Stars VS FC Ifeanyi Ubah

ABS F.C VS El-Kanemi Warriors

Rivers United FC VS Nasarawa United

MFM VS Akwa United

Remo Stars VS Enyimba

Enugu Rangers VS Gombe United

Wikki Tourists FC VS Abia Warriors

Katsina United VS Plateau United

Kano Pillars VS Niger Tornadoes

Madrid on the verge: Just a point separates Zinedine Zidane’s team from clinching a first league title in 5 years, Real Madrid are away at Malaga with Barcelona hosting Eibar. The Los Blancos secured a 4-1 victory over Celta Vigo midweek placing them firmly on top of the table with 3 points ahead of Barcelona and needing just a point from their final game of the season to clinch the league. Apparently in a game that promises many twists, a prominent one has been noises especially from the Barcelona supporters that Malaga who really have nothing to play are supposedly not going to be putting up much of a fight due to a clause in midfielder Isco’s contract when he was signed for Madrid which will see Malaga getting up-to 1 Million Euros in variables if the midfielder helped Madrid win a league title in his first five seasons. Even without this twist, Madrid have done enough to deservedly win the league having won the most games, lost the fewest number of games and second only in goals total to Barcelona and with the run in hitting top form yet again, goals are bound to rain in this one. Atletico Madrid who have secured third place host Athletic Bilbao whilst Villarreal are way at Valencia.

Photo finish for the Top Four in England: Tottenham Hotspurs routed Leicester City on Thursday night to rubber stamp their 2nd place finish on the table, putting gloss on what has been a fine season for the London side, Harry Kane grabbed four goals to put some gap at the race for the golden boot with 26 goals, but all eyes this weekend will be at the Emirates where Sanchez on 23 goals leads the gunners against Lukaku’s Everton with the Belgian on 24 goals, the game however has an higher stake as the gunners hope they can somehow still secure a top four finish at the end of this weekend’s round of fixtures. The matter is however out of their hands as Liverpool who are ahead of the gunners by a point are home to West Ham, Jurgen Klopp’s men have struggled at Anfield recently with the last being a goalless draw with Southampton but should do enough to get past the finish line. For Manchester City, a draw away at Watford is enough to secure Pep Guardiola’s men their place in the Champions League next year and paper what has generally been a disappointing season for the team. I expect the three teams to all secure the much needed victories with Arsenal losing out at the end of the day and settling for the Europa League.

Juventus to clinch the Serie A at home?: This is the penultimate weekend to the end of the Serie A but defending Champions, Coppa Italia winners and Champions League finalist Juventus could clinch their sixth consecutive Scudetto and the second title of their treble hunt with a win over visiting Crotone, Max Allegri’s side have one job and they will be looking at getting this job done in time to focus on the Champions league final with Real Madrid, win and you are Champions but the job may not be as easy as it looks as they are up against an inform Crotone who have picked up 17 points from their last seven games and are a point behind Empoli in 18th position as they struggle to avoid the drop. Roma and Napoli who have secured their automatic places in next year’s Champions league are up against Chievo Verona and Fiorentina respectively with Lazio hosting Inter the other key fixture this weekend in Italy.

Another Hamburger escape? Is this the season that Hamburg SV finally gets relegated from the Bundesliga? The team which since the creation of the league in 1963, have never tasted football outside the top division having survived three playoffs in their last three seasons may finally have their luck run out when they play Wolfsburg who are a position ahead and also fighting relegation. With one game to go, Hamburg lie 16th on the log, two points from safety but are without a win from their last five games,  if you consider that they are finding scoring goals difficult to come by and have recently lost to Darmstadt and Augsburg, then this may just be fourth time unlucky. Another battle in the Bundesliga is that of the final automatic Champions league position as Borussia Dortmund who lies third are tied on points with fourth place Hoffenheim, both teams are at home this weekend as Dortmund host 8th place Werder Bremen (who have done really well this season) with 14th place Augsburg visiting Hoffenheim. Bayer Leverkusen who can yet be dragged in the relegation battle following a run of uninspiring performances are away at Hertha Berlin.

A CASE OF DECIDED SEMI-FINALS and THE STEPHEN ODEY SAGA

The week featured semi-finals of Europe’s elite competitions with the Champions league and the Europa League in its last four stage, after the pairings were made, a lot of pundits and football lovers expected tight encounters with most of the games deemed to go down the wire and some even predicting that fixtures may not be decided after the second legs and may require extra time or even penalty shoot-outs to declare the winner.

Real Madrid VS Athletico Madrid was the highlight fixture of the Champions league semi-final round following the rivalry between both sides not just in the La Liga but in recent finals of the Champions league. In 2014, Madrid required a late equalizer from Sergio Ramos to force the game into extra time before going on to win by 4 goals to 1, then in 2016, both teams featured yet again in a game played at the San Siro and after 90 minutes yet again, there was still no separating both sides as it ended one goal apiece with Real Madrid winning after penalty shootouts. This time around though, a second derby hat-trick in one season from Cristiano Ronaldo who has scored 103 Champions league goals gave Madrid a commanding 3-0 win in the first leg tie and following how difficult to beat Zidane has built his team over the course of the season, rotating and adjusting well to games, there is no coming back from this for Diego Simeone’s side who themselves are naturally better at defending leads than over-turning them.

The second semi-final saw Italian Champions Juventus away at Monaco, the game billed as the battle of the immovable defense against the unstoppable attack with the ageing Juventus back-line of Gigi Buffon, Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini predicted to face their strongest test of the season against Colombian forward Radamel Falcao who has re-discovered top form and the sensational Kylian Mbappe, Allegri’s side however proved that they could find a balance between defending and attacking, two sublime strikes from Gonzalo Higuain,  both created by Dani Alves ensured the Bianconeris are well on their way to a second Champions league final in 3 years. Juventus shut out Monaco from scoring at home for the first time since November 2015 and whilst the young stars of Monaco will be giving it another go in 6 days time, the experienced players of the Old Lady have seen enough of games like this and barring a major loss of concentration, there is no way they will let this slip.

In the Europa league, Lyon were handed a thrashing by the very young Ajax side as their visit to the Amsterdam Arena ended up in a 4-1 defeat, on loan Chelsea forward Bertrand Traore struck twice with Mathieu Valbuena giving the French side an away goal that retains their slim chance of turning the deficit in the return leg. Ajax extended their winning streak at home to 12 games and are well on course for a final berth in Europe once again. In the second semi-final tie, Celta Vigo lost at home to English giants Manchester United despite having rested players over the course of the month in preparation for the tie, a well taken free-kick by kid sensation Marcus Rashford ensured that Jose Mourinho’s side not only got an away goal but left Spain in prime position for a final place, of all the semi-final fixtures, this looks like the one that remains very open seeing that a solitary goal from Celta Vigo at Old Trafford balances the tie and puts United on the edge but Manchester United have not lost a single game at home in the Europa League, they have actually won 5 out of 6 home games in regulation time thus far in the competition and with Jose Mourinho finally accepting that the competition is the only way to the Champions league next season and anything short of that will almost mean a failure in his first season, and also with the poor way Celta Vigo played in the first leg despite having given up their La Liga aspirations for this, it is safe to assume that this tie like the three others is also done and dusted.

The Stephen Odey Transfer Madness: Now just when a lot of attention is being given to the NPFL with so much hype on talents like Stephen Odey and Sikiru Olatunbosun, a reminder of the shabby and unprofessional way of the affairs of the clubs in the league reared its head again. News broke during the week that the NPFL top goal scorer with 14 goals Stephen Odey had traveled out of the country, at first his whereabouts seemed to be unknown but after a tweet from Denmark side FC Copenhagen during a game with FC Midtylland, things become clearer on one hand but also got more confusing on another hand following counter statements from his supposedly parent club MFM FC. The Manager of the side Fidelis Ilechukwu when first contacted claimed that he was not aware of Odey’s trip to Denmark and the payer had left without authorization, the club Director of Sports Emmanuel Adeyemi in a separate interview claimed Odey was on a facility tour to familiarize himself with conditions in Denmark (I find this as ridiculous as a statement can be), whilst the players agent is supposedly angry that his player is actually playing trial games instead of a medical as supposedly agreed by both sides. Amidst this insanity, the Media officer of the side Olawale Quadry in trying to justify how the club wasn’t initially aware of the where-about of their star forward stated that the Danish side called the club’s office landline at an odd hour when nobody was in the office to receive the call, hence they could not inform them abinitio, I find this statement not only embarrassing but also laughable. There is also the unclear issue of the ownership of the player, it has been days since this saga became public and there is still no coordinated response or official statement from the club, all we have gotten have been individual statements contradicting each other and making a mess of an already badly managed situation. This is no way to run a professional team and whilst many arguments may be  made as to the player trying to secure his future now that he is getting all the buzz, things when not done properly always backfire. The player has just gotten a call up to the National Team, he may well be the next big thing in the league but like we have witnessed time and over again, if the little details as regards his management and direction are not sorted, he may well end up forgotten without actualizing his full potentials.

THE NPFL MUST REMAIN ON TV & THIS IS WHY

A couple of days ago, news broke on various online media and twitter handles that South African Television giants Super-sports who were the official broadcast partners of the National Professional Football League were on the verge of pulling out from their coverage of the Nation’s top flight league. What began as a rumor shrouded in uncertainties took a clearer dimension hours  later with news emanating over dispute in contract agreement or the TV giants seeking a renegotiation in terms of the legal tender to be adopted going forward, though there is no official statement from the LMC or Super-sports on the issue as at the time of writing. Super-sports currently have an exclusive contract to broadcast live matches of the National league alongside highlights in a 4 year deal worth $34MM (about N5.4 Billion) signed in 2015.

So much have been said and reported over the past couple of days but irrespective of what the issues are, planning to run a ‘professional league’ without Television even if it is just going to last for the remainder of the season is nearly unimaginable and the League Management Company (LMC) led by Shehu Dikko have got to do all within its powers to find a resolution with the TV giants and ensure that come the second stanza of the League which resumes in two weeks time, fans, followers and critics of the League have to continue seeing live matches on our screens, even if we stay restricted to one game every week and here are five reasons why;

It has helped put the NPFL on the map: Few seasons ago, we all know a lot of people had lost interest in the Nigerian league, we had all become fans of one foreign club or another and sacrificed our weekends at viewing centers to support our teams, but since the games began to be televised, more people have begun to take interest in the league, more people find themselves tuning to watch live matches and this often leads to a trending topic online as witnessed during the Kano Pillars VS Enyimba game in Kano. TV has helped as a showcasing platform for our players, recently MFM’s Sikiru Olatunbosun’s goal against Rangers got voted on TV giants CNN World goal of the week and the likes of his teammate Stephen Odey has enjoyed calls from fans to be included in the plans of the National team. Sikiru Olatunbosun’s goal is definitely not the best goal that has ever been scored in the league, neither is Stephen Odey the best talent that has ever stepped on the local scene but with Television, comes propaganda, with Television comes a larger viewership, with television comes word of mouth promotion, and this has helped give our players and teams more prominence across various platforms.

Television improves the standards of the game: We will be living in self denial if we claim that the NPFL as it is today can rival other top African leagues like what we witness in Egypt or South Africa, but it will also be unfair if we refuse to acknowledge the growth in quality and improvement that the league has witnessed in various areas especially with the efforts of the LMC. Few years ago, getting away victories especially in the second half of the season was almost an uphill task but thus far this season, we have witnessed the likes of Plateau United and MFM pick up points from away grounds, the first half of the season successfully came to a conclusion during the course of the week and with the second stanza due to commence in a fortnight, a lot is at stake, CAF Competition places as well as survival in the league will be determined, it is important for the league that there are no dark areas and matches are beamed across various stadiums so we can create a worthy Champion of the league who can be true representatives in the continent come next season. Also, Television allows for proper actions to be taken on grounds where crowd violence of poor match officiating is witnessed as you can only mete out punishment on actions that have been seen and properly reviewed.

Television boosts Revenue and attracts Sponsors: The lucrative deal with Super-sports has made more money available for the teams in the league, the deal has been a form of monetary brick building the gaps between the spending powers of the teams in the league as well as ensuring that the eventual winners of the league have an healthy sum in terms of revenue. Television has also encouraged fans turn-out at stadiums as fans troop to stadia across the country that have been penciled for live broadcast on match-day because there is a belief that with the cameras around, security will be better and the joy of being caught on cameras and beamed on giant screens have improved match experience which has in-turn led to an increase in ticket sales. It has also encouraged companies to get involved with NPFL clubs as we now see more shirt sponsors of teams and more organizations bidding to be league and brand sponsors.

Television has fueled increase in popularity and profitability, it has also inspired various innovations from the broadcasters, the home teams, the fans and has changed the optics of the league especially in the last two years, the league is now being viewed, understood, followed, marketed, packaged, played, officiated, talked about and governed differently.

Arguments have been made in several quarters for local stations to capitalize on the current imbroglio and steal a spot as broadcast partners in the league, many have called for the LMC to partner with the Nation’s largest television NTA, who have outfits in every state of the federation and could transmit via their ”partner” satellite station Star-times to a much larger audience, on paper this sounds like a good idea but I doubt that presently it will yield much, if we remember the league once has a terrestrial deal with African Independent Television (AIT) but this never materialized much, Super-sports have done a decent job thus far and if there is a chance of renegotiating the terms and maintaining the relationship, I will subscribe to that as we cannot afford to allow the league take major steps backward from the goodwill it had gained in recent times, we cannot return to those days when we rely on the pages of sports papers for all the information concerning the league and the longer this blackout persist, the easier it is for fans apathy towards the league to return, for the sake of the professionalism of the league, it must be on TV as soon as the league returns.

Poor Records, Representation and Third Party Ownership: The bane of the NPFL

As you may be aware, I am a contributor to some Sports programs on Radio here in Lagos, Nigeria and whilst on air yesterday with Olawale Adigun doing Sportscafe on Top Radio 90.9FM; we discussed the alleged plan of Sikiru Olatunbosun and Steven Odey to go out on trials in Belgium whilst their team Mountain of Fire Ministries Football Club, otherwise known as MFM FC remained in pole position to potentially end the first half of the season as league leaders. Our discussion centered around the impact their departure would have in derailing the MFM FC train and scuttle all that has been achieved by this modest but ”well run” Football club. My take was that the fact that the commercial ownership of the rights to this players is supposedly in doubt constitutes a major problem for the team. Whether we like it or not MFM are not alone in this messy ownership structures which are purportedly arranged as loan transactions; visit any NPFL Club today and the story is the same, 3/4 of the players plying their trade for different clubs in our league are not owned by these clubs. Now do not get me wrong; the loan system is recognized and acceptable worldwide; especially among ”duly registered” clubs not mushroom academies and messy third party ownership arrangement.

You would ask; why am I so worried and concerned about this matter, well I could direct you to my Twitter Bio which shows that I am desirous of being an Intermediary; but that’s not the main reason, my main beef has to do with the amount of financial benefits our ”Professional” football teams are allowing to waste away by getting into these useless arrangements. Growing up in the 1990s; My father would buy the now defunct Sports Souvenir and I would go to the local league segment especially at the beginning of the season to read the transfer news. For those older than I am; they can correct me if they may; but I remember Ike Shorunmu signing for 3SC for One Million Naira at the time; that transfer was echoed all over the press; it was a major milestone for our league at the time. Today, what do we have? A shambles of a Local transfer system where player movements are mainly captured as loans or the player hops and leaves his previous team to join the next highest bidder with little or no transfer fees captured nor earned. What we do not realize is that the future of this players is been damaged with this practice and the financial responsibility side of the game is completely eroded.

You would ask what do I mean the players future is damaged; well in putting together an International transfer; there’s a document called the player’s passport; it is a document that shows all the teams the player has featured for from the age of twelve this helps eventually in computing whatever solidarity payments or training compensation is due the clubs that helped train the player; but no; because we do not keep this records appropriately nor document these transactions our local clubs lose future revenue that they can get from having a player feature for them at some point in time. The League Management Company still has a lot of work to do in terms of regulating clubs and transfer of players; it is not enough to supposedly implement the Transfer Matching System when documentation is poor, there are no intermediaries involved and the transfers are mainly or in most cases only loans. When was the last time; we heard Mr. X moved from Wikki Tourist to FC Ifeanyi Ubah for XX Million Naira? It doesn’t happen anymore. Just look at the transfer of Chisom Egbechulam to a Swedish club on loan and all the issues that happened with his proposed move to Club African in Tunisia; imagine the amount of money Rangers would have made from that player at the time; if you dig deeper you will find that he may not even be owed by Rangers.

Our Clubs and the LMC talk about getting listed on the Nigeria Stock Exchange; we are at least ten years away from achieving this is if this is the way we run our clubs. Interestingly; I wrote something recently on the pros and cons of that initiative (Read Here). We find ways of scaling through CAF’s Club licensing hurdles; only to go on the continent to embarrass ourselves with poor travel arrangements and inability to feed players prior to a continental engagement; who are we fooling? We forget that developing a buoyant and robust transfer system ensures that our clubs are more financially responsible; creating a major income stream for them in Local and foreign currency. Just look at how Brazilian and Argentine players are exported to main stream Europe for huge transfer fees; with a little research you would see that Income from Football constituted 2% of the entire Brazilian GDP; whilst the Brazilian GDP as a whole grew by 4%; Football’s GDP grew by 5.6%; we are sitting on a gold mine that we are not aware of. Yes our players may not be as good as the Brazilians which is debatable but harnessing the income potentials in Football and Sports in general serves as an extra stream of Foreign exchange which is lacking as we speak as our players are transferred to Europe for peanuts because they do not have proper representation and the general greed of our Football administrators.

The time has got to come where the LMC in conjunction with NFF first sanitize the player transfer market locally; where we are able to capture how much exchange hands between our clubs; which gives us an idea of the economic value of transactions done locally (Transfers between English Premier League Clubs has crossed the One Billion Pounds mark). This can first be achieved by limiting the number of loan transfers first; giving a clear picture of who owns this and that player; shed a light on those that represent them; by ensuring that each player has a representative either a Lawyer or a duly certified or accredited football intermediary of course by the NFF and if the agent is foreign; he must have obtained a license from the NFF to transact business or signed a sub-agency contract with a locally certified Intermediary; that way the authorities can track the process of transactions and create a proper football economy.

So for example; Rangers puts in a bid of Ten Million Naira for MFM FC’s, Onuwa Chukwuka; MFM accepts the bid, with Onuwa duly represented by an intermediary; a contract is drawn up with the player earning N500,000 monthly after tax deductions; the intermediary/lawyer earns 3% of the player’s monthly salary which is N15,000 monthly. What has happened here is a creation of a football economy; where jobs or livelihoods are created. You must also understand that the player has the right not to have professional representation; hopefully he doesn’t live to regret that action.

Creating a football economy will make clubs more financially responsible; accountable to government, regulators, individuals, church or corporate owners; allowing them to have forecast and budgets which would include projections for revenue that would have potential player sales as an integral part; that way we can build a viable, robust and financially vibrant league. When clubs own the commercial rights of their players; it allows for them to plan, regenerate for the future; project potential earnings especially for those that have active academies; this way there will be no issues relating to who owns who whilst allowing them to estimate appropriate values to this players, this can only happen with strict adherence to accountability, records keeping and implementation of all rules and regulations guiding the clubs and the league in general.

 

***Pictures courtesy twitter.com, goal.com and premiumtimesng.com

The Nigerian Professional Football Club: From a Political Tool to Publicly Traded Companies; the Pros and Cons.

Growing up in the eighties; the Nigerian League football landscape was controlled and dominated by privately owned clubs run by billionaire individuals or private companies; clubs like  Abiola Babes, Leventis United, Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Stationery Stores; just to mention a few. Interestingly, most of the clubs mentioned above have gone extinct and this can be traced back to the advent of the Professional game in Nigerian in 1990s, the emergence of Cable Television and eventual adoption of English Premier League teams lead to most Nigerian Professional League sides losing their core fan base. This is not to say that fans have completely deserted these teams; but most have lost out to the factors mentioned above; even though the Traditional clubs like Shooting Stars, Rangers International and Kano Pillars continue to have packed venues every other weekend.

As the ”Professional” game and structure started to take shape in the Nigerian Football Landscape; a number clubs forgot and abandoned their core values; seeking to grow over night as against gradual and organic growth. The clubs were all over the place chasing one grand scheme or the other; eventually alienating its fan base as the promised and expected rewards of embracing ‘’professionalism’’ were no-where to be found. As Democracy took foot hold in the Nigerian Socio Economic and Political Landscape; the new Civilian Governments embraced, revived and resuscitated the erstwhile dead, moribund and abandoned football club turning them to a political tool to touch the hearts of the average football loving Nigerian.

The like of Iwuanyanwu Nationale was revived under the Democratic dispensation; its name was changed to represent the new identity having now come under government control. There were a few success stories like Enyimba of Aba under of the Governorship and Leadership of Orji Uzo Kalu from 1999 to 2007; who won several domestic titles and delivered the Holy Grail of African Club Football; the CAF Champions League back to back; which no Nigerian Club had previously won. There’s Kano Pillars under Alhaji Kwankwaso when he served as Governor; led to their domination of the domestic game for three years from 2012 to 2014.

With the changing economic Landscape and the realization of the huge financial, marketing benefits and potentials been ignored under the guise of continued government control, lack of know-how and overall incompetence; the Governors realize today that with more pressing societal needs under this harsh economic recession, the continued funding of club football can take a back sit whilst individuals and the organized private sector can now be at the forefront of managing club football. The League Management company; under the leadership of Alhaji Shehu Dikko have since its formation clamoured for Nigerian football club ownership to be centered more on community and fan based ownership structures as it operates in certain parts of the world. For this to be successful and worthwhile; there must be a gradual divestment from government; but before this can happen; the Legislative arm have to enact acts of parliament and enabling laws to smoothen the process and create an environment that is enabling and open enough to encourage such ownership types which range from collection of individuals, fan based ownership, community based ownership to corporation/ core investor ownership of Nigerian Football Clubs.

As brilliant an idea this may be; the journey to Eldorado is a long, bumpy and treacherous one with the be it end all being the eventual listing of Nigerian Club sides on the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE). As we stand; no Nigerian club can pass the rigorous listing process of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); simply because they have been managed in a reckless and unprofessional manner. This is not to cast aspersions on all the managements of the majorly state owned teams in the Nigerian Professional Football League; but to share the pros and cons of listing on the NSE.

The Pros of Listing on the NSE

  • One of the major reasons why Limited Liability Companies approach the NSE for listing is to have access to cheap and long term capital which would aid whatever projects, expansion and other activities of the company with a view of broadening their horizon and giving potential access to more experienced and exposed business leaders.
  • The listing of Nigerian Clubs on the market will encourage accountability, a more focused and long term outlook with more experienced hands (such as investment bankers, accountants, issuing houses etc.) coming on board to cater for the business side of Football.
  • This will enhance the profile of the average Nigerian Football club; make them more attractive to potential investors, broaden marketing and sponsorship outlets and opportunities.
  • The average Nigerian Football fan owning shares in his beloved football club gives him a huge sense of belonging, enhances ownership spirit amongst fans. The Fans can hold elective positions on the board and be involved in the day to day running of their favourite football club.
  • Listing on the Stock Exchange would bring about structural change within the clubs which would lead to job creation opportunities for the Fans and community members of where the club is located.

The Cons of Listing on the NSE

A number of people from different quarters have been asking for when the process of listing on the NSE will commence; like a stated earlier it is a long, expensive and labourious process; if things as expected by regulations are not in place; the good intentions of the League Management Company might just be in vain. The Cons are as follows:

  • Going Public is expensive, time consuming; a company desirous of been listed must put its house in order and prepare reports that and make disclosures as regards every aspects of their business.
  • Loss of Management Control: Going Public eliminates the notion of business as usual, powers of previous directors are reduced and diluted; overall management if not well put in place becomes complicated; decisions can no longer be taken in isolation of other shareholders/directors.
  • A typical Nigerian Football club would be used to the NFF (Nigerian Football Federation) being their only regulatory body; however going public, places companies under more regulatory oversight from SEC and other State authorities and agencies.
  • A private corporation may keep its internal business information private and confidential; with little or no objection or review. A public corporation, is mandated to make extensive quarterly and annual disclosures about their operations, financial status, remuneration and allowances of directors and officers. It loses privacy rights as a result of opening itself to the public to invest in its stock.
  • Taking a company public increases its potential liability and that of its officers and directors for mismanagement. By law, a public corporation has an obligation to its shareholders to maximize shareholder investments and disclose operational information. The company and its directors can be sued for making misrepresentations to shareholders or excluding certain information that the federal securities laws require to be disclosed.

**** Pictures Courtesy soccermax.co.ng; independentnig.com; thenationonlineng.net; goal.com

Rohr; Where are our Stars?

The development or growth of any National team(s); cannot be fully achieved or actualized without the enlistment or involvement of all and sundry. So I was greeted with a huge shock when I received as it has become customary a Press release from the Media Director of the NFF; Mr. Demola Olajire; the list of invitees to the Super Eagles for the forthcoming friendlies against Senegal and Burkina Faso in London and it had only one NPFL player in the entire list.

Now my problem with that is that it is fast becoming a pattern to invite only Ikechukwu Ezenwa to the National Camp under the guise of inviting an NPFL player. Ezenwa is not even the best Goalie in the League as we speak; he won’t even sit on the bench on match days; serves as training material, coupled with the fact that he even needs to put an object in goal to face/save penalties as the case may be. Where are the stars of our League?

rohr salisu

The Nigerian Professional Football League is enjoying so much goodwill today from every corner of the globe; fans are gradually returning to the stadium; Social Media is playing a huge role in not only pushing the agenda locally, but internationally. Are there any match days; the NPFLLive hashtag doesn’t trend on Twitter. The world has started taking notice that we are building something special; just look at the level of response Sikiru Olatubosun’s strike last Friday at the Agege Stadium has gotten the World over; it was on Fox Soccer, L’Equipe and nominated for Goal of the Week on CNN alongside goals for renowned international stars like Radja Nainggolan and as at the last time I checked had gotten 85% of the votes. Who are we deceiving here? How can we release a list for two friendlies in London for March and we do not have at least 5 NPFL players on the list; It is impossible.

The NFF, Its Technical committee and the Gernot Rohr should cut the cow dung and be real with us; if you do not require or will not use the NPFL players leave them out completely; focus on your so called foreign based players who either are sited on the bench or in the crowd; but when time comes for the CHAN tournament; just write to CAF to pull out because there is no point at all to consider them for that if they can not make the main Super Eagles Team.

Sunday-Mba-celebrates

For the full national team to be successful it has to embrace the products of the Local league; past happenings have shown this clearly. Lets go back a little into history; our triumphs on the international stage have been when we have ensured we have a good mix of local and foreign based players. South Africa 2013; Late Stephen Keshi took the likes of Sunday Mba, Chigozie Agbim, Godfrey Oboabona, Azubuike Egwuekwe etc with at least two making the starting line up; en route to that same tournament; Keshi had a center back pairing of Oboabona and Egwuekwe which got us qualification. When Westerhof took over in 1989; he saw the potential in having a mix of home based and foreign players; that period from 1989 to 1994 remains our most successful period as a national team and in the production of individual players.

Lets move away from the past and look at the present; a careful review of the statistics proves that some of  the invitees could have been left out to develop their game at club level considering someone like Issac Success had just returned from injury and had also dropped lower in the pecking order at Watford. Success has scored one goal in his twelve appearances for  Watford; Moses Simon, Three in Twenty-Two appearances for  Gent so far this season; Has Victor Osimhen even made a start for the main Wolfsburg Team? Who is Noah Joel Bazee? Well he plays for Hannover ’96 and has scored a goal in his ten appearances playing as an Attacking midfielder.

stephen Odey

Now; Gernot Rohr saw some NPFL games over the last few weeks; I believe members of the Technical Committee watch these games weekly or Bi-Weekly; can they comfortably tell me that Stephen Odey of MFM FC cannot be called up to replace Issac Success? Odey has scored six goals in ten matches so far; top scorer in the NPFL along side Victor Mboama (Remo Stars) and Mathias Samuel (El-Kanemi); these are better goal returns than any of those mentioned above. Note that I did not add Ahmed Musa’s poor run of two goals in eighteen games for Leicester City so far; because he is vice captain. Why do we keep calling up Tyronne Ebuehi; a player who turned down a call up some months back; when we have Elisha Golbe of table topping Plateau United; who interestingly for a defender has scored three goals all from free-kicks (we know how poor the Super Eagles are with Free Kicks).

Elisha Golbe

Our NPFL Players need to be embraced; given a sense of belonging; shown that hard-work and dedication pays; it is only when we give them the exposure they desire and require our game at both local and international level can develop to the levels we desire. It is time to stop the undermining of our NPFL players; give them the respect they deserve; one consistent call up of Ezenwa is an affront on the hardworking NPFL Player who turns out week in week out; some are owed salaries, travel via our treacherous road network to give their best every week in different centers across the country; the least we can do is to make call ups to the National Team open to all and sundry with equal opportunities available to all; whether local or foreign based.

 

*** Pictures Coutesy Plateauunited.com; soccernet.com.ng, twitter.com, footballlive.ng, connectnigeria.com

MID WEEK FOOTBALL ROUND-UP

It has been a week where we have seen it all and some more, from Pogba’s newest hair style to maybe celebrate his twitter emoji (that didn’t end well), to Pep’s posture on the bench which has blown into a viral meme, Sevilla finally stopping Madrid and Juventus suffering a rare defeat in the Serie A, it has been a weekend where football came, saw and conquered across the continents. Here is a round-up of the major talking points from the round leather world over the week.
AFCON is here: The African Cup of Nations kicked off in Gabon over the weekend with the hosts playing out a 1-1 draw with Guinea Bissau, the first round of matches which saw just 12 goals scored in 16 games ended on Tuesday and whilst tournament favorites like Algeria and Ivory Coast and the returning Egypt all failed to secure wins in their opening fixtures, Ghana and Senegal have set the tone for others to follow. It has been a tournament where the big boys have turned up with Pierre Aubameyang, Mahrez and Sadio Mane, the top three players in the continent all finding the back of the net in Week 1, but it has also been a tournament that has lacked quality and labored to excite the fans, there have been drab games and the fans have not really turned up at the stadiums due to a bit of political influence. The Afcon last night also witnessed Egyptian Goalkeeper El-Hadary become the oldest player to feature at the Nations cup at 44, one can only hope that this is due to the teams being tentative and not wanting to lose their opening ties and the excitement will kick off properly with the commencement of Week 2 fixtures.

Diego Costa celebrates after scoring his first goal for Chelsea in a friendly v Olimpija Ljubljana.
DieGO?: The Spaniard has been in the news all week following his omission from the Chelsea team that earned a convincing win over Leicester City, whilst the team claims he is injured and he has since been training alone this week, speculations are rife that China calleth and with the amount of numbers mentioned, the big striker is supposedly hearing the voice of the Lord without the help of prophet Eli. It is even claimed that a move is already in place but Chelsea are willing to do business at the end of the season rather than in January.
It looked like all was going well for him at the club, scoring goals for fun and earning the trust of the manager Antonio Conte, hence when the rumors first broke, many chose not to believe but events that have unfolded afterwards shows that the Chinese league may yet be capturing another superstar following the likes of Tevez, Oscar and Mikel Obi. Did you hear the news where Yaya Toure claimed he turned down a big money move to China? Is he on cheap drugs?

Pep at everton
On this Pep being a fraud talk; Now this is a topic that deserves an entire article on its own, but I choose to avoid that temptation as the issue has already been over flogged following his teams’ heavy defeat, his heaviest as a manager in the hands of Everton on Sunday. Contrary to what many believe, I am actually a huge fan of Guardiola and I am of the opinion that he is arguably the best manager in the world, what he achieved at Barcelona and to an extent at Bayern Munich didn’t happen by chance or luck, but I am also of the opinion that where Pep is rightly praised for his weird tactics when it works, his formation adventures and results, he should be rightly criticized when he ‘fails’ or seem to be getting it wrong. Many have slated the Manchester City squad as being too old, with players who cannot carry out Pep’s ideas, blah, blah, forgetting that Pep didn’t get the job whilst the season was on. He had been rumored to be City’s next manager for at least 2 seasons now, he was announced whilst the last season was even still ongoing and every football fan had noticed that when Vincent Kompany’s injury woes began, City had a defensive problem, why didn’t Pep put this on the list of things he needed to fix immediately? Oh, I forgot, just like tackles, he doesn’t defend. Then he made weird signings, Bravo, not because of his actual goalkeeping skills (of which he is quite decent but not exactly that better off than what he had already), but because he can pass the ball from the back, a young John Stones who despite his prospects is still largely un-established got signed also because he was the ‘modern day defender’ who could play the ball out from the back, then he added Nolito and Sane to the team who have struggled with the pace of the league with Ilkay Gundogan who is now injured for the remainder of the season being the only one who has covered himself in any form of glory. Lets imagine for a moment if the 5 signed players who are like half your starting team jelled and with the likes of David Silva, Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Fernandinho all playing at their best like we had at the start of the season, will this discussion even arise? Pep Guardiola has come under some heavy criticism, rightly and wrongly so but he must understand that when a claim is laid on being the best manager in the world, standards are high and every game counts, clearly he is no fraud but he doesn’t need the best and most expensive legs to get City chasing for the title, even league leaders Chelsea do not have the best squad in the league and I wonder what will be said if somehow this City team despite the amount spent in the window finishes outside the top four this season.

Ifeanyi-ubah
The controversial NPFL: The Nigerian Professional Football League which is put together by the League Management Company (LMC) also kicked off over the weekend with the big opener between Kano Pillars and the Billionaires club, FC Ifeanyi Ubah and barely had the league started when we witnessed our first controversy with Ifeanyi Ubah players abandoning the game under instructions. The LMC have since reacted, fines and bans have been meted out and promises of the incident not happening again, one can only hope that indeed we see less ugly incidents over-shadowing the beautiful football that is actually being exhibited across various grounds in which we saw the likes of MFM, 3SC, Enyimba making early statements whilst Champions Enugu Rangers and new boys with free wi-fi Remo Stars suffering home defeats. The league continues midweek with juicy encounters as Sunshine hosts 3SC in the western derby and FC Ifeanyi Ubah hosting MFM in a repeat of the final game of the last season which saw the Lagos side escape relegation.

Zidane_in_Poznan
Madrid finally gets beaten: it was fun whilst it lasted, 40 games and they looked unstoppable but like every good thing, it had to come to an end someday and Sevilla were worthy of being the ice breakers. After almost ruining it during the 2nd leg Copa Del Rey tie where Madrid managed to claw a draw from the jaws of defeat, Jorge Sampaoli’s men had to do it the hard way this time coming back from a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty to win 2 goals to one with a late Jovetic strike. Sevilla now sit one point behind the Madrid giants but having played a game more and whilst for Zinedine Zidane’s side, this is just a stumble as he will be anxious to shake this off immediately and get the team rolling on another run as they seek to win the La Liga title for the first time in 5 years.

Redemption vs Opportunity (My NPFL Preview)

Some say it is the fastest growing League in the Africa; another school of thought is of the opinion that very little growth exist in the League. Whatever side of the divide you may belong to; there have been a few oohhs and aaahs; but truth be told our league is growing, yes it not  perfect and would have its elements of controversy here and there; but if Enugu Rangers ending their over 30 year wait for a league title is anything to go by; we may be in for another explosive season.

A number of coaches have made the switch to other clubs in unprecedented numbers; probably the most in recent history and I do think this is where the League title will be won and lost this season. A few of the young upcoming coaches are grabbing opportunities to handle some of the more established clubs; potentially these established clubs have decided to somewhat follow the Rangers model by giving a chance to a ”young and upcoming” Imama Amapakabo;whilst some have gone for more established names; although I see these names as those seeking redemption; looking for a new lease of life with their coaching pedigree taking a bashing.

So there we have it Redemption meets Opportunity; who cracks, who gets fired first, who will go all the way? My outlook is purely based on what each manager offers focusing on the key battlers; the transfer business they have done and chronicling what their title and continental qualification chances are.

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Kadiri Ikhana & Kano Pillars

This is a marriage similar to the union between Jose Mourinho and Chelsea on his second coming to the Premier League ; a marriage of convenience of some sorts. Since Ikhana’s last title with Enyimba two seasons ago; he showed up at Ibadan to take over the sleep giants that 3SC have become; but many observers, myself included felt it was a disaster waiting to happen as the Oluyole Warriors lacked the financial muscle to back Ikhana’s rescue mission.

A return to Kano Pillars provides Ikhana a chance at redeeming his name and legacy within the Nigerian domestic football landscape and potentially returning Kano Pillars to the pinnacle of Nigerian football; been on of the coaches responsible for Kano Pillar’s rejuvenation as title contenders over eight years or so.

Pillars as always have done some really good business in the transfer; but just like last season where they made probably the loudest noise in the market along with Enyimba the season fell flat and I strongly feel this will be the case again this season.

My Verdict: Kano Pillars to finish in top four

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Okey Emordi & Abia Warriors

Abia Warriors collapse last season could be strongly linked with the off and on transfer saga of Chisom Chikara which went on uncontrolled for quite a while before the deal was finalized; You could see the life been sucked out of Kennedy Boboye as he tried to steady the ship. In comes the Old timer; Okey Emordi, a seasoned campaigner with his main claim to fame been at Enyimba; but there’s a conclusion and general consensus the former African Champion may be past his time and the game may have left him behind.

Okey Emordi’s last two coaching jobs at Kano Pillars and COD United left very little to be desired and they both ended in him been kicked out. Now does this suggest that Emordi has lost his touch? Well Abia Warriors provides him a new chance at redemption.

My Verdict: Mid Table finish

Manu Garba & Gombe United

Gombe United won’t be the first newly promoted side to discard the manager that got them promotion to the elite league for a more exposed or experienced campaigner. In Manu Garba; you can be sure of one thing; good, attractive football as displayed by his teams at youth level; leading them to U-17 and U-20 titles globally and on the continent respectively.

Gombe United provides a completely different challenge and proposition; that Manu himself has been credited with certain comments on the quality of the squad at his disposal. However,because of the way the NPFL is structured; Gombe United are likely to survive and maintain their NPFL Status strictly based on their home form.

My Verdict: Relegation battle in store.

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Baba Ganaru & Wikki Tourist

Wikki Tourist for long periods last season stayed in touch with the top of the table especially with a solid home record and  decent away record. Under Abdu Maikaba last season; Wikki Tourist were probably the most tactically astute and composed sides especially away from home. I was quite impressed with the way they handled themselves away from home and of course they had the goals of Godwin Obaje to keep propelling them.

Baba Ganuru takes charge at Wikki after a poor season at Kano Pillars; where a lot was expected of him, especially considering the amount of pace added to the squad; Pillars were just not at the races and could’t regain their title. Ganaru has huge shoes to fill considering the fantastic job done by Maikaba last season; Bature Yaro is a really good signing from Nasarawa United which I expect to have a major impact on Wikki seeking to better last season’s performance.

My Verdict: Just outside the top four

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Abdu Maikaba & Akwa United

After the performance of Wikki Tourist last season; Abdu Maikaba could not hide from all the expected attention coming his way as Big Spending; Akwa United came calling after a disappointing campaign where they had series of managerial upheavals. Akwa United provides Maikaba a great opportunity to carve a niche for himself considering the financial strength of Akwa United.

Ifeanyi Ifeanyi from MFM FC is a good signing, but they will miss Fortune Omoniwari who has moved to Champions, Rangers.

My Verdict: Just outside the Top Four as well

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Gbenga Ogunbote & Enyimba

Gbenga Ogunbote has to be one of the most underrated coaches in the Nigeria domestic game and I was extremely elated at him getting the Enyimba job. As much as the Enyimba job along with the Kano Pillars is the poisoned chalice of the league; it demonstrated Ogunbote’s confidence and desire to get one of the toughest jobs in the land.

At Enyimba, the job description is simple win the league; its that straight forward; if you don’t you get fired; although on some instances a Federation Cup win has been enough to keep a coach on the job, but the priority every season is the league title. Ogunbote has the tools to get the job done and achieve great things at the People’s Elephant; the players are available, quality and quantity of the squad is largely unmatched by any other team in the League.

Gbenga Ogunbote is renowned for the rescue jobs at Sharks and Shooting Stars; his move to Giwa FC ended on the basis of the owners battles with the NFF and of course taking Sunshine Stars to the Semi Final of the CAF Champions League showed his ability and resolve to compete with the best both locally and internationally.

Enyimba’s signings under Ogunbote haven’t inspired many especially how top heavy the People’s Elephant are; the capture of Ismaila Gata and Ibrahim Mustapha from Ifeanyi Uba and El-Kanemi respectively worries me with the number of forwards already on the Enyimba roaster; as well as the loss of Chinedu Udoji to Kano Pillars takes away a huge influence and character from dressing room.

My Verdict: Top Four Finish

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Imama Amapakabo & Enugu Rangers

Champions Rangers go into the new season hoping to retain their title and I really cannot put it past them; with quality signings such as Fortune Omoniwari and Daniel Etor added to an already quality squad; only worry for me is their ability to hold on to their Stars from last season with the January transfer window still open.

Imama has a great opportunity to write himself into Nigerian football folklore by retaining the title and taking a shot at the CAF Champions League. Imama is a very intelligent coach and he knows how to pace his team for the challenges at hand; his attention to certain unusual details sets him apart from other coaches in the league.

My Verdict: Rangers to finish second

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Stanley Eguma & Rivers United

Stanley Eguma is a seasoned campaigner in the league; his is not a case of redemption; it is more of  his ability to seize the opportunity handed him by the support from the State Government and also his ability to build on last season’s narrow title loss to Rangers.

Generally speaking, Rivers United have done some of the best business in this off season and had probably the best pre season preparations; their financial resources and might pits them as clear favorites this year. The Port Harcourt based should focus squarely on the league this season and avoid the distraction participating on the continent.

This is Eguma’s chance to set himself apart from other coaches that have handled other Rivers State based team and emulate Dolphin’s title winning sides of 2004 and 2011.

My Verdict: Rivers United to be crowned champions

Relegation Candidates:

MFM FC: Struggled with their general form in the second half the season; lost a major component of their midfield, should go down.

ABS FC: Didn’t make any moves to inspires confidence

Katsina United: Same as ABS FC

Plateau United: Unless Kennedy Boboye finds a solution to his teams second stanza slumber; they will go down.

 

***Photos Courtesy: Sports.naij.com; dailytrust.com; goal.com and pulse.ng

#NPFLFINAL DAY 2015/16 SEASON

Sunday the 2nd of October sees the final round of games in the NPFL take place, in nine centers across the country, there will be intriguing matches but the attention of many will be glued to four major centers where the stakes are still high and will determine certain moderation to be made to various positions on the log. At the Cathedral in Enugu, Rangers are close to ending a 32 year drought, In Agege, Lagos, the God of Yahweh is expected to be physically present for the MFM lads as Ifeanyi Uba FC comes to town, In Jos, Heartland will be seeking for a major upset, while over in Warri, the Wolves will be haunting the boys from Ikorodu and hoping other results go their way, here is my preview of what is now a trending hashtag all over the social media sphere, welcome to the #NPFLFINALDAY

NPFL Final Day

The Nigeria Professional Football League is one I have done my best to avoid in the past based on a plethora of ugly reasons, this season has not been largely different but amidst the negatives, there are glaring positives portraying the good work of the League Management Company (LMC). One of these positives have to be the competitive nature of the league this season as we enter the final weekend, whilst the winner of the league is almost ascertained as Enugu Rangers are just a point away from securing the title after 32 years, the Flying Antelopes have won four of their last five games including an impressive win away at Ikorodu United in Week 37 and are expected to get the job done at home to El Kanemi Warriors, the spot for the remaining Champions league slot is still open as Rivers United who are in second place are just one point above Ifeanyi Ubah in third and three more than Wikki Tourist who have a superior goal difference in fourth. Here are the permutations, second placed Rivers United are away at Akwa United, who really don’t have much to play for but in a league where away wins are sacred, odds are on that Rivers United will lose and remain on 57 points, third place Ifeanyi Ubah FC, who have been involved in a fair share of controversies all season which again reared its head in the Federation Cup win over Crown FC are also away at the Agege Stadium where they are visitors to relegation threatened MFM, I do not see Ifeanyi Ubah getting any point from this fixture and as such they would also end the campaign with 56 points, now fourth place Wikki Tourist who have a plus seven goal difference over Rivers United are at home to Sunshine Stars who stand and outside chance of a Confederations cup ticket, Wikki should win this and usurp Rivers United to end the season in second place behind Enugu Rangers earning a Champions League slot.

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Now the relegation battle, which is the most interesting and most talked about in years sees two teams down already, Giwa FC having being disqualified from the league and Ikorodu United confirmed relegated, four teams hover around the relegation zone with two teams set to go down after these last round of games. 15th place Abia Warriors are the only ones who will be sleeping easy entering this weekend’s fixtures as they have 45 points, two better than Heartland and three over MFM and Warri Wolves but Abia Warriors need just a draw to be safe and they will be hosting Shooting Stars at home in a game where I expect them to get maximum points. Heartland FC are 16th on the log, a place and just a point above the relegation zone, a win will secure Heartland their place in the Professional League for next season but this comes at the cost of an away trip to Plateau United of Jos who have a pretty enviable home record, all things being equal, I do not see Heartland getting any point from this game and thus will end their campaign on 43 points, MFM are 17th on the log and are at home to Ifeanyi Ubah FC in what is the star game of the final weekend.

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For many of us who previously didn’t pay much attention to the league, MFM has endeared us this season and created more awareness to the league, they started the season pretty well but have since fallen off and struggled in recent weeks to even pick points at home. The Agege Stadium will be packed full this weekend in a battle of survival, the boys from the church take on the boys from the Oil tycoon, with the support of their fans and the reward that lies ahead, MFM should get all three points and move onto 45 points which I believe will see them retain their place in the league. ‘Sunday’s match to Ifeanyi Ubah is more than a football match to me…. My career as a coach is tied to it’, Coach Fidelis Ilechuckwu of MFM said.

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Warri Wolves are also on 42 points but with an inferior goal difference to MFM and play host to Ikorodu United in a game I expect them to win but with all eyes on the league this weekend, I struggle to see how they can score more than 5 un-replied goals to stand any chance to survival.
It has been an interesting season, one that has thrown all forms of drama and is set to climax in added frenzy, the LMC have done an amazing job but they still have plenty more to do and hopefully they can use this final day to further set standards in terms of officiating, proper supervision and crowd control. The Cathedral has been thrown open for Enugu fans this weekend as arguably the coach of the season Imama Amapakapo finally gets his crowning moment, with Ikorodu United down, it will be pretty sad for Lagos fans to see yet another one go down but MFM should get the needed win to ensure survival. If you are at any of the cities, do turn up at the stadiums and support what has truly been a good and exciting season.

Here are my top and bottom four predictions after Sunday’s final games.
1st – Enugu Rangers
2nd – Wikki Tourist
3rd – Rivers United
4th – Ifeanyi Uba FC
Enugu Rangers and Wikki Tourist to earn the CAF Champions league places whilst Rivers United settle for the CAF Confederation cup slot.

Bottom Four.
17th – Warri Wolves
18th – Heartland
19th – Ikorodu United
20th – Giwa FC
MFM to somehow survive and Heartland to get relegated for the first time in the history of the league.

NPFL MATCHDAY 37 PREVIEW

Its the penultimate match day in the 2016 Nigeria Professional Football League season and teams will be grappling for points to win them the diadem or secure their status in the league for next season. Records will be broken and equaled in the remaining matches of the season but lets take a quick look at the fixtures.

HEARTLAND VS KANO PILLARS

After back to back wins, Heartland will be looking to continue their rich vein of form when they welcome the former champions of the league to the Dan Anyiam stadium in Owerri. The home side are still locked in the relegation battle and this season might just be a down slide for the illustrious club that has never been relegated from the top flight. Currently placed 18th on the table with 40 points, their hopes of survival look bleak and only a miracle from heaven can save them this time around.
Kano Pillars have been very poor away from home to say the least. ‘Sai Masu Gida’ have not shown the resilience their fans know them for and this has made them lose out on continental slots for the second year running. 51 points from same matches as their host puts them on 6th spot-three points from third place and six points from table toppers.

Match day 17; KANO PILLARS 0-0 HEARTLAND FC
VERDICT: Heartland should win this tie comfortably!

ELKANEMI WARRIORS VS PLATEAU UTD

The Maiduguri township stadium has been a slaughter slab for every team that has visited as no club have gone there to pick up points since the home team returned to base. The best any team has gotten (Sunshine Stars) is scoring two goals but they tend to always win the matches. With their talisman striker Mustapha Ibrahim back from his sojourn to Egypt, Ladan Bosso will not want to take chances with his 48 points that is not certainty of survival in the NPFL; a point will guarantee their safety.
Plateau united have done themselves a whole lot of good in retaining their Federation cup winning coach-Zakary Baraje. He’s been able to steer the club away from the relegation zone they found themselves at the beginning of the season. Having same points with their host, the Jos based club are sure of staying up even if they lose today with a game in hand at home next weekend needing just a point to be sure!

Match day 17: PLATEAU UTD 1-1 ELKANEMI WARRIORS (82′ Reuben Bala, 67′ Daniel Japhet)
VERDICT: Elkanemi straight win!

IKORODU UNITED VS RANGERS INT’L

‘Oga Boys’ as they are fondly called, have found some sort of reprieve from their sloppy run of games since moving to the MKO ABIOLA Stadium in Abeokuta. Even though they have been confirmed to return to the Nigeria National League , Ikorodu United will want to finish on a high after posting fantastic results against two former champions of the league-Enyimba and Kano pillars-and might just want to throw a spanner into the works of their guest.
Rangers have it all to do in this encounter as there is no room for error if they truly want to end their 32-years drought on the domestic front. Sitting on top of the table with 57 points, the least the flying Antelopes will be gunning for will be a draw. A win for them however might just make them champions if their closest rival Rivers United fail to win in their own game.

Match day 17: RANGERS INTL 4-1 IKORODU UNITED (11′ Francis Nnedum-OG, 16’&21′ Tope Olusesi, 85′ Obinna Nwobodo; 23’Moses Ebiye)
VERDICT: A scored draw/Rangers win

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SHOOTING STARS VS WIKKI TOURIST

The Oluyole Warriors still need to pick maximum points at home to remain in the league. With 44 points and on 15th position, safety is not sure yet. The management have still not settled the outstanding debts of the players and that might work against them. But in their last home game, they did enough to steal all three points from Rangers. So the boys might just be playing for their gaffer in this one even with a low morale.
Wikki have it all to do if they still want a continental ticket. Four consecutive losses away from home has pushed them out of reckoning for the league title and so will be hoping to get their form back at the Lekan Salami Stadium.

Match day 17: Wikki Tourist 4-0 SHOOTING STARS (61′,75′,89′ Godwin Obaje, 86′ Saidu Abdullahi)
VERDICT: Shooting stars win/draw

RIVERS UNITED VS ABIA WARRIORS

Rivers United will be smelling blood when the Warriors come to town. With just a point behind the league leaders, Rivers will want to keep up the chase to win the title and to win it in their first season since they were formed from the amalgamation of Dolphins FC and Sharks FC. Stanley Eguma has enough experience in the league to know this is a win or burst game for his lads.
Abia Warriors can still be relegated even with their 44 points. The players know their destiny is still in their own hands but they will have to get something from this match if they are to remain.

Match day 17: ABIA WARRIORS 1-0 RIVERS UNITED (23′ Michael Olaha)
VERDICT: Rivers to win!

NASARAWA UNITED VS AKWA UNITED

Kabiru Dogo will be disappointed they lost all three points in Umuahia last weekend having played so well and their chances of getting back to the continent is no longer in their hands. They have 49 points from 34 matches, 9th on the log with five points behind third placed Wikki.
Akwa United are also one of the teams in danger of going down if they lose their remaining two matches and other results from other teams in the same fight don’t go their way. As such, they will want to steal a point from their host to boost their chances going into the final game of the season against title contenders Rivers United.

Match day 17: Akwa united 1-0 Nasarawa united (36′ Ubong Ekpai)
VERDICT: Nasarawa win/draw

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SUNSHINE STARS VS WARRI WOLVES

The Owena waves will be looking to consolidate on their 50 points haul which places them on 7th position. And with the ever vociferous fans at the Akure township Stadium, nothing short of a victory will do for them.
How Wolves have found themselves in this position leaves many of their fans wondering if the decision to sack the former management team to bring in a new one has helped the club in anyway. They are in danger of being relegated with their paltry 42 points and they will need to win this match and also their last game at home to Ikorodu United to stand any chance. They also need to score plenty of goals.

Matchday 17: Warri Wolves 2-0 Sunshine stars (55’&59′ Sikiru Alimi)
Verdict: Sunshine win/draw.

NIGER TORNADOES VS MFM FC

Tornadoes have an impressive home record-not losing in 55 matches at the Confluence stadium in Lokoja- where they have been playing their home matches. They also are in danger of going back to the lower tier if they lose their last two matches and other results don’t go their way. Abubakar Bala will not want to take chances and will do everything possible to win this one.
MFM FC have to pray seriously even as they also need to work on the pitch of play against their host. They got a morale boosting point against the defending Champions-Enyimba last weekend and will be hoping to go a step further in their quest to remain in the top flight.

Match day 17: MFM FC 2-0 Niger Tornadoes (26′ Abiodun Adebayo-OG, 45′ Stephen Odey)
Verdict: Tornadoes win/draw

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FC IFEANYI UBAH VS ENYIMBA
This is going to be a gruel encounter considering the fact that the home team are trying to dethrone their visitors. Ifeanyi Ubah have been very resolute at home this season and have their star players available for this one.
Enyimba have all been disappointing so far this season and will want to be spoilers for their host. A scintillating Oriental derby it promises to be.

Match day 17: ENYIMBA 2-0 FC IFEANYI UBAH (17′ Ibengbu Ikechukwu, 60′ Daniel Etor)
VERDICT: Ifeanyi Ubah to win!

 

***Pictures courtesy www.goal.com; footballive.ng; dailypost.ng