THE PREVIEW-NPFL IS BACK!

The 2017/18 Nigeria Professional Football League season is upon us again as matches resume across all centres of the Federation. Plateau United of Jos, against all odds did the unthinkable last season, beating the likes of Enyimba International of Aba and the erstwhile defending Champions, Rangers International of Enugu (who waited thirty-two years to lift the trophy again), to lifting the crown after thirty-eight rounds of games. Much to say this season might also throw up another “surprise winner” considering the fact that the first and second placed teams in the table at the end of the last campaign did not envisage sitting at the top of the table by season’s end. This is not to discard the perennial chances of the “traditional teams” who have in recent times fallen by the wayside and failing to raise their game when it mattered most during the course of the campaign.
Well, I can go on and on about how its been very torrid for some of these “traditional teams” and how players’ recruitment vis-a-vis administrative lapses have somehow bedeviled their efforts, but all these are mere excuses and shouldn’t be something so hard to figure out before the start of each campaign. Before the start of every season I try to sit down and look at how each club has done business in terms of players transfer-the qualities and quantities-during the transfer window and trust me, not much has changed. It’s still same old, same old. A player plays very well for few games, gets some couple of goals and assist to his name and bang, he is en route to other clubs with a bigger pay cheque because he only has a year’s contract with his parent club or being out-rightly owned by a third party which is in contravention with FIFA laws regarding club and players ownership.
Moving on to matters on the pitch of play, the “traditional teams” will always flex muscles during the season and that is very well expected but with recent happenings, don’t blame me if I don’t fancy any of them getting close to winning the league trophy.
Akwa United have been very consistent in the league and I expect them to challenge seriously for the crown this time around. Retaining their Gaffer, Abdu Maikaba will be key to them progressing from what he started last season. The opportunity of having a well rounded team with plenty of financial inducements from the government, expect them to be in there for the title. FC Ifeanyi Ubah and Enyimba (Seven times Champions) will also be in for a shot considering the former’s spending power that has somehow dwindled this season and with the name the Aba Landlords carry, putting them as contenders should only be a routine.
 
Kano Pillars on their part have struggled to start every season on a high since winning their last title in 2014 and this primarily due to their lack of organisation and incessant sacking of Coaches. They have been able to at least retain their coach this time and I expect with some continual good quality display from the players, they should be back among the title contenders. Same with Nasarawa United who have shown that with a good start to the league season, they tend to do well. Suleiman Kabiru Dogo can repeat what he did with the modest Lafia side two seasons ago when they finished as high as fourth in the league and also runners up in the Federation cup of the same year.
 
Rangers International will be banking on the prowess of Gbenga Ogunbote to bring back the glory year of 2016 to the club after leaving Enyimba to join them, but he has only been able at best to finish the league as runners up. The Governor of the state, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has also made a promise of One million Naira to the team for every home win and away wins in the league in order to boost the morale of the players and technical bench. Whether all these will amount to success on the field of play to bring back the “Cathedral Fans” is another matter of discourse in its entirety. Abia Warriors will also be a delight to watch with their Brazilian Coach, Raphael Everton having a second stint in the league after his first romance with Ifeanyi Ubah ended after lifting the Federations Cup. His style of football will be interesting for fans to see considering the nature of grass the Umuahia Township Stadium has.
For the likes of MFM FC and Plateau United, I think the CAF competitions might pose a serious challenge to their league aspiration. The defending champions will have it very tough defending their title and I won’t be surprised they fight all through the season to maintain their status in the league. The “Olukoya Boys” will have to do extraordinary things if they are to have a near semblance of their fairytale run of last season. Their players recruitment have been poor to say the least and there seems to be no headway regarding that, as I hear they will be depending more on their last season squad plus players coming up from the ranks.
The Newbies-Kwara United and Heartland FC will be returning to a familiar terrain and they know what to expect as the league kicks off this weekend but I worry more for the “Harmony Boys”. They tend not to always learn from their past campaigns in the top flight, seeming to always find a way of going down each time they come up.
Go Round FC and Yobe Deserts Stars should more or less be content with fighting for survival and staying up in the league but I think the Damaturu based club-side whose last participation in top flight league football was in 2002, will definitely be a candidate of relegation-I wait to be proved wrong though. The Felix Obuah contingent will also find it very tough and with the calibre of players and technical crew they have, I don’t see much coming from them with all due respect to Ngozi Elechi.
Rivers United will definitely have to sack Stanley Eguma if things don’t start on a high for them. He’s had the longest run as a coach with a Nigerian top club-side and very minimal successes in recent times from the days of Dolphins FC. Sunshine Stars will do well if they can find a way to pacify their vociferous, volatile and hard-to-please fans. Niger Tornadoes and Imama Amapakabo’s ElkanemiWarriors (who rarely drop points in Lokoja and Maiduguri respectively) will only give me a surprise if they lose at home. Lobi Stars will huff and puff as usual but still end up in mid-table. Katsina United and WikkiTourists will find it very difficult this time around if they continue with their lacklustre performances of last season and for the Bauchi team, its left to be seen how they will cope with their new home ground at the Rwang Pam Stadium in Jos.
All in all, it promises to be an exciting season with lots of drama and talking points as the custom is with the league run by the League Management Company.
Here is to a happy ending for all fans!!!
****Pictures courtesy Complete sports, Guardian, Daily post and Sahara Reporters
Timi Owoeye
Seasoned NPFL Analyst, Pidgin Commentator for SuperSport Nigeria, Sports Presenter and Analyst on Radio. Twitter- @timirhrema

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