By Balogun Rilwan Adetayo
The 2015/2016 season in the NPFL was a very historical one and one that left us with fantastic memories of it. It was the season which the league had the highest number of away victories, improved refereeing and reduced fans violence. It was also the season that had Rangers Int’l of Enugu being crowned champions after a 32-year Hiatus and also gaining some worldwide popularity in the process.
In this same season, we had an opportunity to see our NPFL all stars file out against a host of Spanish sides, gave a good account of themselves and had more exposure and experience internationally. It was the season when impossibilities turned possibilities and MFM FC started like a real mountain on fire, razing near and wild and leaving people with the taste of good football. It was the season that has had the best private involvement with shirt sponsors and private ownership penetrating into the league with more propensity.
It was the season we had foreign players showing what they’ve got and the regular suspects being sidelined. We had lowly rated sides churning out great performances and giants getting relegated. It was a season that had a good financial implication on Nigerian football and one that can be built upon.
A new season is about to start and expectations once again are rolling in but in the meantime, this is a breakdown of what we expect;
The Regular Suspects
In this category, we have 7-time league winners, Enyimba FC of Aba, also known as the People Elephants. A team that were highly disappointing locally and in the continent last season. Enyimba are always firm favourites when they don’t have a lot of responsibilities and with the acquisition of Ghana’s first choice goalkeeper at the 2014 WC, Fatau Dauda who will compete with Theophilus Afelokhai for a first team spot, there are high expectations from the team.
In the absence of Chinedu Udoji, they have lost a fantastic defender and a team leader too who is very accustomed to the system but they are a team with enough quality to deal with the absence of any player on their own day. The likes of Mfon Udoh and Christian Pyagbara must start playing well if the team hopes to put their struggles of last season behind them but with the quality in the team, they are genuine title contenders.
Kano Pillars: Last season was not the best for the Sai Maigida. They were really disappointing and must be less dependent on the duo of Rabiu Ali and Gambo Mohammed if they have a hope of doing better than last season. They’ve already gotten good young players like Balogun Kabiru who was sensational for relegated Ikorodu Utd last season coupled with some other signings, much is surely expected.
Rivers United: The Stanley Eguma managed side beat even their own expectations last season and gave eventual champions Rangers, a good run for their money. But for a less than respectable start, they might have been champions but this is another season to right their wrongs. Their tour to Spain was successful after a victory over Villarreal B team and a draw with Roda JC, the Port-Harcourt based team are ready to fight for the league title again.
Rangers Int’l FC: The Flying Antelopes will hope to reincarnate the spirit that flourished in them last season and get their finest talents recapitulating their form of last season. Players like former u-20 int’l Nwobodo, Echugbulam Chisom, Olympic bronze-winning goalkeeper, Emmanuel Daniel, gangling attacker, Bobby Clement and many others will be expected to get in touch with quality for the team. With the acquisition of Enyimba’s maestro, Daniel Etor, one can only hope their continental quest will only ask them few unanswerable questions.
FC Ifeanyi Ubah: The oil magnate-owned team have turned the corner after being changed from Gabros and have come far and right. They have really young and experienced players alike in the team. Players like Chibuzor Okonkwo, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, young defender, Adeleye and a host of other new acquisitions willgive the team a reason to believe they can win the league, a feat I consider too far for them. They are the Federation Cup champions and are riding high on confidence at this point but need a lot of consistency to pin down a fearsome place in Nigerian football. Managerial issues have been rife at the team with their Japanese coach leaving after two months owning to interference in team selection and other undisclosed reasons. They also had a preseason to forget but can put that behind them and face the season. The loss of Gata who has returned to ABS will do little to help their cause but it’s a long season, anything can happen!
Wikki Tourists FC: The loss of league topscorer Godwin Obaje to Etoile Due Sahel will leave the Bauchi-based team with bitter pills to swallow. This was a striker who notched 18 goals for them and was instrumental to their good outing last season. Without him, they should cope too but a fight for a continental place won’t be bad for them.
Nasarawa United: The Lafia outfit have had a good preseason thus far and have made quality acquisitions, many will expect them to perform some miracles and do the unexpected as they stand as one of the most entertaining sides in the league. Going a step up won’t be bad for them, will it?
The Mid-Table Teams
Sunshine Stars of Akure, Shooting Stars of Ibadan, Plateau United of Jos, MFM FC of Lagos lie within this category and will need a regular dossier of scintillating performances if things will change for them. For the Owena Waves, their players have to turn up and start playing well on a regular basis. The likes of Dele Olorundare, goalkeeper Moses Ocheje, Sunday Abe must be at the centre of the team’s rejuvenation and for the Oluyole Warriors, it is expected to be the same story as they’ve not made very credible injections into the team.
MFM FC will hope to go a lot better than the last time after battling out with relegation. After the exit of Coach Fidelis Iluchukwu, one will expect the new tinker man to work wonders and make experienced additions. The loss of midfield talisman Ifeanyi Ifeanyi to Akwa Utd will be a painful one but the Olukoya boys can surely find a way out.
Akwa United: This is another team who are candidates for a mid-table finish. They’ve shown a regularity in inconsistency and this season doesn’t seem to be better than the previous. I stand to be proven right!
Former league regulars, Gombe United have an opportunity to correct their comedy of errors the last time they were in the league, fight for survival and possibly get a ticket to the continent. They’ve been there before and are well grounded about the requirements needed to survive in the league, hopefully, they shock even themselves.
Katsina United are expected to fight relegation too with their limited resources. Who knows? They may just be at the good end of the table when the season ends.
ABS Ilorin FC: With the addition of Ismaila Gata, a lot is expected from the fans of the Ilorin-based team. They are one of the lowly sides who like to play a good brand of football and hopefully, this will endear them to many hearts.
Remo Stars: The Sky Blues are very new to this and have really made giant strides in the past few years. After losing talisman, Adebogun Tayo to Giwa F.C then, they’ve turned the corner and have done well to get themselves into the league. With Nduka Ugbade at the helm, it is very sure football lovers will have a good team seeing them play in Sagamu but they will be performing a 21st century stunt if they don’t end up battling with relegation. I wish them well!
Hopefully, at the end of the season, the best team will win and there won’t be any unnecessary stoppages to the flow in the league.
The LMC have done a wonderful job in the last two years and we expect more from them. It’s the Nigerian Professional Football League and remember, it can only get better!