The continuous ouster of Nigerian clubs from CAF competitions is seen as a show of shame. What could be responsible?
For the umpteenth time, Nigerian clubs failed to get close to the final of any Confederation of African Football (CAF) competitions (Champions League and CAF Cup).
This is really giving football followers in the country serious concern as the only remaining representative, Enyimba Football Club of Aba crashed out penultimate Sunday to Pyramid FC of Egypt by 5-2 on aggregate (1-4 in the first leg in Egypt and 1-1 2nd leg in Aba). This is an embarrassing result for one of the biggest clubs in Nigeria and a club that has won the CAF Champions League back-to-back to a club that is not among the biggest clubs in Egypt.
Recall that Nigeria slot was reduced to four with Plateau United, Enyimba representing Nigeria in the CAF Champions League while Kano Pillars and Rivers United of Port-Harcourt represented the country in the CAF Cup competition.
Plateau Utd and Enyimba later crashed out of the Champions League while Enyimba dropped down to the CAF Cup competition.
Nigerian clubs crashing out of CAF competitions especially at the early stage has been a recurrent decimal for a long time. Ever since Enyimba won the Champions League, Nigeria has not been able to replicate the form since then.
However, some analysts including players believe that many factors are responsible for the lackluster performance over the years.
A Nigerian player, Kelechi Osunwa, who played for Al-Merrikh, Sudan believes that Nigerian clubs are always relax when they have first leg advantage. According to him, “They must always work hard in the second legs and ensure they win also. They must not have defensive mentality”
Another Nigerian who played for Al-Merrikh, Dayo Ojo then disclosed that, “Nigerian football fans should learn from others especially Al-Merrikh in the area of supporting their teams. The support we get from our fans was always motivating both in domestic and continental matches. The fans must continue to support the teams whether they are doing well or not.”
Some critics however believe that Nigerian clubs are not always prepared hence they end up as participants not contenders. The moment they qualify, they are already crying for money to travel hence they are distracted right from the beginning. Some of them end up arriving at match venues late because of lack of funds.
There is no doubt that money is crucial in continental games. Recall that Enyimba Football Club of Aba won the CAF Champions League back-to-back because of the availability of funds by the then Abia State Government led by Orji Uzor Kalu.
It was in the news that the team that eventually eliminated Enyimba from the competition, Pyramid FC, flew into the country with a private jet and stayed in hotel paid by the club, it was the opposite for the Nigerian team when they went to Egypt.
Meanwhile, some people claimed that another factor militating against Nigerian teams in the continent is that the best teams don’t emerge to represent the country. They argued that some teams were being aided by referees. According to Clement Obi, “That is the reason why you will see some teams winning the NPFL trophy but crash out in the first round of the CAF competitions to lowly-rated teams in the continent.”
Last season, the league ended abruptly hence teams were selected to represent the country. There are speculations that the same might happen this season because the Confederation of African Football, CAF have sent letters to football associations across the continent including Nigeria asking them to send names of clubs taking part in the Champions League and Confederation Cup latest June 30. This is not achievable because the league is just halfway, with eight weeks left before deadline.
An official of the NFF who confided in our correspondent queried why the league went on break in the first place. Recalled that the NPFL was on a mid-season break since April 2 to resume on May 9 but never did.
Another league observer, Joseph Nwachukwu claimed that the LMC is not competent enough to manage the league. He argued that they ought to have known the calendar of CAF. He gave instance of the English Premier League, where they have calendar of five years ahead of them.
“It is worrisome to hear that LMC is postponing league matches during public holidays, is it that they don’t know that there are public holidays before now or they just fix those holidays? It is a pity! There is nothing wrong in copying and the LMC is free to do that with its European and some African counterparts rather than rubbish itself annually,” he concluded.
From the information available, the LMC will not be able to end the 2020/21 NPFL league properly hence they will be forced to hand-pick representatives for continental club competitions for the 2021/22 season again.
It is also believed that the tactical approaches adopted by some of the coaches are the reasons why they always lose scandalously away from home. According to an official who spoke on anonymity, “Our coaches play defensive game away throughout and when the boys get tired, the opponents start pumping in the goals.”
Another factor is the issue of remuneration. It is said in the local parlance that, “Better soup, na money kill am,” meaning you spend big to have good or delicious soup/meal. Before now, players sneak out of the country when the season is on to other leagues across the world to seek for greener pastures. Information has it that some clubs pay their players peanuts as salary, as low as N40,000 as against the N150,000 agreed by the LMC and clubs as the minimum wage.
There is no way a player earning such amount will be able to play more than his opponent who earns more money especially in foreign currency except the person is playing to be noticed and approached by the other club. Poor remuneration by all means will not motivate any player to give his best.
Some experts also attribute the lackluster performance of Nigerian teams to the weather. Since the clubs don’t care about the weather, they end up playing in an unfriendly weather which makes the players to play below par. For instance, two years ago inMaputo, Lobi went into the game with the hope of defending, but the tie played under a 25°C was not friendly enough for the players hence they developed cold feet and lost scandalously by 1-7.
Poor officiating is also seen as another factor responsible for most defeats. They claimed that Nigerian teams are always robbed whenever they are playing away from home.
On several occasions, Nigerian clubs were reduced to nine or 10 men by the referees. Precisely two years ago, Lobi Stars goalkeeper John Lawrence was sent off for a reason best understood by the referee.
Kano Pillars spokesman, Idris Malikawa said African football is doomed with bad refereeing. “It is just unbelievable and if this is how African football is, then we are all doomed.”
Martins Odiete predicted that if precautions are not taken, all the club sides in Nigeria will be crashing out in the first round every year. He said the number of crises in the league is enough to make the players and clubs not to be in top shape.
According to him, “All over the world, even in South Africa, clubs have structures on ground. They have club houses, functional website, training pitches, travel by air, but in Nigeria, they traveled by road even when Heartland FC won the Federation Cup, they travelled by road to Owerri, Imo state, it is so pathetic.”
Year after year whenever Nigerian clubsides crash out, they always said they are going back to the drawing board but they kept on repeating the same mistakes either on the pitch or off the pitch especially in the area of travelling arrangements.
Another disturbing aspect is that Nigerian club coaches don’t write match report of what transpired in their past matches. The match report would have helped the team that will be participating the following season to know how to correct the mistakes made by others in the past or have understanding of the club they are going to meet.
Some analysts however call on the League Management Company, LMC and the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF to look into the issue of clubs’ lackluster performances. They believe that their non-challance attitude is contributing a lot to the dismay performance of Nigerian clubs.
Unlike what is obtainable in other countries where everybody is involved including the embassy, airport officials, football federation and others, that cannot be said about Nigeria where the clubs are meant to carry their crosses by themselves forgetting that they are representing the country and not the club alone.
Analysts also noted that it is not enough to complain, rather, the administrators should do the right thing at the right time to avoid a repeat. They also believe that if the above suggestions are taken into consideration, it will go a long way to help them in their subsequent outings.