Reasons why NPFL continental sides are stuttering

Enugu Rangers celebrate League title last season
By Ekine Moseph

League champions, Rangers, Rivers United, Wikki Tourist and Federation Cup champions, FC IfeanyiUbah all celebrated wildly for achieving a goal not many predicted last season and deservedly so.

But with 5 match days into the 2016-2017 Nigeria Professional Football League season now gone and with the CAF competitions few days away, all four sides have somewhat not raced out of the blocks in the new season as many had hoped but what could be the reason for this poor start?

Ekine Moseph looks at reasons that could be attributed as reason for the slow start of all four sides.

Poor preparation
Godwin Obaje left Wikki Tourists for FC Ifeanyi Ubah

Pre-season games amongst many other reasons are meant to test the preparedness of teams especially when rated in this part of the world as ‘Grade A’ matches.

Coaches always decry the unavailability of proper sides to test their newly assembled squads against and in researching the pre-season fixtures played by all-four-sides representing the country on the continent this season, only Rivers United could to some extent say that they had a well thought out pre-season schedule even though some of the games played in their tour of Spain was against B-Teams in Spain but it can’t be compared to the failed promises witnessed by Rangers and Wikki Tourist.

While Rivers United where in Spain, Rangers were touring “the nook and crannies of Enugu metropolis and its outskirts” (quoting the club’s media director, Foster Chime) playing amateur sides instead of top oppositions.

Not until the famed Super-4 tournament organised by the League Management Company did these clubs got to play tough oppositions (in themselves) were their unpreparedness exposed.

FC IfeanyiUbah as a club spoke of big things, but they flattered to deceive in the Super-4 and quite frankly the signs were there to see with news of big money signings only papering over the cracks.

Wikki Tourist on the other hand were focused on trying to keep their best players and manager after a season in which many thought they over achieved.

Look at how that has turned out for them as not only did they lose their gaffer in Abdul Maikaba, they also lost last season’s top-scorer, Godwin Obaje.

Stanley Eguma of Rivers United is longest serving coach in the League
Managerial turnovers

Football they say is a result-based business and like many leagues in Europe, hiring and firing coaches is nothing new but I can’t think there is any league in the world which has as much managerial turnovers as the NPFL except maybe you’re the owner of Palermo.

That trend continued at the end of last season with one club contributing to the ever revolving door of manager ins and outs, firing not one but two coaches in a space of two months.

FC IfeanyiUbah decided to terminate the contract of Brazilian tactician, Raphael Everton after he led the club to a fourth place finish in the NPFL and also added the Federation Cup to the club’s trophy cabinet.

Bizarrely, after a poor showing at the Super-4 (a preseason tournament) the management of the club decided to pull the plug on ex-Hearts of Oak and Japanese coach, Kenichi Yatsuhashi.

Currently, ex-black stars player Yaw Preko has been in charge of the team and so far so good the Anambra Warriors have started poorly with just 4pts accrued out of a possible 15 pts and in 18th position on the table with only one win this season.

One can only wonder how long before the club calls it a day with the Ghanaian coach who has already admitted he is feeling the heat.

Wikki Tourist on the other hand having lost a man known and loved by many for his tiki-taka style football in Abdul Maikaba have brought in Mohammed Baba Ganaru. The ex-Kano Pillars coach too has wobbled in his early days at the club despite his promises.

“Of course, the side do not need to give me target the team have already secured a continental ticket,” he said.

“Last two seasons the side finished fourth on the log and improved on it this time around finishing third so naturally I should perform better than what is on ground.

“Personally, I want the new challenges as I will want to perform far better than I have done previously. The urge is quite key for the switch to Wikki Tourists.

Currently sitting eight on the table, Wikki Tourist have picked up slowly after a poor showing in the Super-4 tournament and also in the first few games of the season.

Goal scoring has been a problem
 
Obinna Nwobodo of Rangers has not scored like last season
After five match rounds, Rangers and Rivers United have averaged 0.8 goals per game while Wikki Tourist and FC IfeanyiUbah are on an average of 1 goal per game with all four sides having dropped points at home this season something that was a rarity last season.

Star players simply have not got the memo that the season has started.

Wikki Tourist recently have sold top marksman  Godwin Obaje to FC IfeanyiUbah, the will he/won’t he go situation surrounding Rangers’ Chisom Egbuchulam haven’t helped their cause while Bernard Ovoke of Rivers United clearly is still on holiday while playing on the pitch and FC IfeanyiUbah's Brazilian import Alberico Da Silva is still a sleeping giant yet to be awoken.

With just two weeks before these clubs file out on the continent, goal scoring is clearly a problem and it needs to be sorted if they stand any chance of progressing.

Fixture pile up

Playing a match every three days might have taken its toll on players especially having to travel distances on the road for away games as pointed out by Yaw Preko after FC IfeanyiUbah's 0-0 draw with Rivers United on matchday four.

“(On Wednesday), we did not really settle early on and it was the same for Rivers United and this was because both sets of players were fatigued,” the former Ghana international was quoted by AfricanFootball.com as saying on Thursday.

“Even though they (Rivers United) got a point, it was clear they did not play to their usual standard because of fatigue.”
With just two weeks gone into the league season, it is arguable to what extent players are fatigued especially knowing that clubs are permitted to register as many as over 30 players by the LMC, what happened to squad rotation?

If these games aren’t played this early, Nigerian clubs partaking in CAF competitions will still suffer this same issue of fixture pile up in the course of the season as their league games during weekends where continental matches will hold will be postponed thereby asking the LMC to sort out rescheduled matches with the Federation Cup also in mind.

Last season Akwa United, Nassarawa United and Warri Wolves were bundled out in the preliminary stages of CAF competitions with only Enyimba left to fly Nigeria's flag in the latter stages of the Champions league.

If all four of Nigeria’s representatives are to do better in this season's edition, a good run of form culminating in good results will increase their chances of qualifying and also make fans believe that this could yet be a season they'll hardly forget.

But with the signs we see, it seems it will be another season of woe for Nigerian sides on the continent unless there is a complete turnaround of massive proportions in two weeks.






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