SAB OSUJI takes a closer look at the chances of the teams in the 2017/2018 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), which kicked off Saturday with a 2-2 draw between home team Katsina United and Kano Pillars.
Enyimba have won the league seven times in the past, a feat only Enugu Rangers have equaled. This term, ‘The Peoples Elephant’, as they are called by their loyal fans, are seeking for a record eighth domestic championship.
Blessed with sound management under Felix Anyansi Agwu, Enyimba appear poised for a race back to the top again.
Winners of the CAF Champions League twice in 2003 and 2004, the only Nigerian club to have done so, Enyimba were involved in top-class transfer business to bolster the squad.
Backed by the return of experienced coach Paul Aigbogun, Enyimba are top favourites for the crown fixture congestion caused by domestic and continental engagements notwithstanding.
Enugu Rangers are no doubt serious contenders for the diadem.
First, a new management headed by their former star striker Davidson Owumi is now in place.
Secondly, Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, has realised the political value of the club and has embraced it.
So, financially Rangers won’t look over their shoulders again.
Most importantly, Owumi has begun his second spell on a sound footing, luring quality players to the Nkonkiti Camp of the Coal City ‘Flying Antelopes’.
Gbenga Ogunbote, ‘The Oracle’ as the coach has been so nicknamed, will be spoilt for choice in virtually all positions available.
The arrival of ex-U23 Olympic Eagles winger Felix Oguke, Ugonna Anyorah, goalkeeper Femi Thomas, Solomon Okpako, among others, means the likes of Godwin Aguda, Tope Olusesi and others who were part of the team last season will be at their utmost best to command regular playing time.
Rangers stand in pole position to nick the title if Enyimba faulted as a result of likely fixture congestion issues.
Plateau United have enjoyed the financial power to push through. The government of Governor Simon Lalong is stopping at nothing in pushing them all the way. This manifested last season when the club shockingly went all the way.
Armed with funds, United went berserk in the transfer market and acquired some of the best players in the land.
Their greatest undoing, however, will be managing the excesses of these big players as well as dealing with the problems of combining their maiden continental assignment with domestic games.
They were close to it last year, but were pegged back by Enyimba. With good recruitment during the off season and continuing with same Aiteo Cup winning coach Abdul Maikaba and management committee, Akwa United may not be far away when honours would be shared at the close of the season.
MFM proved to be the Leicester City of NPFL last season. However, how they cope with domestic and continental demands this term will determine if they can still lay claim to the title this season.
Kano Pillars are strong contenders for the trophy this term They have won four times in the past and have been given the all clear to go for the fifth.
With good recruitment, sound pre-season and financial backing, the ‘Sai Masu Gida’ side are in good shape to mount a strong title challenge this season.
Rivers United survived the drop by hair’s breath last season. They overhauled their squad and brought in young, disciplined players. Yet manager Stanley Eguma insisted they can push their heads up above water. Without continental fixtures to contend with, Rivers United could be up for the big pie if Governor Nyesom Wike unlocked his financial tap to the team as he did last term.
A new lease of life is sweeping through ‘The Anambra Warriors’. After overcoming media backlash following players in disciplinary conduct, FC Ifeanyiubah appear to have learnt their lessons, though the hard way. Having brought in a disciplinarian of a coach, Ladan Bosso, FC Ifeanyiubah let go all the recalcitrant players and every facet of the squad is now calm as cucumber. Can they win their second domestic trophy in four years? Maybe yes, because the funds are there at the right time in proper proportion. The players who can swim or sink with club are there too. But maybe, no, if squad experience is to count.
The 3420 minutes of playing time will tell.
THE LIKELY PRETENDERS
Lobi Stars have always done well in the league. But the Makurdi side have not been able to replicate their 1999 feat when they came, saw and conquered.
Under the leadership of veteran coach, Solomon Ogeide, Lobi Stars always start well but unable to sustain the tempo till the end. Can anything change this term, your guess is as good as mine.
The same is also applicable to Wikki Tourists, Katsina United, Abia Warriors, El Kanemi, Go Round and Nasarawa United.
THE LIKELY STRUGGLERS
Heartland rode back to the top league after just a season in the NNL. The euphoria that greeted that performance was close to being eroded given their poor pre-season build up on account of lack of funds.
Ironically, this is election year when government sponsored clubs, like Heartland, are usually starved of funds. If this is the case this term, if not abated, the team may be on the fastest lane down the hill.
Yobe Desert Stars, Kwara United and Niger Tornadoes should watch their backs as the big league rolls off the ground.
It is still a whole 3430 minutes or 38 games to go so there is still time to do the needful
By Sab Osuji