It may be all gloom again for Nigerians as three of Nigeria’s clubs, Akwa United, Bayelsa United and Rivers United begin their quest for continental glory this weekend despite the delay in the kick-off of the 2021/22 Nigeria Professional Football League season.
Records have it that this is not the first time the league will be delayed and when it kicks off, it will be several weeks behind other leagues in the world, especially Africa.
Over the years, major stakeholders have blamed the delay in the kickoff of the NPFL for the poor performance of the country’s clubs in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) inter-club competitions.
In the last few years, our league has started at a time that it does not give our clubs enough time to get into match playing rhythm. Presumably, in other countries, their clubs are already in mid-season form.
It will be recalled that last season Enyimba Fc, Plateau United, Rivers United and Kano Pillars played preliminary rounds of matches in CAF Champions League or CAF Confederations Cup respectively with only Enyimba reaching the last 8 in CAF confederations cup.
These continuous shambolic performances by NPFL clubs at some point led to a drop in the coefficient of NPFL clubs in the continent which resulted in just a single representative in the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederations cup and stakeholders have blamed the delay in the kickoff of the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) for the poor performance of the country’s clubs in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) inter-club competitions.
With the commencement of the CAF competitions this weekend, there is palpable fear that this season may not be different from what happened in the previous seasons.
Bayelsa United who are making a return to the Confederation Cup for the first time in 12 years will be playing against Guinea side, Ashanti Golden Boys.
According to Bayelsa United goalkeeper, John Shaibu, the clash looks easier due to the fact that the game will be played over one leg.
“Bayelsa United received this news with great joy yesterday and now the job looks easier. We know that a win on home soil will see us through to the next round of the CAF Confederation Cup and that is a massive boost to us.
“Even at this, we will approach the match like a hungry tiger because our opponents would be coming to pick an away result,” he told Goal.com
The Yenagoa-based team’s second-round fate will be decided in one fixture due to the political crisis in the country.
CAF had issued a statement on their website stating all matches involving Guinean teams would be settled away from home in accordance with CAF inter-club competition’s rule.
“After monitoring the political and security situation in Guinea and following careful consideration, the CAF Inter-club Committee has decided that all three fixtures involving clubs from Guinea in the preliminary stages will be played in a single leg at the opponent’s territory in accordance to Article 2.1 of the CAF Inter-club Regulations,” it read.
In the same vein, NPFL champions, Akwa United has asked Nigerians not to expect much from the ‘Promise Keepers’ in their debut appearance in the CAF Champions League.
The Uyo-based team who will be the only team to play on home turf this weekend will be boosted with the complement of their teeming fans after the Confederation of African Football approved that 10,000 spectators be allowed into the stadium for the game.
In a recent chat with Daily Trust, coach Kennedy Boboye who oversaw the recruitment of 11 new players will take their sojourn in the tournament step by step beginning from the game against CR Belouizdad of Algeria at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo.
“One thing we seem to forget in this country is that if it is Enyimba, Kano Pillars, we might be asking what should be expected of them. People will expect much from them because of their experience in the competition but Akwa will be going for the first time even though they have played in the CAF Confederations Cup in the past,” he said.
He further conceded that the delay in the NPFL kick-off will play a huge role in their performance in the tournament as their opponents will be in better shape regardless of the fact his team has been in a closed camp in over a month.
“Those that are playing competitive games have match fitness. They are in better shapes than those who will be going up against them but are yet to play competitive football. It is not going to work. Nigeria should key into the FIFA calendar as it will help everyone since we will all start the league at almost the same time.
“Some are starting their leagues now while we just ended ours. By the time we start, others would have gone far and how do we compete with such teams? We will only try and pray and if God helps us, then good,” he said then.
Similarly, Rivers United who profited from Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) backroom decision picked the slot to play in the Champions League against Tanzanian side, Young Africans FC at the Benjamin Mkapa National Stadium.
The ‘Pride of Rivers’ have beefed up their squad with the signing of the trio of Mutiu Ogundimu, John Lazarus and Ebube Duru from Lobi Stars, while Sochima Victor joined from Heartland. The club also renewed the contracts of Sunday Adetunji and Lookmam Binuyo.
With the competitions kicking off this weekend, how the clubs will navigate their way through and avoid a repeat of what happened last season will remain unclear for now. Nigerians wish them nothing but best of luck.