The first leg of the two-legged CAF champions league final was played on Saturday, 28th of October, with two North African countries getting a representation apiece and that raises questions such as “what are Nigerian clubs doing? “, “where did it go wrong for the country’s club on the African stage?” , “can NPFL teams challenge on the big stage yet?”.
It is quite surprising that Nigeria which has always been referred by other countries on the continent and in the footballing world at large has had a relatively quiet stint in Africa and has plunged down into the sea of mediocrity, unable to break loose from the tag of the underdogs, with the countries team fading out of the picture on the big stage.
Nigeria’s success on the African continent has had a low upturn, with the country managing just seven finals in the entirety of the CAF champions league, a number below Al Ahly total of eight wins. Of the seven finals, five were defeats and two coming in from Enyimba’s back to back success (only matched by TP Mazembe).
Ever since the stunning feat by the People’s Elephant, there has been a steep decline in the fortunes of Nigerian clubs, with our representatives unable to break in to challenge for the trophy. It has been a case of the clubs appearing as a mirage in Africa’s most prestigious competition as they have been unable to pose a threat to Africa’s best performers in the competition.
This downturn on the continental stage has caused a disinterest in a large chunk of the fan base with many supporters of Nigerian football resorting to the glamour and charm that comes with European football.
Many have adjudged the current situation of the NPFL teams to the state of the country’s football which has experienced a relatively low improvement over the years, with league champions unable to make it to the group stage on the continent – a good example is Kano Pillars who were triple champions and yet failed to qualify for the group stage of the CAF champions league on three occasions.
While many belong to the faction that the state of football in the country is the reason for this downturn, many have attributed the sorry state to the fact that the best legs do not ply their trades in the country as they seek greener pastures elsewhere including neighbouring African countries.
To change the current state of the teams’ performance and putting up a fight on the continent, changes must come in all facets of the country’s football starting from the Administrators to the teams themselves.
Just like the saying “charity begins at home”, to become a force to reckon with on the continent, we must set things right at home, hitting it right on the spot.
Plateau United and MFM F.C – a relatively new name on the continent – will be representing the country at the CAF champions league with Enyimba slugging it out in the confederations cup, and with the right preparation and optimism, NPFL teams.
Sorry, I answered a question with a question, because I am very baffled at the question as the answer is crystal clear and that is a very big No!
The bigger stage here, I believe is talking about the CAF Champions League which has only been won twice by a Nigerian team in its 53 year history and now the debate arise that, Can Nigerian teams compete at this level? Believe me, saying yes to this question is a big joke. The last and the only Nigeria team to have conquered Africa was Enyimba in 2003 and 2004, while before 2002, Nigeria teams have been in the final just four times. Even in the past, Nigeria teams have been a disaster and such cases are seen now.
In the year 2012, Nigeria Premier League was named the best league in Africa and the 24th in the world and even then, we could not bring Africa to our feet. Nigeria league football has always been in shambles and unable to muster honour and generate fear in the heart of opponents across Africa. Opponents see the giants of Africa as minnows in the big stage of African Football. Nigeria, as far as African leagues football is concerned are not competitors, but remain a low side in this aspect of football.
It will be of interest to understand the contributing factor to our increasing failure at Africa’s biggest stage. First is the issue of sponsorship and ownership. Most of Nigeria Professional Football League teams are owned and financed by state government, except Ifeanyi Uba and the church-owned MFM FC. Nigeria teams and the league itself are not sponsored well. Rather than Nigeria brands seeking to sponsor Nigerian Football, they look overseas to sponsor teams there and expectedly expect higher rewards from such action. Looking at Alhaji Dangote, since making his aspiration known to own Arsenal Football Club has been pushing further even till now, but I see nothing bad in the Africa richest man owning a team in the NPFL and taking it to the next level by providing adequate facilities and getting sponsorship, then tell me if others would not follow suit and Nigeria leagues will be great again. It is really ridiculous and bad that such has not happened in Nigeria.
Let us take a look at South Africa and how well developed their leagues are, how their stadia are, the facilities are and the likes. Someone once asked me, “When will Nigeria host the World Cup?” I was like, “In the After life”, but South Africa through indigenous sponsorship and ownership are where they are, with good stadia and have even hosted the world cup, the only African country to, since World Cup’s inception in 1930.
Unpaid wages and Strike are also problems facing the leagues. The Nigeria league players have now become better “strikers” than even ASUU. Just recently, 3SC players embarked on strike over unpaid wages. We have seen cases of teams embarking on industrial actions of unpaid wages of 8 months, 6 months and with this status-quo, we think we can challenge Sundowns, Supersports Fc, Al Ahly, TP Mazembe who get their pays as and when due and are in good psychological state while playing.
How much do our players even earn to give them the edge over their rivals? Teams are even afraid to take their teams to play friendlies overseas because they fear the worse of these players hijacked by foreign clubs as have always been the case. They earn token, but the team managements want trophies. Their basic needs are not catered for, but we want to be the best in Africa. In 2012, we were even ahead of Scottish league in terms of hierarchy, but where are we now? South Africa have overtaken in a speed of light. Nigerians are trooping to South Africa to play, because the environment is conducive. There is no enabling arena here for players to strive and we want to return to the years when Enyimba became the first African team in 20 years to defend the CAF Champions League.
Finally, let us face the truth that stares us in the face and stop being optimistic at mediocrity. Planning is zero in the NPFL and just like Glo, we want to rule Africa. We need to go back to our drawing boards and plan well and get our programming right. Judging by the present, we have not enough resources to compete against Africa’s best and judging by the past where in 53 years of the competition, the giant of Africa has only won it twice.
These are the least of reasons why we cannot rule Africa, there are still numerous ones that beset Nigeria league football. Presently we should not deceive ourselves, we cannot rule Africa, but with adequate planning, we can get there.

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