One major casualty of the long-drawn NFF leadership tussle was the Nigeria Professional Football League.
There were still 14 matchdays before the league’s conclusion and there was the knotty issue of meeting CAF’s deadline for the submission of representatives for the clubs competitions. Meanwhile, there should still be the Aiteo Cup which should produce the sole Confederation Cup representatives.
There were puzzles…Should the league run out its (remaining 14 matchdays) duration? Will it finish early enough to produce a winner and beat the CAF deadline? What happens to the Aiteo Cup? Can both tournaments be factored into the brief period required to meet the CAF deadline?
There were blames here and there. Some lampooned the LMC for putting the league on hold while the World Cup was on thus creating the logjam. But, customarily, the league had always been on break during World Cup finals. And this particular break was built into the season’s calendar with a conclusion duly captured to accommodate the Aiteo Cup and CAF’s deadline. So how would the LMC anticipate a crisis that will so hamper and alter the calendar?
It was also argued that the league should have been on since the NPFL was ‘independent’ of the NFF. But the proponents of this position failed to take cognizance that the NFF’s Referees Appointments Committee appoints match officials for NPFL games.
So with question marks hanging over the NFF leadership and its committees, who will appoint the match officials if the LMC chose to continue with the NPFL while the crisis lasted. The fact is that organised football cannot flourish under the type of crisis the NFF was enmeshed in and the leagues (not just the NPFL) were consequently affected during the period
Meanwhile, solutions were proffered vis-à-vis the NPFL, Aiteo Cup and CAF deadline. A school of thought suggested that the NPFL should be concluded and the top two teams should represent Nigeria in the Champions League and Confederation Cup respectively.
But there was a snag here. The NFF was under obligation to organise the Aiteo Cup based on agreements signed with the sponsors (Aiteo). So sacrificing the Aiteo Cup was out of it. Meanwhile, it would be unrealistic fusing the Aiteo Cup and NPFL into the short period within which the continental representatives MUST emerge.
So at an emergency meeting of the NPFL Club Owners and LMC, a DOCTRINE OF NECESSITY was invoked and sacrifices were made.
While it was agreed that 14 matches were enough to alter the top of the log (as well as the relegation spots), the fact was that there was no way 14 matchdays would be squeezed into the calendar alongside Aiteo Cup. The season was therefore declared inconclusive while Lobi Stars, the team at the top as at matchday 24, were approved as the Champions League representatives.
While it was easier for the teams jostling for the title to concede the ticket to Lobi, it would be unfair to relegate a team that still had 14 matches to play. It was therefore agreed that no team would be relegated since the season was inconclusive.
One of the anticipated gains of the season’s abrupt end was an earlier kickoff of a new, abridged season which will ensure NPFL meets CAF’s 2019 deadline to align with the global calendar. So the next season was expected to end by May 2019 just before the AFCON.
At the time, these decisions were largely seen as unreasonable (some still think they are). Just to stay on the thrust of this editorial, many questioned the stuff Lobi Stars were made of. The antagonists were of the opinion that the Pride of Benue were not the league champions and will not be worthy representatives. They faulted the process that produced Lobi as the nation’s representatives in the continent’s flagship club competition and predicted their early ouster.
Fast-track to December 22 and Lobi have eliminated Gor Mahia of Kenya to book a place in the group stage of the tournament. They scaled two preliminary hurdles to get to this lucrative stage having earlier ousted UMS de Loum of Cameroon.
It should be noted that with a conclusive 2017/18 season that produced two Champions League representatives, Plateau United and MFM, none of them made it to the group stage. The cumulative poor performances of the two representatives fielded after conclusive seasons in recent times led to the reduction of Nigeria’s slots to just one.
Now, an inconclusive season where a representative emerged from a consensus reached by clubs and LMC has produced a representative that has made it to the group stage. So that choice was not wrong after all.
Lobi Stars have justified the confidence reposed in them by fellow NPFL clubs and LMC. We can now say that these two groups made the right choice.
They made a choice that ensured Nigeria met the CAF deadline. They made a choice that ensured the agreement reached with Aiteo, a major NFF sponsor, was not breached. They made a choice that ‘should’ facilitate the NPFL alignment with the global calendar. They made a choice that reduced the harm the NFF leadership would have had on the domestic league.
Ultimately, the concession made by the clubs (a good number of them were still in the running for the title) and the wisdom applied by the LMC have paid off.
We applaud them and congratulate Lobi Stars while enjoining the latter to go all out and make us proud in the group stage.
It must be noted that Lobi got this far despite the season yet to kickoff. We expect a better jelled team as the season progresses.
On this positive note, let us put behind us, the many crisis of 2018 and now look forward to an eventful 2018/19 season from January 13. Old things should pass away. Let’s behold new things.