Super 4 Exposes Clubs’ Fundamental Fault lines

By David Oche

At the conclusion of games of the recently ended Glo Premier League Super-4 Tournament in Abuja, the verdict is out on some clubs.

Cup holders, Enyimba International were dealt a 2-0 defeat by the U-20 National Team, the Flying Eagles in the second game of the opening day on Saturday and Friday Christopher Nwosu, the stand-in coach at the post-match conference pointed to lack of preparations.

But Dolphins Coach, Stanley Eguma was the first to bemoan poor preparation following their 2-0 humbling by Kano Pillars in a match which the league champions would have netted half a dozen goals in the opening 20 minutes.

Of the three clubs that lost their opening games, only Warri Wolves showed some fight as they battled the Olympic Team till the last seconds of the game and were only unlucky not to have left with a point from that fixture. Their Coach, Paul Aigbogun was to also confirm that they have had some extent of preparations with friendly games against some amateur local sides in Delta State. 

Last season, Wolves also came to the tournament after participating in a closed tournament organized in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State and finished runners-up to eventual champions, Enyimba.

Many have blamed the ouster of Nigerian teams from continental competitions in the last couple of years on lack of match fitness occasioned by absence of competitive games as the league hardly starts before the continental games. 

It has led to some suggesting a change in the league calendar which in successive seasons has run from March-November appear to be close to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) February-December calendar.

Some of these advocates are known to have suggested that the season should be run the European calendar which starts from late July and ends in May of the following year. The question then would be what happens to the champion who emerges in May and would have to wait until November to register for CAF competitions and then actually participate from February? 

When this was practiced from 2006-2008, it caused fixture confusions and the switch to the present calendar was only forced on by disruptions precipitated by funding crisis during the 2010 season.

We do not have to run the European calendar for our clubs to do well on the continent because Enyimba International won the Champions League twice even when our calendar was the March- November timing. 

We do not have to run the European calendar which is at variance with the CAF calendar if our clubs will adorn their thinking cap and realize that they have to draw up their own pre-season programs. Our clubs must know that they don't have to be spoon-fed by the League Management Company (LMC) and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) that have been involved in organization of pre-season tournaments since 2006. 

The English Football Association and the English Premier League Board do not organize pre-season tournaments for their clubs and we should and must always copy where things are properly done.

Kano Pillars Coach, Okey Emordi said this much at the post-match conference when he revealed that the club remained in camp from December and only granted players few days break during the yuletide. 

He also revealed that Pillars have lined up some international friendly games against Ghanaian opponents and this was not at the behest of the NFF or the LMC. Sunshine Stars did not wait for any Federation to arrange their pre-season tour of Hungary and that is how clubs should operate.

Prominent on the revealed fault lines is the importance of fielding young players and developing a sustainable youth team culture by the clubs. The Flying Eagles were winning not so much for their skills but for the verve which got them running their older opponents fielded by the clubs out of breathe and ragged. 

There is so much the head can think up but which the legs cannot execute and that was the problem seen in Enyimba, Pillars, Dolphins and Warri Wolves when they played the Flying Eagles. Even the Olympic team had to dig deep into their own near equivalent energy level to hold off the Flying Eagles. Clubs must plan and indeed move to set up structured youth teams with development plans that covers both skill, tactics and nutrition.

The problems of Dolphins and Enyimba, according to club officers and players are traceable to indebtedness to players for which reason they refused to return to camp. It did not start with the new season as the problem plagued the clubs all through the 2013/14 season that ended on November 16, 2014. Several clubs suffered the embarrassment of having their players embarking on street protests and threats of match boycott to press their cases for wage payment.

This development again calls for urgent compliance to the mandate by the rules for clubs to seek alternative funding through divestment of government’s shareholding and the community ownership model has been recommended. It is the new direction and future of football funding being embraced in Europe and other parts of the globe. But whichever model any club may choose to adopt, the key ingredient is that dependence on government funding is becoming anachronistic and will not continue to work. 

The reality of dwindling state revenues portends difficult times ahead for the sports sector and any club seeking to sustain its existence must start now to diversify revenue sources. We must put the right structures in place to attract non-government investment in the clubs and opening up public subscription will not only raise fund but will also grow interests and followership.

 David Oche is an Abuja-based football enthusiast who watched the Super-4 Games