Friday, June 26, 2009

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Of 2008/09 Season

The Nigeria Premier League (NPL) may have ended on June 14 with Bayelsa United emerging as champion for the first time in its 10-year existence, our league correspondent tries to relive the eventful and uneventful moments of the 2008/2009 season. In this review, we take a look at our most interesting, nauseating and controversial picks in the top-flight of Nigeria’s league

Best Newcomer
This is award that goes to Warri Wolves. After switching its name from NPA to Warri Wolves, the newcomer in the Premier League gave some of the big clubs such Enyimba, Enugu Rangers, Sharks Football Club and dethroned champion, Kano Pillars, a run for their money. Wolves finished in fourth position on the final day behind Bayelsa United, Heartland Football Club and Enyimba, which had to scrap hard to shake off the stubborn newcomer. Unfortunately, the Warri club would blame its failure to beat the Peoples Elephant to third position and win a CAF Confederation Cup place to the death of its number one goalkeeper, Orobosa Adun in the closing stages of the season. But overall, it was an impressive performance for a team that did not lose any game in front of its fans at the Oleh Township Stadium in Isoko South local government area of Delta State.

Longest Run At Top Of League
The new champion, Bayelsa United, did not look back from the moment it climbed to the summit of the Premier League log in Week 11 when newcomer, Kaduna United, surrendered the lead at the top. At some point before Week 11, Enugu Rangers was one of the pacesetters and it was believed that it would end a 25-year-old jinx without winning a domestic title. Unfortunately for the Coal City team, it was Bayelsa United that dug deep to hold on jealously at the top of the league for 27 straight weeks. Even three consecutive losses to Gateway Football Club (0-2), Gombe United (0-1) and Sunshine Stars (0-2) was not enough for Heartland FC and the chasing pack to unseat it from first position culminating in winning the title.

Coaches As Endangered Species
Like every sport and every football league in the country, the two common words that coaches hear in their careers are ‘hire and fire.’ For coaches in the Premier League, it was no different as a few were sent packing and others left by mutual consent and yet a number of them were suspended till their contracts ran out. The list of coaches that got the boot are Godwin Uwua (sacked from Akwa United); Salisu Yusuf (sacked by Lobi Stars); Zachary Baraje (sacked by Niger Tornadoes); Mitko Dobrev (sacked at Heartland FC); Maurice Cooreman (left Enyimba after his contract was not renewed); Hassan Jatau (resigned from Kaduna United after 0-99 loss to Zamfara United); Lawrence Akpokona (sent on suspension by Ocean Boys and never returned again); Flemming (abandoned Nasarawa United few days after taking up job) and Bernard Ogbe (resigned from Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) FC for certain reasons).

Best Match(es)
Two matches stand out in the concluded 2008/2009 season of the Premier League. In spite of all the tirades that trailed the match between Bayelsa United and Warri Wolves before it kicked off at the Oleh Township Stadium. Instead, the match turned out to be a cracker, as it ended 2-2 goals from Anthony Ujah and Efe Yarhere for Wolves and Stanley Ohawuchi and Bernard Okorowanta on the score sheet for Bayelsa United. The other match was between Akwa United and FC Abuja at the Uyo Township Stadium on May 3. Akwa United won 4-2 with league top scorer, Akarandut Orok scoring twice.

Most Goals In Match
Before the last round of matches in the concluded season, Sharks Football Club and Wikki Tourists were in the running for most goals scored in a singled game after Sharks won by 6-1 in a seven-goal thriller. But that was torn to shred by Zamfara United, which shockingly scored nine goals against Kaduna United to survive relegation on the last day of the season.

Biggest Mover In League Log
As at Week 10, Niger Tornadoes was occupying the 19th position in a 20-team league. But the Niger State government immediately sent the management team packing as well as the then head coach, Zachary Baraje. In came coach Justin Tenger and former Nigeria Football Association (now Nigeria Football Federation) board member, Suleiman David, as chairman of the club. By the end of March, Tornadoes was in eighth position. The club climbed by 14 places from 19th to end in fifth position. No doubt, Tenger had a big impact on the Minna-based side.

Best Goal
It was difficult to pick the best goal of the season among 770 goals scored in the 2008/2009 season of the Premier League. After rummaging through some of the outstanding goals this season, one of them finally got our pick of the season. Warri Wolves’ playmaker, Michael Okoyoh, scored a cracker against dethroned champion, Kano Pillars, at the Oleh Township Stadium on May 13. Okoyoh’s goal, indeed, has the work of a master craftsman written all over it when he controlled the ball on his chest before he drove a 35-yard volley that dipped under Pillars’ upright for Wolves’ third goal of that match. Wolves won that game 3-1.

Most Scandalous Match
Followers of the Premier League in Nigeria would no doubt agree that the 9-0 defeat of Kaduna United in the hands of Zamfara United smacks off suspicion and remains a sore point in the concluded season. It is not the first time that this is happening in the Nigerian league, as Akwa United benefited from a scandalous 13-0 defeat of defunct Calabar Rovers to gain promotion to the Premier League in 2006 while Mighty Jets won the 1972 edition of the top-flight by 8-0 against New Nigerian Football Club on the last day of that season. Already, Premier League board chairman, Oyuki Obaseki, is planning to sell the idea of a new law that any team involved in such scandalous results on the last day of the season should be relegated. He would have the chance to do so when the NPL Congress holds later this.

Untimely Deaths
The out gone season witnessed several deaths that included players, an official and supporters of one of the clubs. February was the darkest month in the Premier League when Zamfara United was involved in a motor accident and fans of Ocean Boys were killed by unknown gunmen. May and June were the other months when another set of tragedy struck with two additional deaths. It all started on February 20 when Zamfara United’s travelling contingent was involved in a ghastly motor accident. The club lost its curator, Ado Umar and one of its players, Abdullahi Sabiu. The following day, six fans of Ocean Boys were killed by gunmen while travelling along Patani-Ughelli road for a league game. On May 25, another tragedy struck when first-choice goalkeeper of Warri Wolves, Orobosa Adun, slumped and die during a training session at the Oleh Township Stadium. His death was trailed by controversy that led to accusations and counter-accusations. As if that was not enough, 19 days later, late Adun’s friend, Abiel Tabor, who was captain at Bayelsa United his death, was killed by armed robbers along Oghara-Sapele-Warri Road. He shot dead just four hours after lifting the Premier League trophy for the first time in his career.

Record Breakers
Two players stand out this season. One for setting a new record in a single match and the other for equalling a 19-year-old record. Victor Ezeji of Sharks Football Club now holds the record of being the only player to have scored four goals in a single match since the inception of the Premier League in Nigeria. On April 4, the 28-year-old forward tore the defence of Wikki Tourists to shred and made it look like a bunch of tourists inside the Liberation Stadium in Port Harcourt. Sharks FC won by 6-1 and Ezeji, who returned to Nigeria from Tunisia’s Club Africain, accounted for four of the goals. His goals came in the 13th, 32nd, 43rd and 73rd minutes to the disappointment of Wikki’s coach, Ladan Bosso. Akwa United’s marksman, Akarandut Orok, was just one goal shy of becoming the first man to score 18 goals in a season. Having equalled Ishaya Jatau’s 17-goal record of the 1990 season, Orok could not go one step ahead and failed to save Akwa United from relegation.

Most Controversial Transfers
There were a number of transfer that rocked the boat of the Premier League last season. Most notable of controversial transfers remains the one that tore two oriental clubs, Enugu Rangers and Heartland Football Club, apart involving Chinedu Efugh popularly known as Chicago by his fans. Rangers claimed that officials of the Owerri club had tapped its player while Heartland FC simply countered that Efugh is keen to join the Naze Millionaires. After dragging the case to the Arbitration Committee of the Nigeria Premier League (NPL), Efugh got his wish to move to Heartland FC. Kaduna United was also a victim of such after agreeing to transfer one of its strikers, Charles Negudu, to Etoile Sportive du Sahel (ESS) of Tunisia. Now the Kaduna-based side is seeking justice at FIFA’s court over Etoile du Sahel’s failure to pay $40,000 as transfer fee. Both clubs agreed that the Tunisian outfit can pay the money on a later date but before he end of its country’s league season, which has been wounded up. Warri Wolves was also caught in the web of keeping two players of newly-promoted Dolphins Football Club. The players, Eze Wobike and Echezone Anyiche, were yet to be cleared as Wolves’ players at the time. Enyimba and champion, Bayelsa United, were at loggerheads over the ownership of goalkeeper Niyi Fabiyi. The Peoples Elephant was holding out for a N4 million transfer fee after he joined Enyimba for N3 million from Bayelsa United. The champion of the Premier League also had its own fair share, as Anderson West left for Maccabi Haifa without making a dime. The Israeli club only wanted West on a loan move, according to Bayelsa United chairman, Victor ‘Bari Bote’ Rumson.

Clubs Playing Away From Home
Two clubs started the season on away grounds. Bayelsa United and Ocean Boys played the whole of the season away from its original home grounds in Yenagoa. While Bayelsa United played at the Oghara Township Stadium, Ocean Boys hosted its opponents at the Ughelli Township Stadium. Other clubs, however, joined this group later in the season due to renovation work at their home grounds due to the FIFA Under-17 World Cup scheduled to hold in Nigeria later. Kano Pillars, Warri Wolves, Gateway Football Club and Wikki Tourists were those affected by the repairs at their grounds. Pillars moved from the Sani Abacha Stadium to the Ahmadu Bello Stadium in Kaduna, Wolves relocated from Warri Township Stadium to the Oleh Township Stadium, Gateway FC changed home from the M.K.O. Abiola Stadium to the Ilaro Stadium and Wikki shared the ground of Gombe United after it was told to leave the Tafawa Balewa Stadium in Bauchi.

Prodigal Sons
As far as we can recall throughout the whole of last season, three players returned to their old clubs after leaving. Heartland Football Club accounted for two of them and Enyimba the other. Kabiru Alausa, who is known for taking off on trials at the slightest instance, and Emmanuel Omodiagbe left the club for trials in Bulgaria in a bid to join CSKA Sofia. But the deal did not materialise and Omodiagbe immediately retraced his steps back while Alausa instead jetted out to China to try out. Eventually, the former Julius Berger man returned to Nigeria and has since struggled to pick a starting place at the Owerri-based outfit. David Tyavkase, 24, was transferred from Lobi Stars back to Enyimba just less than a season after joining the former. Tyavkase must be happy to have made that decision to leave Lobi Stars in the mid-season transfer window in January, as he now has the chance to play in the CAF Confederation Cup next year.

Most Kind Gesture
Enyimba, Gombe United, Julius Berger, Kano Pillars and Wikki Tourists should be in the running for their gesture when they tried to send players to Zamfara United at no costs in order to show sympathy when the latter lost its curator, Umar Ado and player, Abdullahi Sabiu in an accident, which also left several key players injured. Zamfara United ended up.

1 comment:

  1. MR GEORGE AKPAYEN,i will have to say that u have done a great job;putting up dis site 4ppl like us who r far away from home to still have a clue of what is happening in our domestic league.THUMBS UP