The Nigeria Professional League (NPFL) is on a one-week break following the first leg of games in the league. Though hectic for everyone involved, it has been quite a good season, especially when juxtaposed with previous seasons. Because of COVID-19 issues, there were many boardroom meetings to conclude last season following the previous season’s protracted end. Eventually, all parties had to settle. After a pretty disorganized start which saw the league’s starting date postponed about three times, the league finally came alive on the 27th of December.
Before the season started, the League Management Company brought the good news that some matches would be on television. They also introduced the NPFL TV, which has been quite a fantastic development for the league. It has made the matches available for interested fans to access easily. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the LMC also ordered that clubs should not give fans access to the stands. Also was the directive that all clubs engage in regular COVID-19 testing for their players to avoid a breakout that could have the league suspended.
This season has been good; though there have not been many away wins, the away teams have played with a high level of confidence considering the former situations of violence in the league. At some point, the games were not getting television coverage. Still, the LMC managed to sort out their issues with Media partner, Redstrike. It is also worthy of note that the LMC has been more organized in its scheduling of matches. There has been some unison with the number of games played by the teams.
With all the improvements the LMC has made, it is essential to note that the ever-lingering issue of unpaid salaries has not been addressed. Notable offenders this season are Sunshine Stars, whose players came out to protest last month over their unpaid wages for up to 6 months. Warri Wolves are also not left out. Even Kano Pillars, who are known for prompt payment of salaries, were also found wanting at some point this season. Still, they could easily blame it on the pandemic.
Although the LMC is making baby steps, some criticism wouldn’t be out of place because only a chunk of the league games has gotten to the screens. The deal with Redstrike ensures that only two games get to the screens on each matchday which is way too small. Showing most of those matches could provide proper marketing for the league. Also, over the years, it has been noticed that most home teams tend to be more welcoming.
In their bid to align the league with the European Calendar, the players have suffered the consequences of playing two games weekly. None of the NPFL teams travel to their games using air transportation, which is terrible and hectic considering the country’s poor roads. Players get only one day of rest between games, which leaves them exhausted and may not play to the best of their abilities.
The NPFL Race For the Trophy and Continental Spots
A look at the table may leave one in awe because of a relatively unknown side. The Kwara United team is firmly planted at the summit with 36 points from 19 games. Although they lead by goal difference, it does seems like they are trying to pull a Leicester City stunt in the NPFL. And more shocking is the knowledge that Kwara United didn’t get there by chance; Kwara United play very entertaining football. They even beat current holders Enyimba by a solitary goal this season. One thing peculiar to the NPFL is that this is not the first club to take the league by storm, but they get blown away towards the end of the season. Clubs like MFM, Akwa United and even Plateau United have achieved the same in previous seasons.
Despite their brilliance, we cannot overemphasize the importance of experience. The footballing experience of Kano Pillars and Enyimba would come to play this season. Enyimba, who are heavily involved in continental football, are just 6 points adrift Kwara Warriors, though they have four outstanding games. If they win these four games, it would see them supplant Kwara United at the league’s summit. Kano Pillars are just below Kwara United by goal difference. With their inspirational captain – Rabiu Ali, they could go head-on for the title.
Other teams may cause a stir, probably push for continental spots. Rivers United is one of those teams; they have flattered to deceive, starting the season, full throttle. They were doing well in the Confederations Cup until they met Enyimba, who knocked them out on penalties. After their title win in 2016, Enugu Rangers have not done anything of note in the NPFL; they’d like to fancy their chances.
A team no one is looking at is Abia Warriors. After an abysmal start of the season which saw them losing their first four games, Imama Amapakabo was given a target. Since then, ABIA warriors have played some excellent football, something reminiscent of the football style he instilled in Rangers. Abia Warriors have lost just 2 of their last 15 games in the league.
The Relegation Battle: Can Adamawa United Give us A Shocker?
For the teams that might get relegated, one sure thing is that Adamawa United would be in the NNL season by next season. No side in the history of the NPFL has managed to survive relegation after accruing just 12 points midway into the season. Ifeanyi Ubah looked to have been sucked into the relegation dog fight, too, and they languish in 19th position, 5 points away from safety. Ifeanyi Ubah has suffered some apathy from their once dedicated owner, who got frustrated after his many investments in the club haven’t yielded results.
The beautiful thing about the NPFL is that the side’s back-to-back wins could see them leap up five positions than they formerly were. MFM has had an abysmal season. Although they sit 15th, they are also in great danger of relegation, as they haven’t been able to navigate their home games.
It promises to be an exciting climax to the season, but we’re just halfway gone, and one can only hope that the league runs smoothly till the end.