The insanely procrastinated Nigeria National League (NNL) Super Eight playoff was eventually held this week in Aba, Abia state and the competition which had eight teams in attendance and thirteen matches played, witnessed the good moments, the bad moments and of course the ugly ones.
Kaduna based side Kada City emerged the overall winners of the tournament after a penalty shootout victory over Bendel Insurance on Thursday, completing a remarkable one year of existence. Both teams were joined in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) by Remo Stars and Gombe United.
ACLSports Chief Football Writer, Fisayo Dairo saw all the thirteen games in Aba and writes about the positives and negatives of the five-day tournament.
One of the main reasons I was keen to watch this tournament was because of officiating. Quite a lot of insinuations and conspiracy theories had flown in the air for six weeks or more about an alleged predetermination of teams to be promoted to the NPFL by the board of the NNL and by extension, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
The appointment list of match officials for the tournament exuded some confidence as I am quite aware of the quality and integrity of some of the officials from games I had seen them officiate in the NPFL. I was not disappointed. Though it was not perfect – officiating has never really been perfect even with VAR – but I can modestly give the match arbiters a score of 80%.
There might have been one or two controversial decisions, but that was it. Every team that deserved to be promoted was not impaired by officiating and every team that did not deserve to be promoted was not helped by officiating.
The decision to have the games hosted by the Enyimba Stadium proved to be a masterstroke as it afforded the teams a very good surface to play football which perhaps none of them had access to during their regular league season.
Since the refurbishment of the Enyimba Stadium in Aba last year, I have always been of the opinion that the best two pitches where you can enjoy football in Nigeria are the Nest of Champions in Uyo and this Geotech “Rolls Royce” surface in Aba which is the widest playing surface in Nigeria.
The teams relished the opportunity and many times gave some eye-catching football displays that brought out the splendour to match with the colourful Blue and White of the walls at the Stadium.
Photographer Tobi Adepoju
It was astonishing and unbelievable to me that in this 21st century, the NNL could organise such a competition without the provision of a single photographer or photojournalist inside the stadium.
For a competition that has a title sponsor and even with reluctantly done pitch panels, there were no action pictures to project them and give the sponsor some mileage in the first two match days.
But this widely travelled young man, Tobi Adepoju (Oga Nla Media) travelled tens of miles from his base in Lagos to start giving the competition some face on the third match day. Suddenly, good quality pictures (not iPadography) started surfacing in the social and online media all credit to one man’s effort.
The first two days in terms of official coverage by the league body were just a simple summary of how the regular season of the NNL looks like. No pictures, no videos except when a team want to paint some negative pictures of referee’s bias or match violence.
Lesson for the NNL: If you don’t project the good things on the pitch, people will assist in projecting the bad ones on and off the pitch.
Last round of games
A significant bad aspect of what was a largely successful tournament was the organisation of the last group games which afforded some teams a foreknowledge of their promotion rivals’ results before their own games. That move killed the fairness and suspense associated with the beautiful game.
As a matter of fact, the game between Kada City and Gombe United lacked the tempo and urgency that the two teams offered in their opening two games since a draw would suffice for both sides to progress. The game ended 0-0. You can still commend both teams for being professional in their approach but I’ve seen many of professional accord games to know when I see one.
Monday Odigie shuns the press
Bendel Insurance’s respected coach Monday Odigie perhaps might have lost the respect of many during the tournament in Aba. The former Nigeria Under-17 head coach was at the centre of many negatives at the tournament – ranging from a serious bust-up with a retired FIFA referee and incurring a fine from NNL for (guess what) improper dressing – but his decision to shun the press was also worth noting.
Odigie, who was Nigeria’s assistant coach at the Rio Olympics Men’s Football event in 2016 did not attend the mandatory post-match press conference after any of his team’s four games in the competition. He would always send his first assistant Bauldwin Bazuaye in spite of numerous pleas and constant reminders that it was very necessary he attends post match pressers. Worst still, after the final loss, the entire Insurance coaching crew practically disappeared.
Mr Odigie needs be aware that in the league that Insurance just promoted to, the NPFL, no coach is bigger than the press.
Another sorry hallmark of the just ended tournament was the nonchalant attitude of many of the teams to their kits and general football dressing. It was observed that most of the teams went to the tournament with old, weary sets of jerseys and there were all sorts of appendages on many of the kits.
Perhaps with the exception of Kogi United, Real Stars and Kada City, the remaining teams left much more to be desired with the way they represented themselves on the pitch.
– Remo Stars played the first game with virtually an unofficial set of kits and therefore had their players wearing different jersey numbers in the second game and then reverted to kits of the first game in their last group game. A show of a gross lack of responsibility.
– Shooting Stars and Bendel Insurance were guilty of having big plasters to cover names at the back of some of their players. Some numbers were also written with ink – for instance Insurance number 04 Emmanuel Uangboje.
– Gombe United were the worst culprit. Ink, tempo etc were their own way of branding jersey numbers on newly registered players and something shocking happened in their first game – the opening game of the tournament.
Defender Peter Ambrose had his jersey torn after a tangle with Kogi United forward Ibrahim Enesi. With no substitute kit on the bench, Mr Ambrose had to wear something that looked like a Wikki Tourists – his former club – jersey. It was predominantly yellow like Gombe’s but the major blue parts in the Gombe outfit were obviously brown in Wikki’s designs.
A tournament of sachet water
You need not be told that this was a lower league competition with the amount of sachet water being thrown around and guzzled by participating teams. While many of the teams typically had their bottled water packs always in place, some teams tried to be dynamic with their own drinks.
A team like Delta Force did not even “waste” resources by getting bottled water from the start to the end of the tournament. Perhaps it’s the sachet water that motivated them to finishing with no point from three games. Winners Kada City also mixed it up and even in the final game had predominantly bags of sachet water for their players which were always thrown with pride when any of them comes to the touch line.
One sincerely hopes they’re just saving for the NPFL.
The NNL Super Eight has now come and gone. It is hoped that the league body will have an honest appraisal and post-mortem of it in order to learn valuable lessons that could make the “Most Important League” a worthier venture.