The Technical Adviser of Niger Tornadoes, Coach Abubakar Bala, has said the absence of his club will take the shine off the Super 6 Play-off which kicks off today in Lagos. In this interview with Trust Sports, the former Kwara United coach bemoaned that he paraded some of the youngest and most talented players in the 2023 NPFL season but they are not going to be showcasing their skills for the world to see. The National U-23 assistant coach also spoke on the financial challenges of Niger Tornadoes and his future plans.
How satisfied are you with your team’s performance in the 2023 Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) abridged season?
It was an interesting but very tough experience for Niger Tornadoes. Although most stakeholders feel Group A was tougher, I disagree because both groups were highly competitive. And in view of the fact that the league was abridged, all the clubs had to contend with congested fixtures. My only disappointment is that despite playing very well, Niger Tornadoes still didn’t qualify for the Super 6. It was our ambition to be among the six clubs that will feature in the title-deciding competition. But in all, I salute my boys for putting up a good fight up to the final day of the league.
What would you say was responsible for the failure of Tornadoes?
There may be several factors but I think the major was the financial problems we encountered from the beginning to the end of the season. Motivation for the players was at its lowest ebb so it was not possible to get the best out of them. I believe that if we were given adequate financial support, we would have picked one of the tickets in Group B. We started strongly by winning our first away match but it was not possible to sustain the momentum. Like other human beings, players give their best when their welfare is made a priority.
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How then were Tornadoes able to win some of the matches?
I want to tell you that most of the players in the team played for me. They saw my personal efforts and had to sympathise with me. As we speak the club is still indebted to me because on several occasions, I had to use my personal money to prosecute some of the matches. But there was a limit to which I could go so things got really difficult for us. The financial challenges in Tornadoes didn’t start today. It is commitment and dedication that has kept us going in the NPFL.
Are you expecting any improvement before the start of the next NPFL season?
By the special grace of God, I think there will be some improvement in the financial situation in Niger Tornadoes. The newly inaugurated government has directed the management to hand over to the Ministry of Youths and Sports. So, I am thinking there will be some positive changes in the finances of the club. My only appeal to the government is to put round pegs in round holes and improve the budgetary allocation to Tornadoes. I doubt very much, if the monthly allocation to the club is up to N20m. Meanwhile, we have 45 senior players and 25 in the feeder team. And if you look at what other north-central clubs like Lobi Stars, Nasarawa United, Kwara United and Plateau United receive from their governments respectively, you will definitely pity Niger Tornadoes. I hope the new government will do more to improve the fortunes of the club.
In spite of these challenges, why haven’t you left Niger Tornadoes?
I am passionate and committed to Niger Tornadoes because it is my home club. As an indigene, I have always resisted the temptation to jump ship. I prefer to swim or sink with the club because as it is said there is no place like home. Another thing is that each time I leave Tornadoes, they either struggle to survive or are relegated. Moreover, I was the one who brought them back to the NPFL three seasons ago so I know exactly what we went through to come back to the top flight. I don’t give up because this is my career and I must do everything to protect it. It won’t be in my interest to have in the curriculum vitae that I went on relegation with the club.
How long will you continue to endure the situation in the club?
For now, the season has not ended but Tornadoes are not in Super Six so we are all resting. I am enjoying my break with my family. When I am done resting, I will decide on my next move. I have no plan to leave Niger Tornadoes but if things do not change and I have a reasonable offer somewhere, I will make the right decision. But I will be happier if my state government provides an enabling environment for me to win a continental ticket for the club next season.
Talking about qualification for Super Six, which match would you say cost Niger Tornadoes their place in the play-off?
Without a doubt, I will say the home defeat to Sunshine Stars was responsible for our failure to qualify for the Super 6. Like I told you, the boys were poorly motivated. There was nothing we could do. You can force a donkey to the river but you can’t force it to drink water.
What are you expecting from the Super Six that will be starting tomorrow (today)?
I am expecting a tough competition because we are going to be watching the best of the best in Nigerian football. I want to say kudos to the league organisers who have ensured we have an improved league.
Would you enjoy the matches without Niger Tornadoes?
I will definitely be watching with mixed feelings because it was our desire to be a part of the competition but we failed to qualify. I feel pain because we deserve to be there. I paraded the youngest and most talented players this season. These boys have missed the opportunity to showcase their talent to the world and our absence will take the shine off Super 6 play-off.
Which club are you supporting to win the title?
I am no doubt surprised by what Insurance have achieved but I am not completely satisfied with their quality of play. I don’t think they will take the title away from Enyimba who are more talented and have a very robust style of play. So, without undermining the other clubs, I give it to Enyimba.