It is now an open secret that the continuous accumulation of matches by Enyimba FC due to their continental engagements is a source of concern to rival clubs.
At the end of the first stanza of the 2021 Nigeria Professional Football League season, Kwara United are leading the table with 36 points and superior goal difference of plus 13 from 19 matches followed by Kano Pillars (36), Akwa United (34) and Rangers (30) points respectively.
Although Enyimba are in fifth position with 30 points, they are strong contenders for the league title because they have played only 15 and are left with four outstanding matches.
Consequently, there is an uneasy calm among the top contenders for the 2021 NPFL title as they are afraid that the same scenario which favoured Enyimba in 2020 will play out, if the season ends abruptly again.
It will be recalled that when the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, decided to terminate the 2019/2020 NPFL season due to upsurge in cases of the coronavirus, the infamous Points Per Game, PPG, mechanism was used to arrive at Nigeria’s three continental representatives.
The decision didn’t go down well with most of the clubs particularly those who were leading the table when the league was stopped at week 25.
Expectedly, Rivers United and Lobi Stars led the war against use of PPG to end the season. The cry for justice by the duo set them on a collision course with the League Management Company, LMC.
However, on July 10, the NFF officially cancelled the 2019/20 league season and used the Point Per Game mechanism to decide clubs’ standings in the final table. It was also decided that no teams should be promoted or relegated.
Consequently, Enyimba who were in distant sixth position with 36 points from 20 matches moved up to displace Rivers United who were in second place with 45 points from 25 matches.
Although tied on 1.8PPG with Rivers United, the ‘Peoples Elephants’ were inexplicably handed one of the Champions League slots even as Rivers United had a better goals difference.
Sadly, it is feared that the hullabaloo and ballyhoo that characterised the end of the 2020 NPFL season may be witnessed again, if the LMC allows Enyimba’s matches to continue to pile up.
It is said just as it happened in 2020, if there is any unforeseen occurrence like the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the world, the LMC may be left with no option than to revisit PPG to end the season.
Meanwhile, the dilemma of the LMC is obvious because even as the league is on break, Enyimba are still playing their CAF Confederation Cup group matches, making it difficult for the league body to reschedule their matches.
However, this is what Enyimba’s rivals in the NPFL are not willing to understand. In separate interviews with Trust Sports, most of the clubs said all they want is for a level playing field to be provided for everyone.
Thus, they unanimously maintained that allowing Enyimba’s matches to continue to accumulate is a deliberate ploy to give an undue advantage to their opponent.
The chairman of league leaders, Kwara United, Mr. Titiloye Kumbi said LMC should as a matter of urgency reschedule Enyimba’s outstanding matches so that all the clubs would resume the second stanza at par with one another.
He said “Well, all I can say is they shouldn’t allow the matches to accumulate so that we do not have the kind of crisis we had last season.
“If any club knows that they are playing continental, they should know how to arrange themselves. That is one of the reasons clubs are allowed to register more than 25 players.
“LMC should find a way to ensure Enyimba play their outstanding matches before the commencement of the second round. This will provide a level playing field for all the clubs.
“Anything to the contrary won’t augur well for the league. In any case, Enyimba will play their matches and Kwara United will also play their own.”
A technical adviser of one of the mid-table clubs who spoke on condition of anonymity said “The truth of the matter is that last season, we ended the league abruptly and it was a serious issue as some clubs even threatened to go to court.
“The same thing is about to happen so what are we doing to forestall it?. When I deal with issues, I want to be above emotions and sentiments.
“We have a team that is still playing in the continent. We applaud them. They have a lot of outstanding matches again. If care is not taken, they will move with them into the second round and that will be another problem.
“I am surprised that LMC is finding it hard to reschedule Enyimba’s matches. Orlando Pirates played a league match on Monday and played against Enyimba on Wednesday. So why is it difficult for LMC to reschedule Enyimba’s matches?.
“I think with Enyimba, it is a case of all animals being equal but some being more equal than others.”
On his part, the Technical Adviser of Kano Pillars, Ibrahim Musa appealed to the LMC to ensure Enyimba’s outstanding matches are played before the restart of the second round.
He said it is only when this is done that LMC would be seen to have given all the clubs equal treatment.
“Nothing much to say than to appeal to LMC to ensure Enyimba play their outstanding matches as quickly as possible.
“The uproar over PPG in 2020 is still fresh in our memories. LMC shouldn’t allow the league to be hit by another round of crisis,” he advised.
Continuing from where they stopped last season, Lobi Stars also called on the LMC to do everything possible to stop other clubs from feeling that Enyimba are being favoured.
The Media Officer of the club, Austin Tyowua said “It’s understood that Enyimba are playing in the continent but we expect LMC to do their best to avoid a situation where other NPFL clubs will begin to look at Enyimba as being favoured.
“LMC should have used the mid-season break to reschedule Enyimba’s outstanding matches. As it is, we are still heading towards the crisis that concluded last season, which is bad for the reputation of the league.
“Enyimba should know that they are a champion club and should conduct themselves as champions, not asking for postponement at the slightest challenge.”
Although the chairman of LMC, Malam Shehu Dikko could not be reached for his response to the appeals by the clubs, a top official of the league body who spoke to Trust Sports on condition of anonymity said the agitated clubs have nothing to fear.
He said LMC have no plan to give undue advantage to any club as being insinuated. “It is not possible for Enyimba’s outstanding matches to be played before the start of the second round.
“They are still in the continent. LMC will ensure they play the matches in quick succession once they are through with their Confederations Cup duties.
“Clubs making such insinuations should show some understanding with the LMC,” he said.
Meanwhile, the LMC has announced May 9 as the resumption date for the second round of the 2021 NPFL season.