Chairman of Enyimba FC, Chief Felix Ayansi-Agwu has said it would have been a disaster, if the two time African Champions failed to qualify for the group stage of the 2021 CAF Confederations Cup. In this interview, the member of NFF Executive Committee spoke to Trust Sports on the numerous benefits of reaching the group stage, challenges ahead and chances of Enyimba FC in the second tier CAF clubs competition.
How happy are you with Enyimba’s qualification for the group stage of the 2021 CAF Confederation Cup?
Everyone in Enyimba is extremely happy. It is not just a situation around me. In fact our fans, the people and government of Abia State are happy. We are happy because we didn’t disappoint those who believe in us. We needed to do it for our name and a whole lot of reasons. Looking at our pedigree and what we stand for, it was necessary to qualify for the group stage. It would have been disastrous, if we didn’t qualify to represent Nigeria in the group stage of the competition. Moreover, we had dropped from the Champions League to the Confederations Cup. The fact is that when your team is highly rated in Africa and you keep missing where it matters, it is a problem. First it brings down your rating. So we have built a team to be a force in African football. Year in year out, teams like Al Ahly, TP Mazembe, Zamalek, Wydad Casablanca are always appearing in the continent and that makes them big clubs. Therefore, we also have to push to be one of the clubs in Africa that other teams also respect because that is the only way you can be respected. No matter how many times you win the domestic league, you must be where it matters most or your rating in the continent will drop. There are also economic benefits. We are getting something back from the competition and it offers us the opportunity to expose our players to the world. So we are really happy with what we have achieved so far.
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How do you fancy your chances in Group A where you are drawn with two former Champions League winners, Orlando Pirates and Etente Setif as well as Libya’s Al Ahly Benghazi?
That is the big stage that we are talking about. You don’t just work to get to the big stage and then fizzle out. We are also former champions at a point and that makes it more interesting. So we now have to make a lot of preparations. You don’t just get to the big stage for the sake of it. You go there to be able to lift your team higher, to be more relevant also. So the only way you can do that is by working harder to achieve more. When you come out from such a group alive, it makes you stronger because you must have come out of hot iron. The way we feel about them it is the same way they will feel about us. It is all about mutual respect. They will also look at us as former champions.
As Nigeria’s only representative in the continent, how prepared are Enyimba to handle the huge expectations from Nigerian football fans?
Anytime we are in the continent, expectations are usually high. Nigerians somehow believe we can make it. However, it is usually not easy to achieve good results. It is only possible when there is the needed support from your people and the sponsors of the club. If Enyimba is also supported to the level we should be supported, I believe we would go very far. It is not for me to say this is what is going to happen but I can say we already have our eyes on the trophy. We know where we want to go. We shall do our best to get the trophy for the first time.
What are the major challenges you encounter in prosecuting matches at this level?
The major problem is funding. Getting funds at the right time is important. If you are able to overcome this challenge, you will be able to plan well. When you have funds and in time, there is no way you won’t plan and succeed. We have the required experience and nobody can deny that.
Is it a bit surprising that at this level, funding is still a challenge for Enyimba?. Why is it difficult for you to get corporate sponsors to come on board?
Unlike what obtains in other African countries, the situation here is different. The major thing that has affected Nigerian clubs is lack of television coverage. That is why we are so excited that the NPFL is now on live television. People may not understand what that has done to Nigerian football but it is a big opportunity for corporate sponsors to come in. Before now, they asked what would be their benefits. They have to key into it because there is a lot of mileage. Apart from domestic league matches, CAF games are going to be televised live so they are going to enjoy enough mileage. I, therefore, feel they should be able to partner with the clubs.
Your target is to win the Confederation Cup but are you not disturbed that your team’s chances might be hampered by congested domestic fixtures?
Well, it has always been there. It is the reason that sometimes matches are postponed because you can’t play two matches at the same time. Unfortunately when this happens, people misunderstand and feel it is an attempt to favour a particular team. It is never the making of any club. If you have two matches on the same day, one must take precedence. In this case continental matches are given priority attention. To answer your question, it is not an easy situation. For instance, we played against Rivers United in Port-Harcourt on Sunday. We reached Aba on Monday and without enough rest, we played again on Wednesday against Akwa United. There is no way this won’t impact negatively on the players. Sometimes, you are coming back from Bauchi, Maiduguri, Kaduna, Kano, or Gombe and you face the same situation. It becomes a very big minus. The situation is made worse by poor transportation system. The roads are very horrible and you have to go through that. A journey of one hour now takes you five hours. It is indeed not easy.
Is it not possible for the league organisers to do away with midweek fixtures?
The problem is not with LMC. There are sometimes problems that are beyond human comprehension. For instance with the outbreak of COVID-19, it was not possible to start the league in time. We must have mid-week matches to meet up with other competitions. It is not something some people sit down and plan for. In the past, we played once a week but now even CAF competitions are staggered. It is not just easy so people should also realise and understand that running football is no longer a tea party.