Two men, one an astute football administrator and the other, one of the most knowledgeable football coaches in Nigerian football have been saddled with the difficult task of rescuing two clubs in the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) from relegation.
While former Nigerian international, Dominic Iorfa, nick-named ‘Human Express’ by late ace football commentator, Ernest Okonkwo, has been re-appointed vice-chairman of Lobi Stars with the sole aim of saving the club from relegation, Coach Usman ‘Shariff’ Abd’allah has just been appointed new Technical Adviser of struggling Katsina United.
At the end of the first round, both Lobi Stars and Katsina United are firmly rooted at the bottom of the table where they are gasping for breath. Lobi Stars are 17th on the table with a miserable 19 points out of a possible 45 points from 19 matches.
They managed to win five matches, while the remaining 14 ended in four draws and 10 losses including the two defeats to Plateau United and Abia Warriors. As a matter of fact, the last home defeat led to the immediate sack of the former Technical Adviser, Eddy Dombraye.
In the case of Katsina United, they are not neck deep in relegation like Lobi Stars but there is no doubt cause for alarm considering that only three points are keeping them above relegation waters. The ‘Chanji boys’ as Katsina United are called are in 15th position with 21 points after six wins, three draws and 10 losses in 19 matches. In fact, only five points separate them with the MFM who are last on the 20-teams table.
There is, therefore, fire on the mountain for both Lobi Stars and Katsina United who must do something extraordinary in the second round, if they are to retain their places in the NPFL. The domestic league is observing a two-week break following the conclusion of the first round.
Consequently, when the second stanza resumes, all eyes will be on the duo of Iorfa and Abd’allah to see what they can do to turn around the fortunes of the two clubs under the threat of relegation. It is an open secret that both men were appointed based on the conviction that they have the wherewithal to deliver the goods-in this case, survival from relegation.
Iorfa who played for clubs like BCC Lions of Gboko, Abiola Babes and Ranchers Bees before leaving the shores of Nigeria to play for top European clubs like Royal Antwerp, Galatasaray and Queens Park Rangers among many other clubs in Europe and Asia, was first appointed Lobi Stars vice-chairman in 2001.
During his reign, Lobi Stars recorded successes which include winning the then Football Association (FA) Cup in 2003 and playing in the finals of the same competition in 2005, 2012 and 2015. Lobi Stars also represented Nigeria in the continent within the same period. It is also on record that he took direct charge of the coaching job in 2012/2013 when the club finished in third position behind Kano Pillars and Rangers.
And while serving as vice-chairman, Iorfa was elected as a member of the Executive Committee of Nigeria’s football governing body, the NFF and served as one of the Directors of the League Management Company (LMC). And even when he voluntarily resigned from his position as vice-chairman of Lobi Stars in 2016, he was appointed as Patron of the Club Owners Association of Nigeria.
His footballing background and in-depth knowledge of Nigerian football politics must have informed the decision of the Benue State government to re-appoint him when it became obvious that the former vice-chairman, Tama Aondofa, and his management committee were overwhelmed by their assignment.
So, on Monday, March 21, the Deputy Governor of Benue State, Engr. Benson Abounu, who doubles as the Chairman of Lobi Stars dissolved the past management committee and appointed the former Super Eagles striker to lead the club out of the doldrums.
Iorfa, who said he was not surprised by the decision to re-appoint him, has already swung into action, holding several meetings with the players in a bid to revive their dampened spirits for the daunting task ahead.
Speaking to Trust Sports, the new vice-chairman said for now, he is giving priority attention to the players whom he said must be made to be in the right frame of mind, if any achievement is to be recorded.
“The first thing I did after I was unveiled was to hold a closed-door meeting with the players. I explained to them why they must not lose self confidence despite what has happened. I psyched them up and I believe they are ready to give their all in the second round.
“Keeping Lobi Stars in the topflight is not going to be easy but I accepted the responsibility because I like challenges. I am a highly adventurous man. I don’t shy away from responsibilities.
“All I can say for now is that the Nigerian football league is a familiar terrain. Even when I was no longer the vice-chairman of Lobi Stars, I never lost touch with the system. I am going to give this assignment my best shot,” Iorfa assured.
Lobi Stars will restart their campaign with a tricky tie as NPFL heavyweights, Enugu Rangers who trounced them 5-3 in their final match of the first round in Awka would come calling at the Aper Aku stadium Makurdi.
If there is any hope for survival in the camp of Lobi Stars, it is the same for Katsina United who are in buoyant spirits following the arrival of experienced gaffer, Usman Abd’allah, to replace sacked Azeez Mohammed.
The former Nigerian junior international is no doubt one of the most qualified coaches in the NPFL. The former Technical Adviser of Enyimba FC and Wikki Tourists is one of the few Nigerian coaches who have coaching certificates obtained in Europe and Africa.
He holds UEFA ‘B’ Licence Certificate and UEFA ‘A’ Licence obtained in England. Abd’allah also attended several coaching courses including CAF Courses and others in Australia, France and Singapore.
Before he returned to Nigeria to take his first appointment as an assistant coach at Kano Pillars, he had managed clubs like EAS FC, FC Sete, Frontignan and Bollene in Asia and France.
Although his stay at Enyimba FC was full of controversies, he led the former African champions in the 2019 CAF Champions League where they lost at the semi-finals to Raja Casablanca of Morocco. Up to this moment, it is not clear if he was sacked or he threw in the towel at Enyimba.
Whatever happened, in January 2020, Abda’allah left Enyimba to join Wikki Tourists of Bauchi where he again left under some controversial circumstances to go back to Europe for refresher courses till his present appointment.
The captain of Katsina United, Usman Barau, has told Trust Sports that the highly principled coach will find a second home in Katsina.
According to him, the management, players and the teeming fans of the club are happy to welcome the coach into their fold because they believe he has the much needed technical capability to transform the team.
Barau also said even before the arrival of their new gaffer, Katsina United were on ascendency as they had done very well in their last four matches in the NPFL.
“We are all happy to welcome Coach Abd’allah. He is not new to many of us. I know when he was at Enyimba from where he moved to Wikki Tourists. I also know that at Wikki, the people there didn’t cooperate with him.
“But Katsina is going to be his second home. We are ready to give him all the necessary cooperation,” he said.
The captain also shot down every ‘unnecessary’ fear of relegation as he insisted that Katsina United would silence their doubters in the second round.
“It is true we are not very comfortable at the table but there is no cause for alarm. We are not going to have anything to do with relegation.
“We struggled in the first round because we lost four key players but everything is sorted out now. As a matter of fact, we regained our balance in the last four matches.
Even against the highly-rated Plateau United in Jos, we lost the three points in the added minutes of the second half,” he enthused.