The Chairman of Nasarawa United football club, Barrister Isaac Danladi, has blamed his team’s failure to win a continental ticket in the 2021 season on overcrowded fixtures which took a huge toll on his players. In this interview with Trust Sports, the Chairman of NPFL Club Owners Association spoke on Nasarawa United’s barren season despite overwhelming performance and what he is doing to return the club to the continent in the 2022 football season.
Your team performed very well in the 2021 season but failed to pick a continental ticket. What would you say went wrong in the dying minutes?
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First and foremost, that is football for you. It is never over until it is all over. Right from the beginning of the season, up to the last day, if anybody had told you that we were not going to pick a continental ticket from the league, you wouldn’t have believed such a person. However, man proposes, God disposes. We went all the way to the finals of the Aiteo/Federation Cup but lost the trophy to Bayelsa United. There are some reasons for what happened to us. Our performance was affected by the crowded fixtures in the league. There was so much fatigue. Imagine playing three matches in a week. It wasn’t easy. Even according to FIFA rules and regulations, there is time for resting. This wasn’t possible because there was this desire by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and the League Management Company (LMC), to end the league in time so that we could align ourselves with the FIFA calendar. Secondly, Nasarawa United played the highest number of matches in the league and the Federation Cup. We played in every match of the Federation Cup and if you add that to 38 matches in the league, you will understand what we went through. Players are not machines. They are human beings. Imagine that after we played our last league match against Abia Warriors, we moved straight to Benin City for the Aiteo Cup finals. And if you look at the nature of roads in the south and other parts of the country, you will understand what we suffered. At one point, the road was blocked by over 1,000 articulated vehicles. By the time we got to Benin, there was serious fatigue. Meanwhile, our opponents had enough time to rest because their league had ended long ago. And during the match, it rained cats and dogs which made the pitch become waterlogged. The rain prevented us from playing our game. Apart from that, we were victims of the politics of the game but we don’t have to talk about that in public because we should not be seen to be bringing the game to disrepute. Moreover, in my position as the Chairman of Club Owners Association, I shouldn’t be seen to be washing our dirty linens in public. We have our observations which we hope to address in the coming season.
In spite of the disappointing end to the season, would you say there were any positives for Nasarawa United?
It was a good and fruitful season for us. What we hoped for we didn’t get but we still held our heads high because Nasarawa United was rated as the best team in terms of play. We had youthful players who played fantastic football and we got the results we wanted. What we lost in terms of trophies, we gained in experience for our young players. We made our state proud. If you look at the position of the club before my ‘second missionary coming’ as Chairman of the club, you will agree with me that we made tremendous improvement. There was a world of difference.
How were you able to put behind the disappointment of failing to pick a continental ticket in the league and losing in the finals of the Aiteo Cup?
It wasn’t easy but I had to convince myself that we had lost it at the critical moment. We live to fight another day. It was quite painful but there was nothing anyone could do. However, we were consoled by the great show of understanding from the government and people of the state as well as our well wishers across the country. Everyone stood by us. Right from day one, our sports loving governor, Engineer A.A Sule was unflinching in his support. For instance, when we lost in the Aiteo Cup, he was in the United States of America. It took him three days before he came on our platform to talk to us. And the first thing he said was that he didn’t come early because he was thinking of the words to use in appreciating us for what we had done. He told us that even as we didn’t win the trophy, as far as he was concerned, we were his champions. Nothing can be more consoling than this. His Excellency has continued to open his doors for us in terms of moral and financial support.
What are you doing to present a more solid team next season?
For us, the 2021/2022 season is going to be a different thing entirely. As I speak with you, I am on the pitch under the sun, toiling to ensure that we put together a more formidable team that will do better than what we did last season. We are surely going to step up on our performance in 2022.
It is also an open secret that some of your key players have left for other clubs. How are you going to cope with the departure of these players?
No one can force an unwilling employee on an employer and vice-versa. Again, we deserve kudos because if some of our players are leaving, it means we were able to groom young players that other people are now coming to poach on. Nasarawa United believes in youth. We have a pattern, a structure and system and that is why we keep improving. It is not a problem. We are going to have better players for next season. Those who left are not more than six or seven. We also released other players so that we can beef up the team ahead of next season. So I want to assure our teeming fans that there is no cause for alarm.
In concrete terms what is your target for next season?
We ended as runners up in the Aiteo Cup so we are going for the trophy next season. Luck wasn’t on our side this year but I am confident it will be a different story in 2022. We cannot afford to go below that. And for the league, if not for the boardroom points on the final day of season, we would have ended in a more decent position on the table. So we are hoping that next season, we won’t go below third position so that we can play continental football again.