As reactions continue to trail last week’s ouster of Nigeria’s duo of Enyimba and Remo Stars from this year’s CAF Champions League, football stakeholders have unanimously blamed the recent sporting disaster on lack of early preparation.
Last Sunday, the two clubs failed to scale the First Preliminary Round hurdle as they were bundled out by Al-Ahly Benghazi of Libya and Medeama of Ghana respectively.
Although Enyimba looked like they would progress after a narrow 3-4 loss in the first leg, they still failed to score at least a goal in the return match in Aba and crashed out of the competition they had won back-to-back in 2003 and 2004.
Remo Stars who stepped up from Confederation Cup where they made their continental debut last season also failed to live up to expectations as they were hurled out on penalties after they won the return leg 1-0 for a 1-1 aggregate over two legs.
In the penalty shoot-out that ensued, the ‘Sky Blue’ boys failed to hold their nerves as they capitulated 2-3 to break the hearts of their teeming fans who had trooped out to cheer them to victory.
The disappointing performances of the two clubs have no doubt left a bitter taste in the mouth of football stakeholders with many questioning the present standard of the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL).
It will be recalled that after the abridged season, a Championship playoff called Super 6 was played to decide the overall champion of the 2023 season.
At the title deciding competition in Lagos, Enyimba edged Remo Stars on superior goal difference for their ninth league title. However, both clubs picked the tickets to represent Nigeria in the Champions League.
Unfortunately, their flight has crash landed even before takeoff leaving their expectant fans in excruciating pain. While Enyimba have made 16 appearances in the continent, this was Remo Stars only second appearance.
Both Enyimba and Remo Stars have since shifted their attention to the 2024 NPFL season billed to commence on September 9 but Nigerian football stakeholders are still in disbelief that two of the country’s top clubs failed to last the distance in the Champions League.
In his reaction, a former Nigerian international, Patrick Pascal, blamed the failure of Enyimba and Remo Stars on inadequate preparation.
He said “We must harmonise our calendar with the international football calendar. If we fail to achieve this, we will continue to suffer these calamities. If we start our league in time, we will finish in time and players will also have enough time to rest.
“Some of us played in Europe so we know how it is done. At the end of every season, players go on at least two or three weeks vacation with their families. They rest and recover fully. And when they resume, they go on pre-season training. After pre-season training, the league then starts.
“Unfortunately, this is not the case in Nigeria. We hardly start the league before our clubs go into continental competitions. As we speak, our league is yet to start but the South African league is in its third week already. Therefore, their clubs will be better prepared for CAF competitions.
“In England, the league is on and they have started other competitions like the Carabao Cup. Before you know it, they will start the FA Cup even before the UEFA Champions League and Europa Cup.
“Here in Nigeria, CAF competitions start before our league. It will be very difficult for us to get our teams in shape to compete favourably with their opponents whose leagues had started long ago,” said the Bauchi State FA Chairman.
The Chairman of the FCT FA, Alhaji Adam Mouktar Mohammed, said “The failure of Enyimba and Remo Stars is due to lack of early and proper preparation and lack of experienced players.
“In addition, I think the abridged league that was played last season also contributed. It is like a fire brigade approach which is difficult to produce a true champion.
“Success in top competitions requires meticulous planning, early preparation, professionalism and experience. I wouldn’t know if the clubs had the quality to make any impact as you have to invest in players’ recruitment and their welfare to perform optimally.”
A former Chairman of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) Benue State Chapter, Chris Atsaka, also said the unprofessional manner in which the Nigerian league is organised has contributed to the consistent failure of the clubs in the continent.
He said “It is quite unfortunate that the two clubs, especially Enyimba, have bowed out this early from CAF Champions League. Much as it is surprising, I believe the reason is not far from the unstable nature of the Nigerian League.
“All the teething problems ranging from sponsorship and other organizational lapses have continued to expose clubs to haphazard preparations which make it impossible for them to easily overcome stiff competition from better organized opponents.
“Therefore, we can say it is negligence on the part of Nigerian league organisers that has caused both Enyimba and Remo to wobble and exit the Champions League this early.”
On his part, a former Super Falcons assistant coach, Mansur Abdullahi, said Nigerian clubs now crumble like a pack of cards before their North African opponents because they have refused to test their abilities against formidable oppositions.
“One of the problems with our clubs is that even when they qualify to represent us, they still play friendly matches with local teams.
“Instead of going to play against the champions of let’s say Ghana, Algeria or Morocco, they restrict themselves to local opponents to test their players for continental duties.
“I expect the owner of Remo Stars who said he has invested over N1b in the club to lead the way but he is yet to do so.
“He should start taking his team to tour countries like South Africa or Tanzania where football is growing very fast.
“I repeat, before they go into continental competitions, our clubs should test their strength against some of the best clubs in Africa. If they can’t do this simple task, then they are not yet ready,” said the former Warri Wolves coach.
For a veteran sports journalist, Duro Ikhazuagbe, the failure to align the domestic league with the European calendar has played a big role in the recent crash of Enyimba and Remo Stars.
“Until we align our league with the European calendar so that by the time continental engagements begin, our teams will be in the thick of season, I am afraid we will keep up with this sad narrative of crashing out at the first hurdle.
“In the case of Enyimba, the disruption in the management team of the club was a major problem. Kanu had hardly settled down when it was time to fly to Libya,” said.
The proprietor of Youth Arise Football Academy (YAFA) Abuja, Olayinka Olagbemiro, averred that Nigerian coaches must constantly upgrade their coaching skills in order to produce good players for continental and global football competitions.
He said “The early exit of Enyimba and Remo Stars is a big blow to Nigerian football. Our coaches need to attend refresher courses. Coaches with various licenses must undergo refresher courses, which should be done at least on a quarterly basis.
“These days, new techniques are evolving almost daily and not acquiring them will continue to have adverse effects on Nigerian football and the clubs. Only a good coach produces good players who in turn make a good team.”
It is, however, not all gloom for Nigerian football as Rivers United and Bendel Insurance are left to fly the country’s flag in the Confederation Cup.