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Stanley Eguma: Victory over Ikorodu United in Lagos saved Rivers United

How satisfied are you with the performance of Rivers United in the just concluded NPFL season? We thank God. It was a successful season. When…

How satisfied are you with the performance of Rivers United in the just concluded NPFL season?
We thank God. It was a successful season. When we started nobody gave us a chance but we worked and by the special grace of God we ended up with a continental ticket. So in my candid assessment, we did very well.

After winning one of the CAF Champions League tickets, what is next for Rivers United?
Now that we have won a continental ticket, we are hoping that government will show even more commitment to the club. Our ultimate desire from now on is to do well in the CAF Champions League next year. To achieve this, we must give it our best preparation. So we are looking in the area of players, logistics and other issues related to continental football. The most important no doubt is early preparation. We want to start early. I can assure you that our performance next season will be better in all ramifications.

You just mentioned players. Do you intend to overhaul the team?
We know that it is important to beef up the team. The continent is a bigger stage and we need to beef up the team in all the departments. That is part of our programme. We have invited some players within and outside the country to come for trials. We want to see how we can get the right materials to fortify the team.

You lost the title on the final day to Rangers. Would you say you lost the league title to a better opponent?
Rangers have done well but then other teams were equally good. We were also potential champions of the league. There were other clubs like Wikki Tourists and FC IfeanyiUbah who later took the league by storm. I will also talk about other clubs like Enyimba, Lobi Stars and Sunshine Stars who also contended strongly for the title. Any of these clubs could have won the league. These were teams that had what is required to be champions but in a competition like this only one winner can emerge and Rangers got it and I give them kudos. I congratulate them and wish them well in the continent.

Would you say the draw against Abia Warriors in Port-Harcourt cost you the title?
Well I think it contributed significantly but I won’t say that was all. We did our best but because we had stiff competition from Rangers and the away result they got against Ikorodu United made it more difficult for us to catch up with them. That was the match that broke the camel’s back. Had they faltered in that match, anything could have happened. Unfortunately while Rangers were winning in Lagos, we were playing draw at home. That was the lowest point of our season and that affected us adversely.

Will it be right to say you gave up on the title even before you played your last match against Akwa United in Uyo?
No! no!! We were going there with the feeling that in the game of football, anything can happen. We reasoned that all along the season we were doing very well at home but when it was least expected, we drew at home and that is football. Rangers having won away, it was possible they could lose at home. So we were having that at the back of our mind going into the final match against Akwa United. Unfortunately even when we won away, we discovered that our victory was not enough to turn the table in our favour. However we picked a continental ticket and we are grateful to God.

What would you say was your worst match in the just concluded season?
I know in football sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It is never a do or- die affair. I hardly feel too bad when I lose a match because I understand that I also won somewhere. However as a human being, I must show some disappointment that I went for three points but ended with defeat, not even a draw. Sometimes a drawn match can be so painful especially at home and that is why the match against Abia Warriors left me with pain and disappointment. It was one of the matches that one would have used to decide the title. We thought we would get our full points but it did not work out that way. It is all part of the game and we do not need to cry over spilled milk but we were devastated. It actually threw me off balance but I thank God that we were able to pick three points against Akwa United and we got a CAF Champions League ticket.

You won a total of 19 matches in the just concluded NPFL season. Was the victory over Akwa United the most important to you?
No, we had other victories that brought us so much excitement. For me, our best match was the away victory against Ikorodu United in Lagos because it brought back confidence into the team. We were heading towards a crisis situation in the club. The ground was sliding away and we needed to recover. The management was not happy with the performance of the team and that was immediately after we drew at home against Sunshine Stars. So it was like if you do not win you would be sacked. So we went to Lagos and the boys put up a spirited effort and got a win even when most people thought the best result would be a draw. We did not get only a draw but the three points. So that victory was very significant because that was the turning point in the team. Our confidence returned and after winning our next home game, we went on to beat Warri Wolves in Warri and that was it. So I can say the win over Ikorodu United changed the fortunes of the team.

What is your assessment of officiating in the 2015/2016 season of the NPFL?
The referees have improved very well. Most of them have gone beyond average. I give them kudos. The season has been rated highly and it is partly due to the quality of officiating. But I still see some cases of poor officiating. This is understandable because you cannot get hundred per cent performance. Referees are human beings and that is why I say they have done well. They have gone past average and they can do even better in subsequent seasons.

What would you say is responsible for the increasing interest in the Nigerian Professional Football League?
This no doubt is due to the innovations introduced by the League Management Company. The lost glory of the Nigerian league is returning as it is becoming competitive again. There is greater publicity and marketing of the league so people are beginning to pick interest in it. Honestly if you go to the stadiums now, there is a lot of excitement. Even in some stadia where there used to be no spectators, fans have started coming back. I must not fail to commend the LMC for putting the league on Television. If you go to kano, the stadium is always filled to capacity. And it is always like that in Enugu, especially when there is a Friday night match. There is usually a large turnout of fans. In the next league season, they have to try and improve on the number of matches they cover every weekend. It will do a lot of good.

There have been improvement but would you say there is anything positive in the welfare of players and officials? Poor remuneration has remained a problem in the league.
This area too has improved. In the past it was the order of the day as no club paid salaries and other emoluments as and when due. Most times the players would have to go and barricade the gate into Government Houses to demand for the payment of their wages. I know that there are still few like Shooting Stars and Heartland that had such problems this last season but I know that there is improvement. I know that the enhanced salary introduced by the LMC is working.

The season that just ended attracted so many foreign players. What would you say is responsible for influx of foreign players into the Nigerian league?
That is why we are commending the LMC. Their innovations have improved the standard of the league. As I speak with you, the Nigerian league is one of the best in Africa. With the television exposing what we are doing to the outside world, a lot of people are interested in it now. Players from other countries are interested. They want to come and play in our league. In the past we looked for them but now they are the ones calling that they want to come and play. So many clubs have benefitted from that because when you have a mixture of Nigeria and non foreigners in your team, it makes it more competitive. Here in Rivers United, we have players from Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Burkina Faso. These players feel free among us. They feel at home. This is also good for the image of the country.

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