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Will 2024 NPFL season kick-off in August?

Like my friend Romanus Ugwu, I am WORRIED because I don’t know when exactly the 2023/2024 season of the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) will…

Like my friend Romanus Ugwu, I am WORRIED because I don’t know when exactly the 2023/2024 season of the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) will kick-off. When the 2023 season ended in June, the then IMC announced August 26-27 as the kick-off date for the new season. Today is July 23, which means we are left with only eight days before the month of August. Unfortunately, there are no serious indicators that the league will commence as announced. Now, you know why I am worried.

It is now an open secret that the defunct IMC rushed the 2023 season because it wanted to harmonise the domestic league calendar with those of the more developed leagues in Europe. Whenever some of us talk of advanced football leagues, with all due respect to other leagues, we often mean the English Premier League, the Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1 and Serie A in England, Germany, Spain, France and Italy respectively. So, the 2023 NPFL season in Nigeria was played using the abridged format in order to end and start at the same time with the other developed leagues across the world.

Most of us know how much the clubs sacrificed for the season to end as planned. The clubs and the players faced congested fixtures which took a huge toll on them. Being mostly government owned clubs, it was not an easy task sourcing funds to prosecute the matches that came in quick succession. The players on their part endured long distances on the dilapidated Nigerian roads while travelling to honour away matches. Unfortunately, there was no time for them to even recover from injuries as they at times play three matches in a week.

Although League football is a marathon, in our case it became a sprint for us to achieve the planned harmonisation of the league calendar. At the end of the ‘rush rush’ season, Enyimba and Remo Stars picked the tickets to represent Nigeria in next year’s CAF Champions League while Rivers United and Bendel Insurance qualified to feature in the Confederation Cup. The clubs that wore the shoes know exactly what they went through to achieve their victories at the end of the abridged season.

While we are left guessing, if the 2024 NPFL season will start in August, we are not in any doubt as to when the top five leagues in Europe will commence. Kick-off dates for the new season were fixed long ago and unless the world ends before that time, the leagues would start as scheduled. Therefore, football fans across the world know that the English Premiership and La Liga will kick-off on August 11, Ligue 1 on August 13, followed by the Bundesliga on August 18 and Serie A on August 19.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the NPFL. However, in all fairness, the IMC opened the first Transfer Window of the new season on Saturday July 1 and said it will be closed on September 1. The IMC also announced August 26 as the tentative kick-off date of the 2023/2024 NPFL season. This is to say the league organisers also have a laid down plan they want to follow to kick-start the new season.

However, going by past experiences, most Nigerians are skeptical of the date earlier announced by the IMC. Like I said before, we have only eight days until August but there is no assurance or guarantee that the season will commence as scheduled. What is certain is that the transfer window is still open and clubs are busy announcing their new signings. Sadly, some of the transfers appear not to be in compliance with Club Licensing Regulations.

Well, all hope is not lost as the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) recently constituted the board of the NPFL with the former boss of the disbanded IMC, Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye, returning as the Chairman of the new league body. Interestingly, former Nigerian international, Davidson Owumni, too has returned as the CEO of the new NPFL board. In addition, the NFF in its magnanimity has listed former internationals, Daniel Amokachi and Dominic Iorfa as well as Mohammed Nasiru Sai’du, Barrister Poubeni Ogun, Mallam Suleiman Umar and Okey Kpalukwu as members. Barrister Danlami Ibrahim is to serve as Secretary/Legal Adviser.

These are the men who have been saddled with the responsibility to organise the NPFL till 2025. The interesting thing is that none of them is a stranger in the Nigerian league. They have been around for decades and should know the enormity of the expectations from Nigerian football fans. It is expected that they will hit the ground running. Moreover, based on what the IMC achieved under Hon. Elegbeleye, there is a glimmer of hope that he will bring his leadership acumen to bear on the new NPFL board.

I think the first thing the new board should do to win the confidence of Nigerians is to ensure that the league kicks-off in August as announced by the IMC. They should know that anything short of the August kick-off date will make nonsense of the immense sacrifices the clubs made in 2023 for calendar harmonisation to be achieved.

We all know that apart from the much desired calendar harmonisation, early kickoff of the new season would help the four continental clubs, Enyimba, Remo Stars, Rivers United and Bendel Insurance prepare for their respective competitions. Over the years, Nigerian clubs struggled in the continent because the domestic league started belatedly.

Therefore, all well-meaning Nigerians should pray for God to help those in charge of the NPFL to quickly put in motion all the machinery for the new season to start in time. The August kick-off date given voluntarily by the then IMC should be sacrosanct. Anything short of that would make us the laughing stock of all serious minded people.

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