Nigerian Clubs And Continental Jinx

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Gone are the days when Nigerian clubs ruled the continent. In the ‘70s and early ‘80s, Nigerian clubs were forces to reckon with in Africa. Shootings Stars Sports Club (3SC) of Ibadan and Rangers International of Enugu painted the continent red with their outstanding performances. No wonder, players from both clubs formed the nucleus of the then Green Eagles that won the first AFCON trophy for Nigeria in 1980. But, before then, 3SC had won the Africa Cup Winners Cup in 1976 – the first continental trophy for Nigeria – and Rangers won the cup the following year, 1977.
Clubs like the defunct New Nigeria Bank, BCC Lions of Gboko (tutored by the late Amodu Shuaibu) and Bendel Insurance also made their marks on the sands of African football by winning trophies. While New Nigeria Bank won the WAFU Cup in 1983 and 1984, BBC won the Cup Winners Cup in 1990 and Shooting Stars was on song again in 1992 when it won the maiden edition of CAF Cup donated by the late African Pillar of Sports, Bashorun MKO Abiola. Enyimba International of Aba remains, unarguably, the most successful club in Nigeria, having won the CAF Champions League back-to-back in 2003 and 2004, breaking the almost 40-year-old jinx for Nigerian clubs.
It is, however, sad that the last time a Nigerian club played in the final of a CAF competition was in 2012 when Sunshine FC of Akure made a semi-final appearance in the Confederations Cup (CC), being the best the country can boast of in the last five years. All attempts by the likes of Enyimba, Kano Pillars, the defunct Dolphins FC and Sharks FC (both of Port Harcourt) have not yielded any positive results. Is it not an irony that some seasons ago the NPFL was rated the third strongest league in Africa?
Now, our clubs struggle on the continent, falling to lowly-rated teams from Sierra Leone, Kenya and Zambia. Is it not strange that in a season when we have the number of teams in the CAF Champions League increase from eight teams to 16 teams, no Nigerian club made it to the group stage of 16 teams?  However, countries like Ethiopia (St. George), Mozambique (Ferrovario), Zambia (Zanaco), Zimbabwe (Caps United), Libya (Al-Ahly), Sudan (El-Merreikh and Al-Hilal) all made it to the expanded group stage, where Nigeria’s representatives, Rangers and Rivers United, failed to fly.
From my point of view I think the seasonal criss-crossing of our players from one club to another will never help our cause in the continent, except the movement is nipped in the bud. How do you expect a club to perform in the continent when its core players left for another because of monetary gains or they follow their coach who leaves for greener pastures? Wikki Tourists of Bauchi picked the Confederations Cup ticket to represent Nigeria in Africa. But, what did we see? Former coach Abdul Maikaba left for Akwa United, following a mouth-watering offer from the Uyo-based team and, expectedly, his players followed him on the voyage to Uyo and Wikki collapsed like a pack of cards against a Sierra Leonean club, RSLAF FC on a 2-1 aggregate. Do we need to say anything on FC IfeanyiUbah?
When they (players) are not moving in their droves to other clubs, they are also not well motivated by their clubs’ management, because of late release of funds. The frequent friction between the chairman of the club and sports commissioner on one hand and the supremacy battle between the commissioner and chairman of the state sports commission have jeopardised the chances of Nigerian clubs on continental assignment. The sad thing remains that these individuals are only fighting to line their pockets and not to better the lot of the players. While the infighting goes on in Nigeria, our opponents are busy mapping out strategies on how to inflict collateral damage on us; damages which, most times, we rarely recover from.
Another cross we are carrying is allowing our best legs to leave for obscure leagues in Europe after their one-season performance in the local league. Let’s check, most of our top scorers in the last decade are nowhere to be found after their ‘fairy-tale’ move to Europe. The local league has lost Timothy Anjembe, Jude Aneke, Gbolahan Salami, Akarandut Orok and Ahmed Musa to other leagues. While the likes of Orok and Anjembe seem to have fizzled out, Aneke is picking out the pieces of his life in the league and Salami is in one club in Finland. Only Musa is still relevant in the national team as we speak.
To get out of this awkward and complex situation, we need to do things right and right things must be done. The win-at-home syndrome of our clubs in the league has produced weak teams on the continent. It is alleged that clubs buy their way to win the league. All a club needs to do is to win all its home games (19x3points=57) and possibly gets six or seven away draws (7points) totaling 64points. How do you expect such clubs to fly in the continent when it matters most? Your guess is as good as mine.

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