The drama of the Nigeria Professional Football League returns for the 47th (and the 28th season since it turned professional) edition this weekend with the stakes and its unpredictability – higher than ever.
Plateau United, relegation battlers in the 2015/2016 season defied all odds and did throw the bookmakers’ predictions into the waste bin as if it was nothing to claim the ultimate prize for the first time in their history back in September 2017. Runner-up – MFM of Lagos, escaped the drop on the NPFL final day in 2016, only to qualify for the CAF Champions League after just two seasons in the topflight.
Just 126 days after the Tin Boys lifted the trophy, Akwa United and Rangers will kick off the new season as they both clash at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium – a perfect venue for a game of this magnitude. The battle for survival also begins this weekend and all concerned teams would love to start on a good note so that they will be well positioned before the tempo is red-hot and the race for the title intensifies.
And to add to that, the topflight now has the very best of minds on the technical bench like never before, when winners like Kennedy Boboye, Imama Amapakabo, Paul Aigbogun, Fidelis Ilechukwu, Rafael Everton, Abdu Maikaba, Gbenga Ogunbote and Stanley Eguma are in the same league, fireworks become a regular phenomenon.
Quick recap: Managerial movement in the @LMCNPFL.
Rafael Everton ⏩Abia Warriors
Moh'd Baba Ganaru ⏩Yobe Desert Stars.
Imama Amapakabo ⏩El-Kanemi
Gbenga Ogunbote ⏩Rangers
Ladan Bosso ⏩FCIU
— NPFL (@NPFLOfficial) November 8, 2017
These are the few reasons why this new season of the Nigeria Professional Football League could be one of the most thrilling, ever competitive and exciting in recent memory.
Due to the unpredictability of the Nigeria Professional Football League, the winner can be very difficult to pick as the league has seen six winners in the past ten seasons. The top sides in the league are therefore leaving no stone unturned to get the better of their rivals and this competition is all-set to get tougher this time around.
Defending champions Plateau United are one of the favourites to lift the trophy but they will find it difficult to successfully bring back the title to the Rwang Pam Stadium- which Kennedy Boboye won at the first time of asking. The Jos-based side signed nine players to prosecute the league and their CAF Champions League campaign.
MFM might have challenged for the title last season but I really doubt the team’s ability to do so this term as they’ve failed to recruit experienced and quality players that will help them in that regard. Should the team finish in the top ten, they’re lucky.
Unvelinig of new players for 2018 NPFL season
1. New Players with Coach Abdu Maikaba
2. Dennis Nya (Lobi Stars)
3. Etim Matthew (Rangers)
4. Adeshina Gata (ABS)
5. Ajibola Otegbeye (Sunshine Stars) pic.twitter.com/G8EGz2XnDt
— Akwa United FC (@AkwaUnited_fc) January 6, 2018
Akwa United is looking good for the upcoming season as it had a near perfect recruitment exercise. They acquired players with premier league experience, young and talented ones as well. If they can find their mojo early, this might be their season.
Trust me, Enyimba and Rangers are in the title race this season not because they’re past winners but for the calibre and reputation of the managers in their ranks- Paul Aigbogun at the former and Gbenga Ogunbote, the latter.
Even though they’ve been quite consistent in recent times, FC Ifeanyi Ubah has been caught in a financial struggle and most of the best legs have left the Nnewi side. The arrival of Ladan Bosso might help stabilize things but definitely not a title challenge.
Although, Kano Pillars had a fantastic pre-season, winning two of the three tournaments they played in (Gold Cup and Ahlan Cup), they might struggle as the pyramid city side are still relying on the ageing duo of Gambo Mohammed and Rabiu “Pele” Alli- with the latter set to miss the start of the season due to national team assignment.
Others like Nasarawa United, Lobi Stars, Rivers United and El-kanemi Warriors will have to make do with spots in the top-half of the standings come end of the season.
Like the topsy-turvy title race every season, the relegation battle in the Nigerian top-flight is also a joy to watch for the fans – unless their teams are involved in the dog fight. The 40-point mark in other leagues of the world is not obtainable for safety in the NPFL; in fact Shooting Stars got relegated with 50 points last season. Newly promoted side, Yobe Desert Stars – an absentee since 2002 and first timer Go-round FC could get an instant return back to the second tier as their lack of top-flight experience might be a major factor deciding their fates.
Having narrowly escaped last season, this might be it for Katsina United, as the departure of their stars to other NPFL sides has left a big gap in their set-up. The non-arrival of quality replacements mean the die is cast and another escape this time around will indeed be a miracle.
— Opta Nigeria (@OptaNGR) October 14, 2017
The fourth team which could make their way out of the league come September 2018 is Wikki Tourists. They were very “busy” during transfer window, as the Big Elephants signed about 20 players and this in fact might confirm their demotion to the second division as the new players might lack proper understanding and chemistry by the time the season enters its climax.
Expect another season that will be filled with controversies, drama, madness and football being played on a whole new level. Bring on the 2018 season.
What are your predictions for the NPFL season? Share in the comments box below.
Follow Samuel on Twitter: @Undisputed_Jsam
Photo Credit: LMC Media