CAF Champ League: Real reasons Enyimba, Pillars crashed

Enyimba players

Nigeria’s football witnessed another low few days ago as the country’s hopefuls in the CAF African Champions League, Kano Pillars and Enyimba FC of Aba were unceremoniously bundled out of the tournament.

Pillars crashed out of the elite continental club competition for the third straight year by failing to reach the group phase. Winning 2-1 at the Sani Abacha Stadium, Kano was not enough to put them through, as they fell 5-2 on aggregate to Morocco’s Moghreb Tetouan.

Enyimba, on their part had defeated Smouha FC of Egypt in the first leg played in Aba, but fell by 2-0 in the return leg, hence were unable to make it to the group stage.

The two Nigerian sides, which are unhappy at their ouster, have blamed their tragedy on poor officiating and road mishaps.

Enyimba’s midfielder, Kingsley Sokari, who was shown the red at the 78th minute of the away encounter, insists that the decision was unjustifiable, alleging that it was a plot by the Tunisian referee, Slim Belkhouas, to send them packing from the competition.

The 20-year-old described the referee as a kill joy, accusing him of awarding controversial penalty and dubious goal to the Egyptian Premier League runners-up in such a high-profile continental clash played without fans.

Kano Pillars

The disturbing phase of the excuses as advanced by these clubs was that their opponents were more experienced playing on the continent.

Nigerian premier league watchers are of the views that both Enyimba and Kano Pillars are victims of the epileptic league system, which has seen them feature in abridged leagues in the past three seasons.

While it may be safe to say that the matches were mishandled by the referee and that a particular club like Kano pillars lost five key players through injuries in a road crash, what about glaring cases of poor coaching and players laxity on the pitch.

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Former Heartland Football Club coach, who now manages Rangers International FC, Kelechi Emeteole, expressed shock at the clubs’ exit.

he said, “Football in Africa is very challenging, especially when it has to do with travelling to North Africa with a slim victory at home.”

Adding, he said, “Kano pillars case was understandable because losing key players prior to a very important match could distabilise a very strong team. Every league in the world has its own peculiarity, for us in Nigeria, its abundant talent, lack of equipment, poor financial motivation and less quality league system. I’m sure with God on our side, we shall improve on all fronts.”

Former Flying Eagles coach, John Obuh, noted that the financial strength of any league largely determines the quality of its players. “The ouster of Pillars and Enyimba from the CAF champions’ league did not come to me as a surprise. As a country, we have to develop our league in such a way as to have a strong footing on the continent’s football. When you play football in developed league, you would notice the change in players’ confidence, even the kind of food a player eats gives him lots of confidence aside better wages and quality facilities. For Nigerian clubs and league managers, this is the time to plan well to avoid intimidations from all sides. We are not all doing badly, Nigerian clubs used win laurels away from home in the past, Warri Wolves did it at the weekend, it however depends on proper logistic planning coupled with players’ mental toughness to withstand pressures on the continent.”

Former Super Eagles coach and CAF technical instructor, Adegboye Onigbinde, said inconsistency in players recruitment and coaching staff contribute to the poor showing of Nigerian teams on the continent.

“If you watch clubs from North Africa, they hardly change their players and technical staff the way most of our clubs do here in Nigeria. I’m not surprised that two top Nigerian club were ousted prematurely. Mention one player on the Enyimba side that won the Champions league trophy in 2004 with the team, they are all new players who may not have played on any pitch in North Africa, same for Pillars. It’s not enough asking players to hop into a plane to North Africa or elsewhere, there must be experience and players match readiness should be ascertained,” he said.

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On the notion that the abridged league system in Nigeria may have been a cause for concern for Nigerian clubs lately, Onigbinde said, “It all depends on planning, players are supposed to train and compete, if they didn’t do it properly would you blame it on the league organizers for not providing competitions. In Soviet Union clubs play only three months football and we know how strong their league and clubs are on the continent. If clubs managers in Nigeria can concentrate on little matters like training and experience, some of their lapses would be over.”

Former Chairman of the Lagos State Football Association (LSFA), Waidi Akanni, urged the Nigeria Football Professional League (NFPL) to begin the new league season early.

“I think that we are beginning to stabilise now and I think the standard of the league will improve. The Nigeria Football Professional League management should make preparations for the league to begin early  so that we can move along with what is obtainable in other countries,” he said.

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