BY TUNDE AKINBINU.
It is no longer news that Plateau United are the Nigerian Professional Football League Champions. They topped the log very early in the recently concluded season and kept the top position away from the rest of the pack until the final day of the season.
Fidelis Ilechukwu, Gbenga Ogunbote and Abdul Maikaba’s charges variously huffed and puffed all season. The Jos-based team was however determined to achieve the feat last accomplished by a Plateau team through the Mighty Jets squad of old.
Fast forward to today. After losing out on a possible double in a two-legged battle against Niger Tornadoes in the Aiteo Cup, all appears to be at a standstill concerning the Jos-based side.
The team has not been honoured by the government of the state. To add to the worrisome situation, there has not been any significant preparations for either the forthcoming league season or the CAF continental competition they qualified for by virtue of winning the league title.
A bunch of players who aren’t hosted by their sponsors for winning the league title after a gruelling season in such fashion as they did are less likely to be motivated to do anything significant on the continent.
Added to this is the allegation that the League Management Company is yet to pay the club the cash prize for winning the title as at last weekend.
With the State government not currently looking the way of the champions and the delay in receiving their prize money from the league organizers, it is no surprise that the Ahlan tournament currently taking place in Kano is the very first major training session the team has been engaged in since they were knocked out of the Aiteo Cup.
Unlike other teams competing for honours on the national and continental stage like Enyimba FC, which camped in Ado Ekiti before travelling to Kano, or El Kanemi, which had been on a road trip playing teams across the country, or other teams which played in the Gold Cup, Plateau United had not had any serious tune-up game before coming to Kano for the double preseason tournaments in the Pyramid City.
To make it to Kano, a lump sum, running into a few million naira, had to be borrowed from private sources in order to fund the team’s departure for the competition.
A short while ago, the media was awash with a news article where the Plateau United General Manager, Pius Henwan was said to have announced that Plateau United were to sign 50 players ahead of their 2017/2018 football season in order to strengthen the team for its CAF Champions League, Nigeria Professional Football League and the Aiteo Cup engagements.
He went on to assert that some new players have been recruited to replace the 12 players released last season and to fortify the team before the commencement of the 2017/2018 NPFL season.
In the statement, he promised that efforts were on for the team to embark on a close camping outside the country where the team is expected to map out plans for their continental campaign.
“During the camping the team will play some quality friendly matches with some foreign clubs,” he said.
However, in a conversation with Coach Kennedy Boboye who manages the league outfit over the weekend, he is worried about the impression that news item would project to the public as up till they departed for the Ahlan tournament; there had been very little support from the sponsors as regards the team’s preparations for the forthcoming season.
He went on to say that although he is blooding a few young players as well as trialists in the team, he is yet to make any signings ahead of the new season as he has to see them for a while in training at a closed camping exercise.
He lamented that although the Kano tournament is a welcome idea and gives him an opportunity to see some of these trialists in action, he may be unable to teach his team core tactics and strategy in such an open place away from home, where there is no guarantee that his tactics may be spied upon.
All these bring the Imama Amapakabo episode of the 2016/2017 season to mind only too uncomfortably. On that occasion, not too long before he was disengaged, Imama had explained in the media, using an allegory of a worn transport vehicle that received human augmentation upon reaching the home stretch of a marathon with victory in sight.
The Super Eagles Assistant Coach, in his allegory in that period, had bemoaned the lack of mechanical overhaul and refurbishing of the old and worn automobile ahead of its return marathon trip despite the evidently poor state.
Apparently, few administrators in ‘042,’ as Enugu is fondly described, got that message.
In the middle of the frenzy, pomp, pageantry (even though the road show left more to be desired!) and razzmatazz that followed the remarkable 32-year broken jinx, little was done to beef up the team and plug obvious leakages and grease necessary bearings.
It crash-landed only too soon the following league season and while the then-defending champions flirted dangerously with relegation for way too long, the celebrated coach was excused under a hail of dust.
It was so acrimonious that Amapakabo was briefly detained supposedly under the orders of some Rangers bigwigs.
By the time the dust settled, the entire leadership of Rangers International football club were shown the door at the end of the league season with continued top flight status secured, at least for one more season.
That same foreboding is what recent revelations from the camp of Plateau United suggests. This is despite the fact that the team captain, Golbe Elisha had recently suggested that his team was ’rearing to go.’
The question then is “Rearing to go to where?” Somewhere even better than their previous achievements or somewhere better imagined than experienced?
Plateau United must be encouraged not to fail us all on the continent, just like MFM, Enyimba and Akwa United.
It isn’t just about these teams and their sponsoring state governments. It is about Nigeria and her public image.
More than the public image of Nigeria however, it is about the coefficient rankings of Nigerian club outfits by CAF that can further plummet if the Nigerian charges fail to reach the latter stages of the CAF engagements this year.
The implication is that Nigeria may have her continental slots reduced, and that would be a huge reversal of opportunities to exhibit the Nigerian potentials and talents on the continental and global scene.
Tunde Akinbinu (Dr Tee) is a practising Medical doctor as well as a registered Sports Journalist. He writes from Kano._