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The local league’s rating as the best on the continent does not conform to the reality on ground

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By Babajide Alaka

A report recently stated that the Nigeria Premier League (NPL) is the best league in Africa for 2012. Though laudable as that accolade may be, it is a very debateable award for a league that has not produced an African champion since 2004. And laughable, when you also consider that Nigeria has not been able to qualify for any of the two editions of the Championship of African Nations (CHAN) since its formation – a competition for players based in local African leagues.

You then begin to wonder what indices were used to come to the afore-mentioned conclusion. The stadiums are rarely filled up, the players do not collect good salaries – players are still running to South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and the likes to play – to earn better wages. So you look at the Nigerian players, coaches and administrators and you smell a rat. Were the ratings bought?

The NPL was ranked the strongest African league for 2012 and 24th in the world compared to the leagues of Tunisia, Ghana, Morocco, Mali, Algeria, Sudan, South Africa, Egypt and Cameroon. Caf’s Confederation Cup has never been won by a Nigerian team since its formation in 2004.

But the classification was done by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFHHS) who assessed the performances of the clubs from January 1 to July 10 2012.

The IFHHS added points won in all continental competitions by the five best placed clubs of the Nigerian Premier League.

If the league has been rated as the best in Africa, which should automatically mean that the players are the best but ironically, the Nigerian home-based national team has never qualified for CHAN –while countries like Tanzania, currently ranked 127th in the world have qualified and Congo DR have won.

Nature speaks of moving higher

The leaders of the NPL, Enugu Rangers declared las

t week that their captain, James Okwuosa had gone AWOL. And then news came that the stopper was undergoing a 10-day trial with Ajax Cape Town in South Africa.

Ajax Cape Town is not one of the top four sides in the Rainbow country so what was the lure for Okwuosa? As captain of Rangers, he could see the end of the season and the urge to help the Enugu-based side win their first silverware in 30 years but he chose to go on trials. That is a certified professional in Nigeria undergoing a trial with a less than stellar club in South Africa. Can we imagine someone like Al Ahly’s Mohammed Aboutreika undergoing trails with Enyimba or even coming to sign for the Aba side? These questions need answers as the statistics being bandied by IFHHS do not correlate with the physical happenings.

Rangers were also reported to be happy that Okwuosa had apparently passed his trials though he has put their league quest in jeopardy. The Enugu side are indeed thinking of the transfer fee that will be paid!

“I strongly believe that I will have my contract by (next) Monday at the latest. My manager is talking with them and we are confident of things here,” Okwuosa said in The Sowetan in South Africa.

This week one of the most talented players in the league, Josiah Maduabuchi of Enyimba will also begin trials with Orlando Pirates, also in South Africa. That shows the real level of our league.

When Europeans grade their leagues, it is the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A; and then the likes of Ligue 1. The indices show that the Bundesliga overtook the Serie A by attendance records and the rate at which teams from Germany went further in the Champions League than teams from Italy but that seems not to be the basis of grading African leagues.

Let me end by painting a picture with Enugu Rangers, leaders of the NPL after 34 weeks; their record shows that they have scored 44 goals and have managed only two away wins – that is an average of 1.3 goals per game.

So as we celebrate the accolade, we need to look at what we have to do to sustain the rating as ‘Africa’s best’. The players, who really are the league, need to be paid like Africa’s best, fed like the best and coached like the best and by the best – that is the only way this accolade will be sustained.

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