By Kolade Oni
"Yes the board just met (on Wednesday) and decided to expel Ocean Boys from the league on the back of the three-man committee set up, which I am a part of, to look into their case.
"Also we looked at the rule book, which the club in question went against."
Those above words credited to Joe Amene who is a member of the three man committee set up to look into the Ocean Boys matter and also the chairman, NPL media committee, just like a whirlwind which turns a household into confusion has also altered the destination of the league title and a winner has emerged even before the last round of matches are decided.
Before now the trio of Kano Pillars, Lobi Stars and Enugu Rangers all had chances of ending the season as winners going into the final games of the season but the decision of the NPL to comply with the directives of its regulation in Article 4.2 (3) says :
"If a club fails to honour two consecutive matches without an acceptable reason such a club shall be expelled from the League and its matches played and unplayed shall be cancelled" has turned the 2011/2012 season around and Pillars are the biggest beneficiaries of the latest arrangement.
When the league matches are decided on Friday, the winner of the title will no longer be in doubt but the race for which club comes second and third on the log will still have to go to the wire when Lobi plays away to relegation battlers Kaduna United and Rangers host Sharks in Enugu.
Do Kano Pillars deserve to win this season's league?
Pillars are the designated winners of the 2011/2012 league season and right from the start of the season till the very end if a club is to be rewarded for maintaining same consistency all through the season, Pillars should claim the accolade with other teams miles away.
The team emerged half way NPL champion and still kept the fire and the hunger for success burning till the end of the campaign.
No wonder the team appealed to the leadership of the NPL to resolve the situation of Ocean Boys before the last round of matches so as to allow clubs to know their true position and what to fight for (if any) in the last games.
When Goal.com caught up with the chief coach of Pillars, Baba Mohammed Ganaru shortly after the NPL decision, he heave a sigh of relief and praised the league body for upholding own regulation.
"We are happy that we have been vindicated. It has been a very long road to victory and eventually justice has been served. Nigerian football can only move forward as a result of this decision. This will most certainly instil more public confidence on the NPL,” Ganaru said..
In terms of support and giving adequate motivation in the current campaign, Pillars management and the their sole financier,Kano State Government deserves a pat on the back as they kept the players and the officials happy which no doubt turned the club to a beautiful bride everywhere they visited this season.
Pillars dubbed Sai Masu Gida by their adherents, no doubt have always been in the reckoning based on the well structured programme aimed at putting the interest of the team first ahead of others.
Just recently it was reported in the media that the technical crew received the balance of their signing on fees and other entitlements for the season while the players got about 20 percent remaining of their sign on fees.
Last season, the club missed a continental ticket by the whiskers on the final day of the season to Warri Wolves to place 4th behind Dolphins, Sunshine Stars and the Warri based team. The club won the league in 2008 under coach Kadiri Ikhana and the club has not looked back ever since and even got to the semi final of the CAF Champions League the following year to fellow Nigerian side, Heartland.
Pillars have something going for them that others do not have and it is their believe in patience, perseverance and continuity. If we take a cursory look at the players and the back room staff they are the same set of people that have remained in the team for more than five years.
In a recent interview with the Head Coach of the team, Baba Mohammed Ganaru, he confessed to Goal.com that the club had no excuse to fail the State based on the support they are getting from the Kano government led my Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and he called any extra financial motivation ahead of their final day tie with Sunshine Stars an added bonus.
Even though nothing much will be at stake on Friday at the Dipo Dina Stadium, Ijebu Ode but pride and dignity, Pillars have said they would be going into the match with a relaxed mind having done what they had to do before the final game.
Coach Ganaru still reiterated that the coaches and players would take a flight to Ijebu Ode enroute Lagos. It is to allow the players to be at ease he confirmed. Sunshine Stars cannot win the league even by cricket scores on Friday with only 49 points from 36 matches but they need a result to stir clear of relegation.
Another episode that could fire them up to seek a win by all means could be if they revisit the last game of last season and decide to play the game of their lives against Pillars. Last season, the Akure Gunners needed just a point to be confirmed as league winners in Kano but because of Pillars assumed late failed quest to grab a place on the continent they defeated Sunshine 1-0 and handed the trophy to Dolphins who won by same result at Ilorin against Bukola Babes.
But after the fate of the destination of the league had been decided it is also good to take a little reflection of the other two they were in the running for the league title with before the bombshell from the NPL on the status of Ocean Boys on Wednesday jolted them and turned them from title contenders to CAF Champions League spot chasers.
These two clubs too have had a fantastic season and need to be praised for making this season a talking point even with three matches to the end of the season and could have stretched to the last game if not for the Divine Warriors' expulsion from the league for missing at least two consecutive matches for reasons not acceptable to the league board.
Had Lobi Stars won the league on Friday, the club will rank among less fancied clubs to win the league just like the way the club surprised many when they won the Super four in 1999 for their first triumph in the league and about 13 years after that surprise feat. But even though they cannot win the league again, the Benue government sponsored side should be contented with a place on the continent because no one gave them a chance even with about 10 matches to the end of the season before their surprise 2-0 away success in Port Harcourt against Dolphins and other results against Sunshine, Enyimba and Rangers which were also in their favour.
In terms of the parade of players, Lobi do not possess too many notable names but they have something going for them in their Technical Adviser and Vice Chairman, Dominic Iorfa whose core belief in the development of untapped talents made Lobi a force not to overlook when taken collectively as a team.
Lobi's steady rise to their present position no doubt kept mouths of the keen watchers and followers of the league agape after they forced their way into the top three of the table.
Though a lot has been said about the Emmanuel Atongo Stadium in Katsina Ala which served as their home ground with repair work still ongoing at Aper Aku Stadium, Makurdi. But their critics are left to keep quiet by the results they got away from home too with the one against league holders, Dolphins the icing on the cake.
Dicey situation in Kaduna
But with the removal of all the things that have to do with the relics of Ocean Boys, Kaduna United suddenly are troubled by relegation while Lobi on their part need a win to be sure of second spot because of their inferior goals difference to Rangers.
The match will no doubt be a thriller but it will be difficult for Lobi to hang on to their second position with the latest twist. Kaduna United are in the last four and a win is non-negotiable while they will still be hoping that other results are in their favour at other centres.
When we talk about the most successful clubs in the history of the league in the time of yore, Enugu Rangers will surely come to mind in first position not with the intimidating record of winning the league in 1973-75, 77, 81, 82 and 84.
They also had success stories in the then Challenge Cup too but ever since their last league conquest 28 years ago, the Flying Antelopes have had tales of disappointments to grapple with and this year will not be anything different despite their promising start to the season and their consistency for most part of the campaign.
Rangers failure to win the league this season has thrown up many unanswered posers on why the Enugu State Government should keep on working with the management of the team in spite of their inability to win any trophy for the State. The club needs to do a house cleansing in order to avert a recurrence of the fate that befell them this season. It should be termed a failure if a club that started the season with so much promise and the zeal to cart away the league shield just fizzled out like that owing to some inept decisions.
A consolation to Enugu people will be for the club to grab the second spot and qualify for the CAF Champions League instead of the second tier CAF Confederations Cup. They do not have their fate in their hands presently but they will be encouraged by the current relegation malady of Kaduna United to get a win against Sharks of Port Harcourt by all means and hope that Kaduna United will beat Lobi.
They had all the chances to wrap up the league title with at least about three matches to the end of the league season but they fluffed it to insipid results got in some key matches in Aba, Owerri, Warri and notably Katsina Ala where they put Lobi in the driver's seat.
The incessant tale of players travelling out of the country on trials without permission of the management of the club also connived to psychologically affect the coaches since they are not sure of the players they will prosecute their matches with owing to this factor.
The whereabouts of club leading scorer, Chikeluba Ofoedu is unknown with claims he travelled on trials to Turkey with less than five days to the end of the transfer window which ended last Friday while Tayo Fabiyi only returned to Enugu few days ago after going on AWOL for more than one month. Club captain, James Okwuosa was also placed on suspension for travelling to South Africa on trials without the consent of the management in the middle of a competition.
The Flying Antelopes have the players to get a win against Sharks and even the squad to break their trophy drought but indiscipline and lack of direction and focus from the club's management could make the team end the season again empty handed. They are however consoled with the fact that they will be on the continent next season even though the club deserves more.
Though NPL should be commended for deciding to stick with what the rules say and thus expelled Ocean Boys from the league with all their points deducted but the timing of the decision is wrong and could result to mass protest from clubs. This would no doubt affect the last games of the season which is barely 24 hours from now. NPL should learn to take the bull by the horn at the right time next time.