2016 was a massive year for Enugu Rangers as they won the Nigeria Professional League title for a seventh time - equalling Enyimba's record - and their first in 32 years. Indeed it was a massive achievement that sent the entire city of Enugu into raptures.
All of this was achieved under the watch of Imama Amakapabo, and while it was expected that the young tactician would build on his title success in 2017, it was all disaster as the Flying Antelopes crashed out of the Preliminary Round of the Caf Champions League, and spent the entire NPFL season closer to the relegation zone than to the top.
The Rangers board, led by former Super Eagles coach Christian Chukwu, was dissolved at the end of the season, and the new management, keen on making changes to bring glory back to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, appointed Gbenga Ogunbote as head coach.
The 54-year old arrived from Enyimba having led the People’s Elephant to a third-place finish. It was expected he would continue with the 2004 Caf Champions League winners after a fruitful campaign, but having failed to secure a new contract, he opted to move to the Coal City.
“There is no way you lay a foundation that you won’t want to build on it. I would have loved to stay [at Enyimba] but it takes two to tangle.” Ogunbote told Goal after his appointment. "[Enyimba] had wanted to extend the contract, I was equally interested in extending it but when we started negotiations something broke up and we couldn’t continue.”
Ogunbote is a man who has always achieved credible results when clubs were in distress, saving Shooting Stars from relegation twice, as well as the now-defunct Sharks. He had left his previous clubs with fans having his approval, and when asked about what the season expectations are at Rangers, Ogunbote said that ending in a position that makes all parties happy is the aim.
“Football is a collective sport and not an individual sport and it is the same with coaching," he continued. "We need to work together to achieve our aim which is to finish in an appreciable position.”
Alhough he didn’t elaborate on the position he would want the Flying Antelopes to end the campaign in, a top-10 finish or a challenge for the continental places would surely be 'appreciable' enough.
So far, they've amassed 13 points from their opening eight fixtures, winning four, losing three and drawing one. Victory against giants Kano Pillars on Sunday could take them level on points with current leaders Akwa United and Sai Masu Gida.
When quizzed about how he intends to win back the hearts of Rangers fans who will still be feeling the brunt of the previous disastrous season, Ogunbote said getting results early was key.
“I think all we need to do is to put smiles on their faces by having positive results as early as possible because it will take away a lot of pressure.”
The coach has always been a fan favourite anywhere he finds himself because of his rapport with the supporters and for his achievements, but it remains to be seen whether he will remain at Rangers beyond the season and build them into a signifiant force once again.
“It is only God that determines the future. I will do my best and leave the rest to God," Ogunbote asserted, when questioned if he will use more than a year in Enugu. “It is not my intention to come in and go out. If things are in place to make me stay longer, I would remain.”
To date, Ogunbote’s jumping from one club to the other could be interpreted as him being an opportunist, but that's not the case. The majority of clubs do not give favourable conditions for managers to thrive, which is why coaches and players alike consisently seek better options.
The Rangers boss is one of the best coaches in the country, and his experience shows he’s got what it takes to bring Rangers the desired results even if they haven't set the world alight this term. However, he deserves the best deal possible.
Should the former Shooting Stars gaffer leave Enugu at the end of the season, serious questions must be asked about the direction the NPFL is going in, because the consistent failure to give favourable terms of service to managers and players alike will surely affect the league’s quality. How can growth be expected if managers like Ogunbote are not being allowed to truly construct long-term success and shape the division's landscape?