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Premature NPFL ending further highlights LMC failings

14:49 EAT 05/09/2018
Fans at NPFL match between MFM and El Kanemi Warriors 1032016
With the Nigerian top flight taking too long to restart, the league governing body had to revert to an abridged format

COMMENT    By Kunle Fayiga     Follow on Twitter

When the impasse between Amaju Pinnick and Chris Giwa over the control of the Nigeria Football Federation reared its ugly head again, it was inevitable that the Nigeria Professional Football League, which was supposed to resume after the end of the World Cup, would be affected.

A backlog of fixtures that would be impossible to be played between now and October, which is the deadline for the registration of participants in the Caf club competitions, meant the NPFL had to be brought to a premature end.

An emergency meeting held between the League Management Company and the 20 NPFL clubs reached a conclusion, with the league ending at matchday 24 while log leaders Lobi Stars will be the sole representative of the country at next year’s Caf Champions League.

None of the teams at the base of the standings (FC Ifeanyi Ubah, Sunshine Stars, Yobe Desert Stars and Heartland) will be relegated, in a conclusion that suits some of the division's 20 teams more than others.

A new league season for 2018/19 will see four clubs promoted from the Nigeria National League bringing the total number of participants to 24 teams. They will be paired into two groups comprising of 12 teams each.

22 matchdays in each group, for a total of 44 games, will be played from November 2018 to May 2019. Three teams will be relegated from each group while two will be promoted from the NNL. This will allow for the return of the NPFL to its usual 20-team format for the 2019/20 season.

While this might sound as a very good comprise, it’s clear that the LMC has not brought stability to the NPFL.

This is not saying that the organisation is solely at fault, but continuous close ties with the NFF means a smooth running of the league can’t be guaranteed, and not even with this new abridged format. NFF elections are around the corner, and the outcome will go a long way of determining the fate of league football in the country.

The LMC had brilliant plans to take the Nigerian top flight to the next level; a multi-million Naira TV rights deal, investment in digital media to increase fan engagement, alongside mega sponsorship deals. All these have yielded some fruit, but lurking problems mean things won’t go smoothly. The LMC is still largely under the influence of the NFF, which is itself under a level of government control.

Football is supposed to be free of government control, as stated under Fifa rules, but if the NFF relies on the government for funding, and with the LMC under NFF control, politics will surely continue to plague the division.

The buoyancy of the NPFL has come into the spotlight too many times, as the majority of clubs are government-owned and do not operate as professional football clubs should, but rather as entities vulnerable to the whims of political gladiators.

These gladiators, by extension, have close connections with the NFF, and when they fall foul of league rules, they go almost scot-free or are mildly punished. It's also rare that the LMC take swift decisions, with punishments often taking time to be meted out.

All of these issues undermine the effectiveness of the LMC. The fact that NPFL clubs have not shown any sign of growth or financial prosperity, as evidenced by many players not having binding contracts, their owing chunks of salaries running into billions of Naira, the lack of properly equipped stadiums or functioning academies don't paint a positive picture of the division's progress or the mechanics that underpin it.

The League Management Company must be a truly independent body devoid of political influence, including the Nigeria Football Federation.

Unless this happens, the malaise of this season may be a sign of things to come, rather than the nadir of a muddled marriage.