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NPFL: A League Or A Farce?

Posted: Aug 8, 2015 at 12:49 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Steve Oma-Ofozor / Lagos

 

In Europe, footballers live like kings. They drive, not just the best of cars, but the ones in vogue. They take care of their families and live the sort of life that befits their status. They live in the high brow areas of the city.

These players are revered by the people and football managers. Hence their welfare is given the highest of priority. Should any club fails to pay players by the end of the week, for example, in England, the Football Association takes over and the team is declared bankrupt.

A reflection of the players’ flamboyant lifestyle in Europe would no doubt make one dream of becoming a footballer as well as wished being gifted with the talent and skills in the game.

Footballers in the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Garret Bale, John Mikel Obi, Didier Drobga just to mention a few are some footballers still playing actively that fits into the “super rich club” with choice properties scattered in different cities.

These footballers mentioned above ply their trade in football clubs as Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Chelsea among others in Europe.

These clubs are financial empires, they are independent of the various governments of their homes even as they are subject to the laws of the land and government interference is completely absent.

However, in Africa, Nigeria to be specific, it is a different ball game as the reverse is the case. Our footballers are paupers. The state governments owned and manage almost 98% of the clubs. In Nigeria, officials drive the best of cars; live in mansions, while the players, the goose that lays the golden egg, live a life of pauper.

The players get the worst of treatment. For example, Sunshine Star players travelled from Akure to Jalingo all night only to arrive Jalingo five hours before the match. In so doing, the players were not accommodated as they jumped into the bus and headed back to Akure so as to meet up with another engagement on Wednesday.

However, the big issue is while the game is a big money spinning venture with the players living in affluence the Nigerian footballers are living a life of abject poverty; working without pay at the end of the month.

Stories made the round last season that players of Crown FC used to “drink gari” after training and before a match, just as Shooting Stars players recently were also said to be chewing mangoes to survive.

The series of strikes by the clubs players is also no news anymore. Recently, Enugu Ranger and Sunshine Stars went on strike to protest non-payment of their salaries of four to five months respectively.

Although, Sunshine has paid two months out of the six months, FC Taraba is believed to owe its players 10 months salaries.

Thus, the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) which came into being in the early ‘90s has been a big case study of a football institution that runs clubs on credit.

Only during the week, the League Management Company (LMC), a body organising the affairs of the NPFL came out seemingly strong to wield the big stick on debtor clubs with FC Taraba as a starting point.

The Jalingo-based side, according to LMC, owes the players several months, a development which is adversely affecting the fortunes of the club that is now on a journey to relegation.

The LMC citied Article B9. 45 which is a mandatory terms of contract between a club and a player should be strictly adhered to.

The article also stipulates that where a club fails to pay remuneration or entitlements due to players for a period of more than sixty days, such club shall be liable to deduction of six points and a further three points for every 30 days for which the amount due remains unpaid.

The LMC had earlier in the season exercised the Summary Jurisdiction in a case of failure to meet financial obligation on Dolphins of Port Harcourt before the mid-season break.

In the notice to FC Taraba from the LMC Chief Operating Officer, Salihu Abubakar, the club was giving 60 days from the date of the notice (July 30th) to remedy the breach failing which the LMC Board will commence the deduction of the initial six points.

This provision in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) 2014/15 Rules and Framework is the mechanism to ensure that Clubs meet their obligations to players with emphasis on remunerations.

Sadly, over 90% of the clubs are owing their players from two months  (60 days) and above as it is no news in the media circle, while the news is the weakness of the LMC that has turned a toothless bulldog failure to enforce the rules and make the club owners respond appropriately.

Otherwise, before the commencement of the season, the LMC in its usual fashion warned clubs to live up to expectation with regards to the contract between them and the players. But all the talks and warnings have turned out to be a mere anthem.

Against this backdrop, Daily Independent Sport sought the opinion of some football technocrats as the former Super Eagles coach, Chief Adegboyega Onigbinde and former Super Falcons coach, Godwin Izilein.

Both football gurus affirmed that Nigeria is yet to start a proper football league as obtained in other climes; just as the authorities managing the game is built on faulty foundation.

According to Onigbinde, citing the football governing body’s rule on football, “FIFA in its statute states that the football club must be capable of handling its affairs outside the third party, it must be independent of a third party. Government is the third party.”

On this basis Onigbinde said, “What we have in Nigeria are not football clubs, they are government parastatals financing football clubs. The players are therefore quasi civil servant, playing football on empty stomachs.”

Onigbinde, who was also a CAF/FIFA Instructor, said in this light that it was not surprising that football clubs in Nigeria owe their players.

“What is a club? Lagos Tennis Club, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Bayern Munich these are clubs, who is financing them? They are on their own and there is no interference from the government.

“The clubs in Nigeria are owned by the state governments and you know the states owe their worker several months and then you are talking of the footballers. How are they going to get the money to pay them,” Onigbinde queried.

Corroborating Onigbinde, Izilein called the LMC  a toothless bulldog, “The LMC has always been talking and we have not seen any action from them. LMC must assert itself, it is too weak. If a club has been dealt a severe blow, it would have served as deterrent to others.”

Giving an instance of his experience as a coach with Bendel Insurance some seasons ago, Izilein said, “I was owed 22 months in Bendel Insurance for example; the government has only paid two months.

“The players were playing on empty stomach, looking haggard and nobody could speak for them and somebody is saying the LMC is existing. They are there for themselves not for the interest of the game.

“Until the right structures are put in place, football clubs in Nigeria will continue to suffer because it is an arm of government and the players are treated like common workers not as professionals,” Izilein said.

Similarly on the way forward however, Onigbinde was blunt again, “When FIFA threatened to ban Nigeria recently, I was in support of it because, we could have used the period for proper overhaul of our football.

“And that is what I still believe. Nigerian football needs to be overhauled, let rules of the game be obeyed and let the right thing be done with the right people in charge. For now the LMC is still part and parcel of the government and it will not change anything,” he concluded.

All said and weighed, it is hoped that the latest action from the LMC to wield the big stick would be the final exercise that will bring the needed change in Nigerian club football.