When the 2021-2 season of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) kicks off in a few weeks, about half of the managers of the 20 teams in the elite division will be at the least at their third clubs in the last seven seasons.
The outlier is Stanley Eguma of Rivers United, christened the Arsene Wenger of the Nigerian league by local pundits, for his almost two decades in the dugout.
Coaches in the Nigerian League hardly stay more than two seasons at a club.
One big factor for this merry-go-round or recycling of coaches by Nigerian clubs is the hydra-headed issue of shoddy contracts, sometimes only verbally agreed but generally rarely respected.
As is always the case, many of the coaches changing clubs this off-season are owed a backlog of unpaid salaries by their former clubs.
Top on that list are Gbenga Ogunbote and Fidelis Ilechukwu. Ogunbote left Sunshine Stars while Ilechukwu moved on from Heartland FC, the ‘Naze Millionaires’, over owed salaries.
Ilechukwu has since been unveiled as the new manager for Plateau United, his third club in four seasons.
“Heartland is owing me N11.1 million… this is five months’ salary from last season (2019-20), three months salaries from this season (2020-21) with the balance of sign-on fees of N1.2 million. I was on a salary of N1.2 million so if you check the total, it will give you N11.1million.”
The ‘Working One’, as he is fondly called, told Brila Fm that the Owerri club also owe him other allowances, aside from the above stated sum.
The situation is not different for Ogunbote (The Oracle) whose third stint at Sunshine Stars was throughout dotted by dark clouds.
From the highpoint of leading the ‘Akure Gunners’ to the semi-final of the CAF Champions League in his first stint in 2019, Ogunbote threw in the towel when it became obvious that he club was heading into relegation.
Owed for several months and his players forced to travel long distances for games on empty stomachs, one of the most-travelled and knowledgeable coaches in the league knew it was sunset for him in Akure.
The former Rangers International, Enyimba, Shooting Stars and Lobi Stars coach has now taken up the role with newly-promoted Remo Stars, the only privately run club in the country’s elite division.
Femi Salako, an ardent follower of the Nigerian League, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES says because their contracts are not properly couched, coaches who are owed millions of naira can only make ‘noise’ in the media and move on when new jobs become available.
Mr Salako also believes this shoddy contract situation is partly responsible for the inability of Nigerian clubs to attract competent foreign managers into the league.
“I won’t be surprised if one of the criteria used by clubs in Nigeria in hiring coaches is to see how they behaved on their last job; if you were stubborn, then they won’t hire you.
“Foreign coaches will only sign proper contracts that when you default, they can even take you straight to FIFA and get their money, not just the mere papers most of our coaches pose and sign in front of cameras,” he says.
Do the bold choices made by at least two of the NPFL clubs indicate an attempt to break away from the merry-go-round of quick turnover of coaches?
When erstwhile Super Eagles’ gaffer, Samson Siasia, visited Finidi George in Las Palmas, Mallorca in August, he was heartily quizzed by his host’s wife.
The former U-20, U-23 and Super Eagles coach was asked over the course of a delicious lunch of his views on Stephen Keshi, George, and the rest of the USA 94 squad.
Siasia did his bit to answer her questions and memorably remarked that George was known as a man of a few words who did his talking on the pitch.
That is exactly what will be expected of Finidi, whose name translates to “Future full of Sun”, when he begins to bark out orders from the dugout at Enyimba International FC of Aba next season.
Without a doubt, the most resonant story of the NPFL summer transfer window is the return of the former Real Betis director of football to the league where he began his illustrious career.
They are calling it the “Finidi Effect” but there are serious doubts too that his coming can create a boomerang effect on coaching appointments and contracting.
The former Calabar Rovers, Iwuanyanwu and Sharks winger always said he would return to the Nigerian league as a coach. This summer, after 25 years in Spanish football, he has.
“We will make sure that we start on a clean slate. It is always important to start very well because if you don’t start well, doubts may arise if the team is good enough or not. So, the immediate goal here is to start very well and prepare, and make sure we start winning games from the onset.” Finidi said in an interview with Enyimba TV ahead of his first test, which will be coming up against Diambers FC of Senegal in the second preliminary round of the CAF Confederation Cup.
The arrival of Finidi George to the local league is akin to Jose Mourinho’s arrival at AS Roma in the Italia Serie A for the media attention it brought to the NPFL.
The appointment of the former Real Betis star will surely add more colour, spark, and panache to the league next season. Some believe his huge presence will help bring back the fans to games.
Finidi is a big brand in Nigeria, having been part of the very successful 1994 Super Eagles set. He is also expected to bring in the Spanish ‘tiki-taka’ style of football to Enyimba as the club attempts to return as one of the best clubs on the continent.
Besides, the name sponsor of the NPFL is also looking at the big fish before splashing the cash.
Dombraye to Lobi Stars
Though not making the headlines like Finidi, another major arrival in the NPFL is Eddy Dombraye who has been unveiled as the new manager at Benue State club Lobi Stars.
Dombraye is a Ukraine-based UEFA A-Licensed Coach who played for Nigeria at the junior and senior levels in his active days.
READ ALSO: Finidi George may become Enyimba’s new coach
However, the NPFL has been here before. Supporters are as word-weary as their club’s officials. With each new season as a new manager arrives, they wonder if this will be their year, only for the crushing inevitability to show it is not.
The constant movement of coaches in the league is not new. Recycling of coaches has been in effect even before the time of Coach Kadiri Ikhana who perhaps might still be in ‘circulation’ if not for his nagging nerve injury operations.
Most clubs choose local coaches who will operate without proper contracts.
Many also believe that the constant movement of managers in the NPFL circle shows that most of the Nigerian coaches lack the tactical know-how to work outside the shores of Nigeria like late Stephen Keshi, Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Amuneke and Sunday Oliseh among others.
While Finidi may have been briefed by Siasia on how to avoid some of the pitfalls of the Nigerian league during his visit to Las Palmas, he must have it at the back of his mind that many coaches started well at Enyimba but finished badly.