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Nigerian league ends abruptly in order to meet CAF deadline

by Chibuogwu Nnadiegbulam, AIPS Young Reporter, Nigeria

ABUJA, September 1, 2018 - The 2017/18 Nigeria Professional Football League season has come to an unceremonious end with 14 matchdays left after the League Management Company – the organisers of top flight football in the country – released an official statement to that effect on August 31.

Consequently, Lobi Stars, who occupy the top of the league standings with 43 points from the 24 games played, will represent the country in Africa’s elite club competition, the CAF Champions League, while the teams on the lower rungs of the league ladder are safe from relegation.

Meeting The above is the outcome of the LMC’s emergency meeting with the league’s club owners and members of the Nigeria Football Federation Executive Committee on August 30. The meeting was aimed at finding the best way to conclude the league and cup competitions in Nigeria, so as to be able to present flag bearers for the 2018/19 continental competitions by the October 15 deadline set by the Confederation of African Football.

Break The NPFL had gone on break 11 days before the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia with resumption set for July 18, three days after the global showpiece. That was the original plan, looking back at the 2018 NPFL season Calendar released by the LMC in December 2017. The calendar was structured such that the league runs from January to September, 2018.

Crisis However, the NFF leadership tussle between Amaju Pinnick and Christopher Giwa reared its ugly head and as a result destabilised the football leagues in the country for over a month. The crisis led to the LMC suspending the league indefinitely saying;

“The decision is based on the current adverse circumstances in the administration of football in the country as a result of which sponsors, partners and service providers have expressed strong concerns and are reviewing their involvement in the league.

“There is therefore the need to engage them further in this regard in order to mitigate against any possible adverse outcome. Furthermore, organizing matches of the NPFL under the current circumstances might cause irreversible damage to the League brand.”

Fixture congestion As soon as the dust settled, reports had it that a revised schedule squeezing the 14 remaining matches between September 2 to October 28 was suggested to clubs, but it was refused considering how the compressed schedule might affect the well-being of players while still failing to meet the CAF deadline of October 15. Meanwhile there will also be the AITEO Cup to contend for.

Agreement So to come to an agreement on the way forward, a meeting was held in which “upon consideration of different options (5 possible options were presented), it was unanimously agreed by the 20 NPFL Clubs, that the 2017/2018 season of the NPFL is deemed concluded and the team at the top of the standings – Lobi Stars shall be the representative in the CAF Champions League for 2019 Session starting Nov 2018 to May 2019.”

Abridged league Although no team will be relegated from the NPFL, status quo remains in the Nigeria National League, the second tier of league football in the country, from where four teams will gain promotion. Hence 24 teams will participate in the 2018/19 NPFL season which will be abridged.

The LMC statement read: “The 2018/2019 NPFL season will commence in November 2018 with a total of 24 participating teams, which shall be divided into two groups of 12 teams each. The 2018/2019 Season commencing November 2018 will be played on 22 Match days ending with a Play off to determine the Winner by May 2019.

“Three teams from each group (a total of six) will be relegated from the NPFL after the conclusion of the 2018/2019 season, while two teams will be promoted to the NPFL from the NNL 2019 Season. This will allow the NPFL to revert to its normal structure of 20 teams as from the 2019/2020 season.”

AITEO Cup Considering that Nigeria now has just one slot each in the CAF Inter-Club Competitions next season, the AITEO Cup, which is Nigeria’s Cup competition, will decide the country’s representative in the CAF Confederation Cup. In that regard, the NFF has endorsed a plan for the competition it to be concluded on October 14.
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