Going for a break during a football season is nothing alien across the world but surprisingly in Nigeria, it brought about the unimaginable.
Barring any last-minute changes, the 2018/19 Nigeria Professional Football League season will finally kick off on Sunday, January 13.
This is over seven months after the last game was played in the last season with Nigeria yet again setting a ‘record’; albeit an unpleasant one.
With 14 matches yet to be played, Lobi Stars, who were then topping the table were ‘elected’ as champions while none of the 20 participating teams was relegated.
It had been lamentations up until now as players, coaches and businesses built around the league were left languishing when the days started turning to weeks then to months with no sign of the domestic season resuming in Nigeria.
Head coach of Rivers United, Stanley Eguma complained that the situation was taking its toll on his team as endless training exercises with no start date to the league were psychologically draining.
The veteran coach said: “The situation is not very palatable as we keep working without knowing what we are working for. This situation has already gotten out of hand and I hope the NFF and others involved can swiftly arrest the situation, so it will not escalate more than it has.”
While there was no start date in sight, a couple of players also left the country to play in other leagues in Egypt, Tunisia and even Zambia
Shehu Dikko, Chairman of the League Management Company, LMC, the body saddled with running the league gave insights into the intricacies that hampered the league during an interview on Channels TV, but he was thankful, they have finally found a way out.
Me Dikko explained that the power tussle that came on the heels of Nigeria’s exit from the World Cup which almost led to a FIFA ban for the country was the clog in the wheel of the League.
He said: “This crisis that happened after the World Cup, the league is the biggest casualty.
“To start with, the timetable for the league was released since November 2017 and we had the plan to go on break during the World Cup. And that was why we played a lot of matches before the World Cup.
“By the time we came back from the World Cup, it was not possible to resume the league. By the time we were ready to resume the league, we had just five weeks or thereabout to the deadline CAF gave for us to submit our teams to play on the continent.”
The LMC boss said they had another 14 matchdays to play and eight matchdays to play in the Aiteo adding it will be impossible to meet the deadline.
“So, a decision was taken to do what we did, that is to end the league and plan to start by November. That is also the date CAF expected us to start so that we can finish in May (2019). All that was done by August 30. And we thought everything was settled.
“All of a sudden, we had this issue about promotion, no promotion, eight teams, four teams and what have you. That now delayed the resumption of the league till 13th of January. And I think now common sense has waded in and everybody is talking.
“We have agreed on what to do. Everything will be resolved, and the league will commence on 13th of January. Then we will see how we can recover some of the ‘commercial’ things we have lost over this period.”
Not Yet Uhuru
While the league is finally starting, it is not without some complaints as the forced situation to excuse as much as 12 teams from the opening day games is interpreted in some quarters as undue advantage.
The fixtures involving newly promoted teams Bendel Insurance, Remo Stars, Kada Stars and Gombe United as well as the two teams campaigning on the continent Lobi Stars and Enugu Rangers have all been moved forward.
“Though one may say the LMC have their genuine reasons for the teams they excused, I don’t think to start on January 13th was a do or die (affair). If this weekend is not feasible, the league should have started on 20th January
“For me, some clubs have been given undue advantage and it will be easier for other matches to be manipulated when clubs have already known the results of matches played earlier, ” a club official who craved for anonymity stated.
Also, Plateau United coach, Abdu Maikaba bared his mind on the adopted abridged league format by the League Management Company for the 2018/19 season.
The coach told journalists as they rounded off their close camping exercise in Abuja that it will be very difficult adding that one of the greatest disadvantages of an abridged league is that it encourages match-fixing.
“It is a difficult format because if you make mistakes, it will be very difficult to recover due to no time. But we will try our best to make sure we have a good take off. It will help us in the beginning of the league to be on top of the log and we can be able to finish in the top position. It will qualify us from the group to contest for the champions.
“The disadvantage is that if you make mistakes, you will not recover because there is no time. Secondly, it is better to be a champion when you meet all the teams, you will rank better as a champion. In abridged format, you can come from an easy group and become the champion; you might not be the best. Not like when you play 38 matches, “the Plateau United coach said.
OFFICIAL MATCH DAY 1 FIXTURES OF NPFL 2019 SEASON
January 13, 2019
Wikki Tourists vs Insurance (pp)
Rivers United vs Remo Stars (pp)
Rangers Int’l vs Niger Tornadoes (pp)
Lobi Stars vs Katsina United (pp)
Kwara United vs Sunshine Stars
Enyimba vs MFM FC
January 13, 2019
Yobe Desert Stars vs Gombe United (pp)
Go Round vs Kada Stars (pp)
Nasarawa United vs Abia Warriors
Plateau United vs FC Ifeanyiubah
Kano Pillars vs Heartland
Akwa United vs El-Kanemi Warrior
Cardiff City’s new signing Sala missing after plane disappears over English Channel
Cardiff City Football Club’s new star Emiliano Sala was on board a light aircraft that disappeared en route to the Welsh capital where he was to join up with the team.
France’s civil aviation authority made this disclosure on Tuesday.
Argentine Sala was flying from the French city of Nantes to Cardiff when the plane lost radar contact off the English Channel island Guernsey late on Monday.
Rescue aircraft and boats scoured more than 1,000 square miles of sea for the single-engine Piper Malibu on Tuesday.
Guernsey police said a number of floating objects had been seen in the water but they were unable to confirm whether any were from the missing aircraft.
As night fell, search operations were suspended.
Police said they would resume at sunrise on Wednesday.
The 28-year-old forward joined English Premier League strugglers Cardiff City from FC Nantes last week for a club record fee of about 17 million euros (£15 million).
He had played in France since 2012.
“We expected Emiliano to arrive last night into Cardiff and today (Tuesday) was due to be his first day with the team,” club CEO Ken Choo said in a statement.
“We continue to pray for positive news.”
The club’s Tuesday’s training session was called off.
“The management and the whole club are staying hopeful and the whole FC Nantes family is praying for Emiliano Sala and the other passengers to be found safe and sound,” Nantes said in a statement.
British authorities contacted airfields along the coast to check if the plane had made an unplanned landing, but there was no sign it had, Guernsey police said.
The plane had been cruising at 5,000 feet when the pilot requested to descend to a lower altitude on passing Guernsey.
It lost radar contact at 2,300 feet, the police said.
John Fitzgerald, chief executive of Channel Islands Air Search, said: “If they are wearing the right dry suits or they got into a life raft, then the probability is not too bad.
“If they are in the water without any protection, the water is really too cold at the moment for any form of survival beyond an hour or so,” Fitzgerald told Sky TV.
Sala’s father Horacio told Argentine TV channel C5N: “I didn’t know anything because I’m away from home, I’m a truck driver. A friend who saw it on TV told me. I’m in despair.”
Julio Muller, the mayor of Progreso, the small town in the farming province of Santa Fe where Sala grew up, told Clarin online: “The town is in shock. The only thing we were talking about was his transfer.”
Daniel Rivero, the president of Sala’s first club, San Martin de Progreso, told radio LT9 he was “hoping for some kind of a miracle.”
Sala scored 12 goals for Nantes this season.
France’s football federation has postponed Nantes’s French Cup last-32 game against Entente Sannois-Saint Gratien that was scheduled for Wednesday.
Sala on Monday tweeted a photo of himself bidding farewell to his Nantes team mates, saying. “The last one. Ciao @FCNantes.”
Mikel returns to England, set to join Middlesbrough
Latest transfer reports indicate that Super Eagles captain John Obi Mikel is set for a return to England for his playing career.
According to Sky Sports, Mikel has agreed personal terms with Middlesbrough and is undergoing a medical on Tuesday.
It is understood that the former Chelsea star held talks with Boro manager Tony Pulis at the Middlesbrough training ground last week and is now close to signing a short-term deal with the Championship club.
Mikel, who has been playing for Chinese side Tianjin TEDA, ended his two-year spell recently to find a move to the UK, where his wife and children have stayed after his move abroad.
The 31-year-old spent 11 years at Chelsea, most notably winning one Champions League title, two Premier League titles, the Europa League, three FA Cups and the League Cup.
Mikel had a successful stint at Stamford Bridge, most notably winning the Champions League title in 2012.
Some Nigerians have donned the colours of Middlesbrough in the past but the biggest of them all is Yakubu Aiyegbeni who played for the club from 2005 to 2007, making over 70 appearances and scoring 25 goals.
Since playing for Nigeria at the Russia 2018 World Cup, Mikel has been missing in action for the Super Eagles.
It is expected that if the Boro move sails, Mikel will get the necessary match fitness that could see him return for the upcoming games again Seychelles and Egypt in March 2019.
Ronaldo accepts fine for tax evasion, avoids jail
Portuguese football star, Cristiano Ronaldo was fined almost 19 million euros ($21.6 million) for tax fraud on Tuesday, but he will avoid serving a 23-month prison sentence after agreeing to the deal.
Ronaldo, holding hands with his Spanish fiancee, Georgina Rodriguez, came out of the court-room smiling, pausing to sign autographs before leaving in a black van.
The 33-year-old Juventus forward, who played for Real Madrid from 2009 to 2018, agreed to settle the case by paying an 18.8 million euro fine and accepting a suspended jail sentence.
Under Spanish law, a first offender can serve anything less than a two-year sentence under probation and Ronaldo will not have to go to prison.
His court appearance lasted about 15 minutes as the five-times World Footballer of the Year only needed to sign off on the previously settled agreement.
Earlier, Ronaldo’s former Real Madrid team-mate, Xabi Alonso walked in to face own tax fraud case with his hands deep in his suit pockets.
“Yes, all good,” was his only response to reporters’ questions.
Ronaldo had to enter the courtroom through the front door after his request for special security measures to avoid the spotlight was denied on Monday.
In 2017, Ronaldo denied the accusation that he knowingly used a business structure to hide income generated by his image rights in Spain between 2011 and 2014.
After reaching the deal, he paid a fine of 5.7 million euros, plus interest of about 1 million euros, in July 2018, the prosecutor’s office said last week. (Reuters/NAN)
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