Curing our league shortcomings with the European season

Curing our league shortcomings with the European season

By Steve Alabi
T here is an urgent need to bring the national football season in conformity with the international football calendar. The benefits to the growth of the game as well as to the stakeholders, especially the clubs and players, are self-evident. We require a mighty political will to do this. We must not look at immediate losses but soberly ponder the massive blessings that conformity with the international football calendar will bring.

In Nigeria, the football season is largely unpredictable. There is no definite time the league starts every season and no one can safely predict when it will end. This is unlike in Europe, Asia, America and even some parts of Africa like Egypt and South Africa where the season is not only predictable but also timely, structured and unbendable. The Nigerian league hardly follows a known pattern. Sometimes, it begins as late as November whereas other leagues would have started in August. That is why there is always a race to catch up in every respect.

The patternless and unpredictable system we run creates seemingly insurmountable problems for our league. The most devastating is that our clubs suffer from poor preparations for continental competitions and burnout in the crucial stages, resulting in perennial failure every season in the CAF Champions League and the Confederation Cup. The race to make up time usually leads to tight midweek fixtures that frustrate players and coaches and stretches the owners’ finances to the limits.

The effect on marketing is counterproductive as sponsors find it difficult to key into the chaotic and disorganized fixtures. Sponsors want good mileage for their money and will not settle for anything less. The same difficulty affects broadcast rights. Broadcasting is extremely sensitive to time but our league is not a disciplined system. In fact, unlike what obtains in Europe where matches are rarely postponed, postponement is regular and does not help in making the league attractive to television.

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If the Nigerian league follows the European calendar, it will start in August and end in May the following year. On the face value, it may look like capitulation to our former colonial masters if we follow this route. However, the benefits outweigh the perfunctory attachment to sentiments. I am convinced that it will accentuate the thorough professionalization of the Nigerian football league, whatever it is called. It will improve its quality, especially in the critical areas of playing, management, administration and refereeing.

It will make our league a perpetually marketable brand and ensure that it becomes profitable for all stakeholders. It will improve the technical delivery of every sector of the Nigerian game and help our clubs to bring up their infrastructure up to acceptable standards. It will ensure that all stakeholders, especially club owners, coaches and players derive maximum benefits from the game. It will increase the direct participation of corporate sponsors in the financing of clubs. It will take the league to the living room of every Nigerian family by way of television rights. It will export the league as a genuine and commercially viable sport product to the international market.

To actualise this, it may be necessary, in fact, it will be worthwhile, to enter into a fruitful partnership with a well organised European league to enable the Nigerian league to access and enjoy technical, managerial, coaching, refereeing, administrative, marketing and infrastructural support. This will give the local game a mighty shot in the arm in every ramification and ensure its acceptability in the international arena. In view of the factors of language and historical links, our best bet is the English league. There is no fear of losing our autonomy or the character of our game. Instead, we will gain immeasurably from partnering the English league.

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In short, conforming our league season with the European season will help us to run our league better. The smoothness with which other leagues run will put enormous pressure on our administrators to do the right thing. For example, if the English league is playing its matches to time and regularity despite its harsh weather how will our administrators justify our own matches failing to hold?

It may seem like an extreme measure but if this idea will cure our league of its shortcomings, why don’t we try it? We have nothing to lose if we try it. If it works, all well and good. If it does not, we can safely revert to our dubious way of running our league against time but we would have learnt a few critical lessons for the future.

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