By Zazi Bariza
It may look like
only a week back when Rangers International were crowned champions of
the Nigerian Professional Football League, but here we are again with
a brand new season, the 2016/2017 NPFL season.

Unlike previous
seasons, the “Beyond the Three Points” campaign of the League
Management Company is expected to make teams diverge focus from just
winning football matches to other aspects of the game such as
merchandise, employment creation and community participation.

Nonetheless, the
performance of teams on match days will eventually be the decisive
factor in determining who emerges champions, as well as those that we
be sent packing to the lower division.

As it is with every
season, some stand greater chances at the title than others, and some
other will be contented with retaining topflight status. So, let us
take a look at what teams are expected to do what in the 2016/2017
Nigeria Professional Football League season.

THE CONTENDERS
Without a shadow of
doubt, Rangers International look like a side strong enough to defend
their league title. They may not have had a particularly impressive
preseason (failing to win the Super 4 Tournament and losing the
Charity Cup), but their ability to tie coach Imama Amapakabo down
with a new, improved contract as well as keeping the pivot of their
title winning squad shows some level of consistency, which is key.
If Rivers United
could put up a serious challenge last season, fighting for the title
until the final match day, then they should be able to take it a step
further this season.

Having enjoyed a
smooth preseason, including triumph in the Super 4 and a training
tour of Spain, the Port Harcourt based side look set for greater
things.

They have also been
bolstered by key signings – Esosa Igbinoba, Ifeanyi Nweke and Nzube
Anaezemba – and the Serbian coaching course embarked upon by coach
Stanley Eguma during the offseason. Do not also forget, the sponsors
of the team, the Rivers State government have got their back!
The billionaire
club, FC Ifeanyi Uba, have shown steady progress over the past two
years. Last season, they won their first major title, the Federation
Cup, and signed a partnership deal with Premier League side, West Ham
United.

Although they
endured a little tumult in the off season hiring and firing
American-Japanese trainer Kenichi Yatsuhashi, placing a wager against
the Ananmbra Warriors chances of challenging for top honours this
season will be mighty risky
After failing to
live up to expectations last season, Akwa United did the needful,
parting ways with ‘Belgerian’ Maurice Cooreman, and replacing him
with Abdul Maikaba who for two seasons furnished the league with an
eye-catching brand of football with Wikki Tourists. Now at United, 
Maikaba will hope to harness the abundant talent within the ranks and
leverage on the overwhelming financial support the team enjoy from
the state government. Key for them will be forward Christian
Pyagbara. The former youth international failed to make a mark at
Enyimba, but his exploits at Sharks two seasons ago shows that the
Promise Keepers have a player who can deliver the goals in double
figures.
Former champions
Enyimba and Kano Pillars should also be considered in the number, but
the new season has a lot to unfold, so let’s wait for it.

THE PARTICIPANTS
El Kanemi Warriors,
for all the years they have spent in the topflight, have nothing of
note to show. Last season, the Maiduguri based outfit only managed a
paltry three points away from home and finished 16th on the log.
Coach, Ladan Bosso was quick to explain that their poor away form was
as a result of the distance from Maiduguri to other venues, but
except they begin to pick points in away games, it may be another
unremarkable season of mediocrity for them.
Though a traditional
side, it took the timely intervention of Gbenga Ogunbote to save
Shooting Stars from relegation last season. The death of defence
stalwart, Joseph Izu will create a big hole at the back, but Oluyole
Warriors will bang on the experience of new coach Fatai Amoo whose
experience in the Premier League dates back to his days with the now
defunct Julius Berger FC. Notwithstanding, few will expect a serious
outing from them.

THE NEW BOYS
While Gombe United,
ABS FC and Katsina United are staging come backs; Remos Stars are
having their first thirst of the Nigerian topflight.

In Manu Garba, Gombe
United have a gaffer that not only gets the right results, but plays
the ‘right’ football along with it. The 2013 FIFA U17 World Cup
winning coach may not have experienced topflight players within his
ranks, but his own exposure and commitment to winning can propel his
youthful side to achieving great things this season.

One of the
privately-owned teams, ABS FC have, from their first sojourn in the
league, shown that they can compete with the big boys. Coached by
Henry Makinwa, club Director of Football, Alloy Chukwuemeka says the
team play ‘digital football’; and the fans can’t wait to see how
‘digital’ football can get.

Remo Stars are
another privately owned club campaigning in the league this season.
For them, Coach Nduka Ugbade is known to be a student of scientific
football, and having spent years as a TV pundit, it is time to work
the talk.

Fifteen years after
relegation from the topflight, Katsina United are returning to the
NPFL with the resemblance of total newcomers. Coach Bala Nikyu is
saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting the season largely
with players that have no NPFL experience. The former Wikki Tourist
gaffer was quoted as saying that NPFL teams are lazy, so perhaps, he
has his plans mapped out.

Whatever be the case
and however the teams eventually perform, fact remains that every new
season comes with new expectations and predictions; new players and
coaches; this and that, here and there. But be it as it may, all that
followers of the NPFL want is a peculiarly interesting league season.

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