After winning the Nigeria Professional Football League in grand style, Rivers United chose not to play in the Federation Cup, a decision that will be discussed much later in the season, depending on how it turns out. To put things into perspective, Rivers United shattered and set many records on their way to winning the title and it is expected that the club puts up a good showing in Africa when the CAF Champions League starts.
However, the Nigeria Football Federation’s inability to have a reasonable calendar for their flagship football tournament led to the withdrawal of Rivers United and some say, Plateau United. While we ponder whether it will be a good decision in the future, the first question should be, why the withdrawal?
Security? One school of thought says the security of the players and officials on the highways was a source of grave concern to the hierarchy at the club. The Rivers State governor, Barrister Nyesom Wike had announced cash gifts of $20, 000.00 (about fourteen million naira) to each player and official. Now, even though the monies have not yet been released yet, these same people traveling in a Coaster bus on Nigeria’s dangerous highways for the Federation Cup games would be like walking around with a target on their backs. So, maybe, this was a consideration.
Congested fixture? Except something unusual happens, as is usual in the Cups, Rivers United were expected to go as far as, maybe the semi-finals or all the way to winning the trophy, but how would that affect their preparations for Africa? In a typical Nigerian club side pattern, we do not want anything to distract us from a big game… sometimes, we think even preparing for a big game is a distraction from the game, so maybe, the decision makers would have thought the Federation Cup to be a distraction.
Madrid trip? We are going to Madrid and do not want the small matter of the Federation Cup to distract us. The team must be in Madrid for two weeks; their CAF Champions League journey starts in September, which is about 6 weeks away and they were supposed to have Federation Cup games in August. One had to go for the other, and the Federation Cup was lower on the food chain.
Focus and concentration? Still related to the congested fixture above, those running the club could have felt that they need concentration and focus, hence their decision to not junket around the countryside, playing ‘meaningless’ games. Nigerian coaches talk of ‘Concentration camps’ before the league starts every year, and this is simply closed camping in a secure location, free from distractions. This would not have happened with the Cup games in August.
Good or bad decision to pull out?
Only time will tell for Rivers United whether their decision not to play the Cup is a good or bad one. Nigerian clubs always blame the late start of the season for their inability to perform on the continent.
They prepare for the continent without competitive games under their belt, just a series of grassroots football tournaments. Would playing the Federation Cup not be like a proper pre-season for them? They will actually go into the Champions League on the back of real competitive games?
Right now, there is a lot of wheeling and dealing going on as players are leaving the team, while others are coming in. The team will most likely train in Spain for two weeks, return and play friendly games before they go into the tough games in Africa. We also hear that there is a game against Ghana’s Asante Kotoko in Turkey.
Surely, the team needs competitive games before their games on the continent, but those in charge of the club certainly know better. Time will tell, though, as their decision will be revisited, at the end of the race on the continent.