After what seemed like an eternity, the new Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season finally gets underway today and tomorrow. It has been three months since Enyimba narrowly edged their way to a seventh league title shrugging off the challenge of Warri Wolves.
But at 4pm today, it will be a clean slate, a fresh 38 match day long journey starting in Jos where two newly promoted sides, albeit old war horses of the league, Plateau United and Niger Tornadoes open their season’s account.
A stiffer title challenge
In the recent past, the title race had always followed the predictions – it being between the big two; Kano Pillars and Enyimba while the rest are left scrambling for the crumbs.
Last season, Pillars found themselves knocked off the race, no thanks to the troubles that befell them early in the season and while Enyimba eventually landed the title, it was by no means an easy feat for the Aba-based side.
The likes of Sunshine Stars, Wikki Tourists, Nasarawa United and more sternly Warri Wolves all came within touching distance of the title.
This season, Pillars have flexed muscles in the transfer market beefing up their side with some better players available and others like Akwa United and Enugu Rangers also look bucked up. Add these to the team’s that put a brave fight last year and this could be the tightest title race yet.
More young players on display
There had always been the complaint that the league was stratified, cutting off the younger players and having the league primarily an ‘old men’s affair.’ Well, that would change this season.
The league organizers are offering incentives to league clubs to encourage the fielding of younger players.
A club that name three players aged 18 and below with at least one of them playing for up to 15 minutes in a game is due a N100,000. If the player is fielded for up to 45 minutes, then the club will receive twice that amount.
Surely, that throws the door open for a lot of young players this season.
More away wins
Away wins were celebrated in the League last season. It looked a joke till they occurred too often for coincidence. The simple reason is that a few years back, away wins were simply unheard of.
Not because teams don’t turn up away from home but because poor security conditions in stadiums make it difficult for teams and officials to perform fearlessly while on hostile grounds.
Also in addition to improved security for nearly all the games last year, the other incentive of a quarter of a million rewards for teams who win away from home also helped.
This year, the financial reward has not only increased but match day security will be upgraded too. Surely this would pave way for a good number of away wins to be seen this new season.
A new goal king
The Rashidi Yekini award should see a new winner this season with what has become an annual exodus of the League’s top marksmen.
Understandably, good strikers are in high demand especially beyond the shores of the Nigerian league and unsurprisingly, Gbolahan Salami and Chisom Chikatara have both in the steps of previous strikers been carted away from the league leaving the door every new season for a new top marksman.
Tunde Adeniji? Mohammed Gambo? Christian Pyagbara? Ocheme Edoh? Or will it be Mfon Udoh? Who would it be this year?
Building on last year’s league success
The League Management Company in their annual general meeting in Uyo assured that it intends to build on the successes of last season by ensuring an excellently and efficiently run the league.
The improved level of officiating, according to the LMC will also be sustained. Stadium attendance has steadily been on the rise, awareness has also increased onto social media and the electronic media.
Severally last season, certain NPFL games and issues trended on social media signifying interests among today’s youth toward a growing league. Did I also mention that Lagos State has two NPFL teams this season?