TWOREPORT'S contributors - Telema Davies
Two faces will be missing in action when the NPFL 2015-16 season resumes on Sunday – Gbolahan Salami, top scorer in the 2014-15 season and Chisom Chikatara, Nigeria’s prolific striker at the recently concluded African Nations Championship hosted in Rwanda.
The absence of both players is a malignant reminder of how difficult it is for clubs in the NPFL to retain the services of high-performing players who have had good spells on the field-of-play. Hence, marketability of the league through the retention of star power, suffers a setback as players embark on a proverbial ‘Exodus’ eager to improve on the quality of their livelihood in other ‘profitable’ climes.
Sunshine Stars FC attacking arrowhead Tunde Adeniji and FC Taraba midfielder Usman Mohammed, have also taken to the exit door having completed transfers to Bulgaria and Portugal respectively days before the league kicks off. Prospects for growth of the league has a positive outlook; but the very essence of entertainment which touches on the key assets – the players – is a blight on the market.
The retention of star power can in itself make a push for the growth of the football market in Nigeria should parties to the league – the clubs – revolutionize club-player relationship. The League Management Company does not have the legal right to prevent the migration (in their droves) of players. In a free market, such powers are undemocratic and not progressive to say the least.
The responsibility to retain the services of high-performing players starts – and ends – at the doorsteps of the clubs. The challenge to this prospect is the ownership structure that is largely prevalent across the majority of clubs. This will continue to test the progressive ideas of the league’s governing body at redefining the business of club football.
Perhaps a strong representation from the league’s headline sponsor would have offered a cushioning effect. Previous title holder, Globacom Limited, never exploited this opportunity to sway the market to its operational gains. The telecoms operator’s relationship with the league seemed too emotional than an actual strategy to drive progression of its market position and by all extent, improve player welfare.
That opportunity will no longer be availed to the telecoms operator as the LMC ditched the title sponsorship model – as the deal with Glo wasn’t renewed at the end of last year – in order to embrace the more vibrant hero headline with a six sponsorship model. This should have a far reaching impact on remuneration among clubs and ease the dependence on government funding.
The rise of star power can constantly engage and drive fans to the league while a sustainable surge in attendance can improve on the entertainment value of the game. The fans need the stars and the stars need fan power. It’s a symbiotic relationship which will prosper the Nigeria Professional Football League.
Building the league’s profile around star power seems the most probable approach among others to attract real interest to the football property. Ensuring the players are handsomely remunerated, respected and accorded cult status, can develop the appeal that will keep the fans turning up as well as stimulating the economy of club football in Nigeria.