ONDO state flagship football club, Sunshine Stars of Akure ended the 2015 season of the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) on a dismal note, by placing a disappointing 6th position on the twenty-team-table of the league which was concluded with the week 38 matches on Sunday, 15th of November 2015.
Yet,it was a season in which the Stars hit the ground running leading to postulations by football analysts that they may be on their way to clinching their first ever NPFL title.
By the end of the first half of the season, the Owena Waves were on top of the table which made the League Management Company (LMC) to present an award to the club as the best team of the half. A hundred percent home record and few good results recorded on away soil were the reason behind the Stars’ superb performance in the first half of the season. But a drawn home match against Heartland fc of Owerri in week 26, followed by a heart breaking 3-2 defeat before their home fans in Akure to Nasarawa United fc were all that put a serious question mark on the team’s title aspirations.
From that point, bright title hopes dwindled into continental ticket aspirations as the title was all but conceded to eventual champions Enyimba of Aba at the end of week 34. Not even spectacular away wins at relegated Kwara United and Bayelsa United by the Stars were enough to revive the title aspirations. The Hope for a third place finish which could have earned Sunshine Stars a CAF confederations ticket was dashed on the last day of the league by unassailable champions, Enyimba who held them to a goaless draw in their (Sunshine Stars) new forced home, Teslim Balogun stadium in far away Lagos. Thus, the club which remains the last Nigerian side to reach the semi finals of the two CAF tournaments in 2011 and 2012 failed for the third consecutive time to pick a continental ticket after finishing 6th behind Champions Enyimba,Warri Wolves, Nasarawa United, Giwa FC and Wikki Tourists FC in that order. The Hope observes that one of the biggest undoing of the club this season was the ceaseless call up of many of its star players for national team duties.
Most times, especially in the crucial second half of the season, up to six players were invited for National team duties, meaning they had to field second string sides in crucial matches. This was most noticeable during their decisive last match of the season when they needed to beat Enyimba in Lagos to grab a continental ticket. The Stars had three of their players in the national under-23, camp while another two were away in Swaziland with the Super Eagles.
Also, poor officiating against the club on away grounds was obviously another big reason for the dismal finishing of the club. Particular mention must be made of their matches against Shooting Stars and Pillars FC in Ibadan and Kano respectively, which matches they lost to last minute penalty kicks which were obviously far from being fair awarded. Indiscipline on part of the players which had them receiving red cards on many occasion was also a factor. Perharps the most telling undoing of the club, especially in the second half of the season, was poor crowd control which blame must largely be placed at the door step of the club administrators particularly, the Ondo State Football Agency.
It is sad to note that crowd control at the Akure township stadium degenerated from an applaudable position to one of huge embarrassment that had the Club justifiably banished to Lagos for its home games for the next one year, due to unruly crowd behaviour. The home loss suffered in the hands of Nasarawa Fc was palpably due to the naive decision of the ODSFA management to effect the arrest of some supporters of the club in the stadium while the match was in progress. The Hope suggests that the state government should set up a panel to look into the above factors and some others responsible for the team’s poor outing this season with a view to correcting them next season for the club to excel.
The LMC and the NFF should work out ways by which they can ensure that the league is on recess whenever the national team is being engaged to ensure the availability of all players for clubs’ league matches. It is far from fair for a club to spend huge amount of money on quality players and be consistently denied their services on grounds of national engagements while many of their rivals have their full squads intact. The increasing number of home based players being invited to the national team also engendered by CAF’s introduction of a continental championship for home based players (CHAN) should make it imperative for the LMC and NFF to fashion out something in the mould of FIFA’s international break, which always put the leagues in Europe on break when national teams are engaged in crucial qualifiers. The Hope also enjoins the LMC to intensify on its efforts to ensure drastic improvement in the quality of match officiating especially as it affects away sides.
It could be disheartening, discouraging and frustrating for players to travel far to honour a match they know they will be robbed off points. On the whole, placing 6th in a twenty-team-league format or among 36 states should ordinarily be satisfactory for the Ondo state sponsored side, but for a team which was rated No.4 in Africa three years ago, that is not acceptable to the soccer loving people of Ondo state and the club’s supporters in the state and beyond.
It is in the light of the above that The Hope urges the team and it’s management to wake up from this slumber and start repositioning themselves for a better and more consistent performance next season.
Source: Hope Newspaper