Fresh crisis has erupted in Nigerian football over the adoption of the Points Per Game, PPG, mechanism to end the 2019/2020 Nigeria Professional Football season as Rivers United are set to battle the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF and the League Management Company for one of the CAF Champions League tickets.
At the adoption of the controversial PPG by Club Owners on June 21, Enyimba Football Club which was in sixth place on the table leapfrogged Lobi Stars to end among the top three clubs, earning for themselves a continental ticket.
Although the decision to apply the PPG mechanism didn’t go down well with Lobi Stars and Akwa United, a virtual meeting of critical stakeholders convened by the Nigeria Football Federation ratified the decision.
Consequently, the NFF issued a statement on July 10 to formally announce the end of the 2019/2020 season. However, in doing so, the federation deliberately or inadvertently sowed the seed of discord when it remained silent on who would take the second CAF Champions League slot.
In a press statement, the NFF said “The league ends at current Matchday 25 and the Points Per Game (PPG) table will be used to rank the teams in order to ensure sporting merit and sporting fairness.
“The names of the Top 3 (three) clubs on the NPFL final PPG table as at Matchday 25 shall be submitted to CAF to represent Nigeria in the 2020/2021 CAF Inter – Club competitions (2 slots for CAF Champions League and 1 Slot for CAF Confederation Cup).”
For many this was an ambiguous statement because the NFF was expected to name the top three clubs and the competitions they were going to feature in at the continental level.
Unfortunately, stakeholders were left guessing just as tongues began to wag that the NFF was scheming to hand the second Champions League ticket to an ‘anointed’ club.
Such views were not unfounded because following the virtual meeting of June 21 by the Club Owners which adopted PPG to end the season, Plateau United finished first on the log with 1.96 points and were followed by Rivers United with 1.80 points, and same as third placed Enyimba but the former had a superior goals difference of 1.87.
The decision taken by the Club Owners on June 21 was accepted by the NFF. However, the vehement protest by Lobi Stars and Akwa United against PPG compelled the football federation to convene a crucial meeting to review it.
In the end, the NFF approved the decision and issued the July 10 statement which set in motion the present brouhaha over CAF Champions League ticket. The failure by the football federation to name the club to join Plateau United in the Champions League was like a time bomb.
Consequently when the NFF issued another statement to name the four clubs and their continental slots, the fragile peace that existed broke down completely as Rivers United immediately kicked against the decision to hand the second Champions League ticket to Enyimba.
Going by the final decision of the NFF, Plateau United and Enyimba would represent Nigeria in next year’s CAF Champions League while Rivers United and Aiteo Cup defending Champions, Kano Pillars would feature in the CAF Confederation Cup.
Apart from Rivers United, most football stakeholders are yet to understand what informed the decision of the NFF to rank Enyimba above Rivers United.
In football and other sporting events, ties are usually broken based on goal difference before the rule of head- to-head is applied, if necessary. And this is why Rivers United are vehemently opposed to the decision to rate Enyimba FC above them.
Although based on PPG, they are tied on 1.80 points, Rivers United have superior goal difference and they are of the strong opinion that they should be rated above Enyimba who have inferior goal difference.
However, some are of the view that while Rivers United have superior goal difference, they played five matches more than Enyimba, a situation they say must have compelled the NFF to move straight to head-to-head rule to separate the two clubs.
Again, this is contentious because in considering the head-to-head rule, it must be remembered that only the first of the two legs was played between Rivers United and Enyimba. The ‘People’s elephants’ of Aba as Enyimba are called won the first leg 1-0 in Aba. It is therefore said the application of the head-to-head rule would have been more appropriate, if the two legs were played.
From the foregoing, it is still unclear how the NFF arrived at the choice of Enyimba. Without any explanation, stakeholders are in the dark as to whether the NFF applied goal difference or head-to-head rule to separate the two teams.
Consequently, Rivers United have since issued a statement expressing their determination to seek justice even beyond the shores of Nigeria. “The decision reached by the NFF was not the interpretation laid by the LMC and we cannot accept this decision because it is tantamount to injustice.
“We will explore every avenue first set by the rule book, and if we do not get justice, we will move higher to the CAF, we will move to the world governing body, FIFA and if we still do not get justice, we will go to the apex body, the Court of Arbitration for Sports, as far as adjudication of such matter is concerned,” said Rivers United Media Officer, Sammy Wejinya who added that the result stated by the NFF was not in consonance with the LMC rulebook.
A top official of the club also confided in Trust Sports that the ‘Pride of Rivers’ are not going to be pressurized into dropping their resolve to get justice.
“We are quite aware of what we will face in the coming days but we want to fight for our right and nothing is going to stop us.
“Intimidation and harassment may be used to cow us but we won’t surrender. We would fight to the finish,” he said.
Meanwhile, the League Management Company, LMC has since responded by saying Rivers United are acting beyond their powers.
The Chief Operating Officer of LMC, Malam Salihu Abubakar in a letter addressed to the Club Secretary, Ahmed AbdulRahman said “The LMC has, indeed, reviewed your position as presented in your letter under reference, where you suggested that goal difference shall be used to separate two teams on a tie and, even went ahead to formulate a formula to calculate the coefficient for goal difference (i.e. goal scored divided by goal conceded) and, further tried to use the normal provisions of the NPFL Rule Book on goal difference to justify this position.
“Furthermore, you tried to validate this position by quoting provision from FIFA and CAF competitions rule books, and even the English Premier League Rule book, while also citing the example of Manchester City winning the EPL in 2012 over Manchester United on goal difference, e.t.c.
“You also went ahead to present a revised table based on your position as presented by inserting another column where you calculated Goal difference coefficient based on your formulae (i.e. Goal scored divided by Goal conceded)
“The LMC views your position as presented and described above as ultra vires your powers.”
For now, Enyimba have been listed by the NFF as the second club that will represent Nigeria in next year’s CAF Champions League.
However, all that would change, if Rivers United are able to prove their case beyond all reasonable doubts before the relevant international football authorities.