Six teams will compete for just one title when the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) Invitational commences at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano on Monday. The 2006 Census in the country did peg the population of the commercial nerve centre in the north at 9.4 million, the klieglight of npfl.ng has settled on only six individuals who will shout out instructions from the sidelines as from next week.
The race for the new season has already started for the six men as they seek to navigate their teams through the bends and bumpy paths of very tough games expected at the invitational.
Kennedy Boboye, Plateau United
It was a fantastic last season for Boboye as he led Plateau United to their first league title in their 42 years of existence. That feat has made him a cult hero among Plateau United but this his team will no longer be regarded as outsiders when the pre-season invitational ushers in the 2017/18 season.
No doubt his stint at Sunshine Stars and then Abia Warriors did prepare him for the task in Jos leading up to the title-winning season. Boboye turned a team of outcasts to champions. He is now regarded as one of the shining lights among young coaches taking up the managerial role from the old guard, and surely the pre-season tournament will be a good testing ground for him and his team ahead of the 14 January kickoff of the NPFL season.
Fidelis Ilechukwu, MFM FC
He is one of the youngest coaches in the Nigerian top division. The 39-year-old has spent more than a decade at MFM FC and already knows the workings of the Lagos club. Ilechukwu has overseen MFM’s two seasons in the top-flight – escaping the drop in the first and guiding them to a CAF Champions League in the second, being last season.
Ilechukwu’s major task going into the invitational in Kano will be finding a replacement for the club’s leading goalscorer last season Stephen Odey who has moved to Swiss club FC Zurich. However the most important for Ilechukwu is how he would steer his ship through steep waters in of CAF Champions League in which they are first-timers. At the same time, he will have to find that balancing act to ensure his team to eke out results in the NPFL and AITEO Cup.
Paul Aigbogun, Enyimba
Aigbogun returns for a second stint with the Peoples Elephant. The last time he was in charge of Enyimba in 2016 they finished in a disappointing 10th place in the league but reached the group stage of the CAF Champions League and finished the season with no trophy. His contract was not renewed and in stepped Gbenga Ogunbote.
However the former Warri Wolves man is back in Aba for a second managerial journey and again, like in 2016, he will lead the club to continental football but this time in the CAF Confederation Cup after contract extension talks with Ogunbote broke down. The appointment of Aigbogun did draw mixed reactions among Enyimba faithful but the invitational in Kano could reveal a sneak preview to expect from him in the coming season.
Abdu Maikaba, Akwa United
Abdu ‘The Teacher’ Maikaba is one of the astute coaches in the Nigerian top division today. The 52-year-old is known for working on every detail ahead of matches and that is why in many quarters he is referred to as ‘The Teacher.’ Maikaba’s magic wand has turned things around at Akwa United and have made the Uyo club the attraction of many followers of the NPFL. Reason? They have adapted to the free-flowing and attacking football which are the ethos of Maikaba’s philosophy as a manager. The same ethos was reason Wikki thrived until he left them at the start of last season.
Already, Maikaba who has also worked at Enyimba, Kano Pillars and defunct Sharks FC, will use the pre-season invitational to blood some of his new signings as he fears some of his stars from last season will be named in the Nigeria team to the African Nations Championship (CHAN) in Morocco next month.
Ibrahim Musa, Kano Pillars
He has worked in the background at the Kano club since 1996. Musa has worked with different managers in 19 years.
The Kano Pillars manager has worked in the backroom staff at the club under Justin Tenger, Salisu Yusuf, Kadiri Ikhana, Mohammed Baba Ganaru, Ladan Bosso, Abdu Maikaba and Okey Emordi.
Now he steps into that big role and will get his first full season in charge with the ‘Masu Gida’ after helping them finish in eighth place last season. The tactican of the four-time NPFL champions will hope he can lead the club to new heights since their last title win in 2014.
Salisu Yusuf, ‘CHAN’ Super Eagles
Yusuf surely is no stranger to club football in the country as he has worked with Enyimba, Kano Pillars, Lobi Stars, El-Kanemi Warriors and Nasarawa United. He has been saddled with the responsibility of putting together a Super Eagles side for the CHAN from selected players in the league, and will hope to do better in Morocco after his team suffered a heavy 4-1 defeat to Ghana in the WAFU Cup of Nations final this year.
The NPFL Invitational is expected to be a dress rehearsal for his team who will only converge this weekend for the first time since September when they took part in the WAFU Cup of Nations.