FEATURE: Kwara United: A season of hope, a season of prospect

FEATURE: Kwara United: A season of hope, a season of prospect

From a 2-0 away win in far away Jos, Plateau state against Plateau United in the very first game of the season, to the very last match against Katsina United FC in Ilorin, which they won by 3-0, Kwara United Football Club arguably had one of its best seasons in recent times.

It was no doubt, one of the surprise packages of the just concluded season.

The good run in the system might not be unconnected to various motivational measures, and the underlining government’s support to the team, as well as the commitment of the players and officials.

The team was primed to compete in the Nigeria National League (NNL) in the 2019/2020 football league season, but had a rise in status after just few matches in the second tier league following the magnanimity of the state Governor, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, who approved the buying over of the Nigeria Professional Premier League (NPFL) slot of Delta Force, after ten matches into the NPFL season. The team however, had a rough season.

Against this backdrop, the management, led by Clement Kumbi Titiloye defiled all odds to assemble a team of relatively unknown but highly determined players, and the result of that exercise is evidenced with the team’s campaign in the just concluded season.

The team ended the season in the third position, with 65 points, and plus 20 goals difference.

However, the outcome of the decision of the Disciplinary Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) at its meeting held on August 5th, 2021, as it concerns Matchday 34 fixture played on 21th July, 2021 at Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna State, between Jigawa Golden Stars FC and Rivers United FC changed that story.

Rivers United FC had protested against the fielding of player, Richard Christopher (Jersey number 8) by Jigawa Golden Stars FC in the match, on the grounds of ineligibility, having accumulated five (5) yellow cards during the season.

The NFF decision stated that Jigawa Golden Stars FC shall forfeit 3 points and 3 goals to Rivers United FC in respect of the match, for fielding an ineligible player in breach of C5 of the NPFL Rules.

The Appeal Committee of the NFF, few days later, adopted the ruling of the Disciplinary Committee, which therefore, placed Rivers United in the second position of the table, pushing Kwara United from the third to the fourth position.

Kwara United Football Club expressed dissatisfaction over the ruling, and also questioned the one-sided attendance of the Committee, as well as the headship of the Appeal Committee.

It was revealed that the Chairman of Appeal Committee, Barrister Ibrahim Eddy Mark is an employee of Rivers State government, and would have excused himself in the case that concerns Rivers United, just like Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee; Musa Amadu, Esq. excused himself from the case due to potential conflict of interest and impartiality.

The club also argued that the Appeals Committee is not duly constituted because, since the new board of NFF was inaugurated, the Appeal Committee is no more legal.

The obnoxious decision, which was ostentatiously kept till the last day of the league, favoured Rivers United FC at the expense of Kwara united FC, a team that has done everything right to win clean and clear on the pitch.

Unfortunately, the NFF sent out the release 30 minutes into the first half of the last game, which majority of stakeholders view as wrong timing, when Kwara United FC was already cruising to victory against Katsina United FC, which confirmed that the case was intentionally hidden to know the outcome of the last match before the final decision is made known.

Majority of football stakeholders all over the country and beyond sees the verdict as totally unacceptable and inconsequential.

The team won as much as four away matches to set new record. The team did not lose any match at home, and this feat had been achieved by the club for a very long time. And for the first time in several seasons, they did not fight relegation, as was the feature before now.

The successes recorded in the just concluded season can also be traced to the unity and friendly atmosphere in and around the team, and this averted the curse that ‘each year had led from bad to worse’ which people see as a common aphorism.

The narratives have no doubt, changed, and can also be sustained with the arrangements on ground in the team.

For Kwara United FC, the 2020/2021 season is a season with a difference, because of the commitment of the management and determination of the players to make statements. Just like every other season before now, objectives were drawn, targets set, aspirations kept, and hopes hinged on many variables, which importantly has to do with the calibre of players engaged, and the capacity of the technical bench.

This new found status will continue to bring more positive exploits for the team, especially from next season as the management is expected to build on the positives recorded, while finding solution to the negative ones.

This present management, going by records, inherited just five players, all of whom are average materials, while the others were on loan from other clubs. The first very major accomplishment that metamorphosed into the present characteristics known of the club has to do with investment in recruitments, and as of today, Kwara United owns all the players in its fold.

Another very important factor that assisted the club’s cause was the prompt payment of salaries and allowances to the players and officials, even during Covid-19 period when there was no football action and the league was on break.

Going down memory lane, the team was second on the log in the 1998/1999 season. After that feat, which guaranteed its participation in the continental championship for the first time the following season, the team easily goes down on relegation and hardly comes back to the elite league season-in-season-out. Apart from coming second that season with 53 points behind 3SC which ended the season with 57 points to win the league, coming near the top had been a great taboo for the team.

In 2006, the club came first in Group A of an abridged league, with 34 points, and ended up in third position after the Super Four played in Abuja. Ocean Boys won the Super Four, and joined second placed team to represent Nigeria in the Champions League, while Kwara United played in the Confederations Cup for coming third. The club also ended 4th with 60 points in the 2009/2010 season.

The hopes and prospect of achieving more successes and also breaking new grounds are high, especially with the policy that guarantees the management some level of longevity and independence.

With the Kwara United Football Club Management Corporation Law in place, the management has some level of independence at least for a period of four years, as spelt out in the law. The present management, being led by Kumbi Titiloye was appointed in September 2019, and will benefit from the Management Bill signed into law on May 24th, 2019.

Before now, just like it was easy for the team to go on relegation, so was it easy to change management even at the slightest record of a single game loss. That obviously gave room for inconsistency in the club’s campaign in the league, as the so called aggrieved stakeholders always undermine support for the team getting good results even at home, just to get rid of those in charge as at that time.

With the coming of the Bill, that seems settled, at least for a reasonable period of time. These are some of the commendable measures put in place by the Kwara State House of Assembly. Kudos must also be given to the last management for championing that cause.

With the Kwara United Football Club Management Corporation Law No 5 of 2019 in place, the Chairman of the club operates as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Accounting Officer of the Corporation. The Chairman and members shall, according to the Law, hold office for a period of four years, and may be re-appointed for another four years.

The Chairman or members of the corporation may be removed by the Governor, which means that the corporation is directly under the Governor. According to the provisions, the Chairman shall supervise the regulations for better carrying out the provisions of the law into full effect with the approval of the Governor.

Also in the period under review, Kwara United had five of its players invited to the national teams. Captain Chris Nwaeze, Isaiah Ejeh and Olawale Farayola were part of the last Flying Eagles team, while Muritala Lawal and Stephen Jude made the final list of the Home-based Super Eagles that engaged Mexico in an international friendly match two months ago.

The Club’s medical system was upgraded and ranks among the best so far, as players get rapid attention in cases of injuries or illnesses. The club also ranks among the best in observing Covid-19 protocols, as spelt out and adopted by the NFF and LMC.

Kwara United signed two foreign players. Lucas Ribeiro Alves, a Brazillian and attacker joined Kwara United from California Seahorses, USA, while Ibrahim Kone, an Ivorien defender joined from Zoman Football Club of Cote-D’Ivoire.

Kwara United FC, in the season under review, scored two hat-tricks, through Stephen Jude and Michael Ohanu.

In general, individual goal scoring totals have stabilized and or improving in single figures; but nobody has reached double figures in each half of the season, while only two attackers were able to record double digits at the end of the season which is not too bad but there is need for improvement.

In the first round of the memorable Matchday 17 against Adamawa United FC, when the sheer magic of the Harmony Boys attacker produced goals of great variety and beauty earned Stephen Jude the first hat-trick of the season within 59 minutes, while Michael Ohanu also recorded his brace of goal against the same team in the same day. Alalade Wasiu, in the same vein, recorded his own brace of goal against Jigawa Golden Stars in Ilorin in matchday 25.

Significantly, three of Ohanu Michael’s 14 goals were scored during an epic clash of the competition against Wikki Tourists FC in a return leg in Ilorin, within 28 minutes.

The collective tally also remained stable, with 25 goals in the first round signifying only a marginal decrease on 23 in the second round.

During the first round, the average goal per match is 1.31, while in the second round; the team recorded an average of 1.21 goals per match. The average decreased by 0.1 goals, which is significant.

However, goals were also more evenly spread in comparison with the first round, though 12 players scored in first round, 9 in the second round. Despite that, goals were shared among all the departments, with Christopher Nwaeze, Ganda Samuel and Jide Williams from defence, Ajibola Adeleke, Nosir Afeez, Jide Fatokun, Ayobami Junior and Stephen Jude from the middle, Olawale Farayola, Issa Gata, Alao Dabani, Kabir Balogun, Alalade Wasiu and Michael Ohanu leading the pack with 14 goals from the attacking line.

Kwara United played a total of five penalties and all were converted, two in the first round against Akwa United and Lobi Stars FC. While three were played in the second round against MFMFC, Adamawa United FC and Katsina United. One of them was secured in an away match against Adamawa united. Christopher Nwaeze played and converted the first four, while Stephen Jude played and converted the one against Katsina United.

Kwara United FC also conceded five penalties, three in the first round, and two in the second round. Rivers United FC, Wikki Tourists, Kano Pillars, FC IfeanyiUbah and Adamawa United had their turns in that order. Four of them were converted, while the last one played by Adamawa United in Gombe was saved by Dele Ayenugba.

Some good goals were scored through scintillating performances of Kwara United in both set and open plays.

Dele Ayenugba, an experience goalkeeper, shared 16 clean sheets with Akwa United goalie, Adewale Adeyinka, the current best in the country.

The season will also go down in history as the best in terms of cordial relationship among the various components of stakeholders, because of the professional way things were done. The Supporters and Fans Club also worked together to complement the efforts of the management, players and officials.

For Kwara United, the just concluded season is a season of hope, and a season of prospect, but the management will need to hit the ground running as they prepare to sustain and build on the successes recorded.

First, the team needs convenient busses for players and officials. The team would need to retain the services of tested players, and also recruit good players, most especially in the attack.

Attitude of the management needs to change towards the handling of Aiteo Cup competition, to rewrite the history of the club.

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