As Nigeria’s top flight resumes on February 21, Goal looks at the division’s new faces and their prospects this season.
Ahead of the new Nigerian Professional Football League season, Goal analyses the prospects of the four newly promoted teams in the elite division.
After years of promotion struggle in the second tier, Plateau United, Niger Tornadoes, MFM FC and Ikorodu United FC are preparing for a season in the big time.
In this feature, Goal x-rays their preparation, transfer activity, and technical and administration strengths ahead of the new campaign.
Home Ground: Bako Kontagora Stadium, Minna
If there is any newly promoted side with bright prospects, it’s the Minna-based team, who return to the elite division three years after dropping to the second tier.
Abdullahi Biffo’s men emerged champions of the NNL Super Four 2015 after beating fellow newly promoted side Plateau United in the finals to boost their top-flight preparation.
Biffo holds good coaching experience and credentials, and he is best known for turning average players to top stars after he led Giwa to the top flight in 2012.
In terms of preparation, Tornadoes have had a three weeks camping in Ilorin before proceeding on a four-day break, but are back in training and heading to Lokoja for another one-week tour next week.
With 13 fresh signings including former Kwara United duo of striker Isimaila Gata and defender Lanre Ferinyaro, Tornadoes are likely to pose a big threat this season.
Home Ground: Rwang Pam Stadium, Jos
The prospects of a successful campaign looks dim for Plateau United following the recent sacking of management and technical crew.
Aside from their encouraging second-place finish behind Niger Tornadoes at the NNL Super Four, Plateau have done little to get fans excited.
Since overcoming off-the-pitch problems to secure their promotion ticket after a tough war with Adamawa United, the Jos-based team are faced with several administrative concerns.
Only a month before the season began, the Plateau government replaced former team manager Bitrus Bewarang with Pius Hemwan, and reappointed Flamingoes coach Bala Nikyu a week after the resignation of coach Patrick Mancha.
Except for the signing of former Bayelsa United captain Salomon Junior, Plateau are yet to make top buys, although they still have a few weeks to boost their ranks.
These highlighted developments cast serious doubts on their readiness for the coming campaign ahead of their opener against fellow newly promoted side Niger Tornadoes in Jos.
Home Ground: Onikan Stadium, Lagos
As top flight football returns, Ikorodu United will no doubt remain one of the most promising sides among the returnees.
Although they had an awful outing in the NNL Super Four, such training games are not always a good judge of what teams are capable of in the competitive top division.
Administratively, the team’s organizational structure remains an enviable roadmap for fellow elite competitors with huge private sponsorships giving the team buoyancy.
Looking beyond its administrative strength, Ikorodu seems far from being strong opposition against top clubs who could exploit their lack of depth.
Head coach and former international Edema Benson has looked to assuage any concerns: “We want to replicate what Leicester City are doing in England here in Nigeria.
“We are aware of the challenge ahead of us and I will say without equivocation that we are ready. This is our first season in the top flight but we are not scared of any team, as big names don’t play football.”
Despite these comments, much is still expected from the Oga Boys as they kick off their top-flight campaign against Abia Warriors in Lagos, and if they can avoid relegation, it ought to be considered a success.
Home Ground: Agege Stadium, Agege
The Mountain of Fire and Miracles Football Club is another side to watch out for after narrowly nicking the promotion ticket from the Southern zone with its youthful and promising players.
However, the Lagos side also failed to make a big statement of its pedigree at the NNL Super Four competition last December, announcing little of its immense potential.
Despite lacking major sponsorship, the church-owned side are administratively rich and organised under the leadership of top broadcaster Godwin Enakhena, and can cope with players’ welfare and logistics.
Technically, the presence of former Nigeria U20 coach Nduka Ugbade, assisted by coach Fidelis Ilechukwu, has generated high hopes, but analysts are still worried about the team’s capacity to cope against top clubs.
Although more is still expected, the signing of former Lokomotiv Plovdiv midfielder Oladele Oshobe is a sign of great ambition, and MFM have also impressed with their intense preparation, playing top friendly games against the likes of Sunshine Stars, Ifeanyi Ubah, Giwa and others.
With three weeks to go until the new boys’ first game of the season against Caf Confederation Cup campaigners Nasarawa United in Lafia, MFM are showing promise, but will surely need one or two big additions to see off the threat of relegation.