The Nigerian Professional Football League was billed to start on the 1st of December, 2018 but had to be postponed to 13th January, 2019. The Nigerian National League (NNL, 2nd tier) had failed to produce four teams in the new abridged league, having proposed that the 8 teams, earlier scheduled for a super eight playoffs, all get promoted. The NFF, LMC and Club-owners association, in a joint meeting, overruled this approach, resulting in the delay, further redirecting the 2nd tier to host and conclude its super 8 playoffs in two weeks to submit 4 teams.
The new abridged league will see eight teams relegated from two groups of 12. This new format will make the 2018/2019 NPFL season exciting, and every team has been active in the transfer window, but today we take a look at the players that will play pivotal roles for their teams in the coming season.
Junior Lokosa (Kano Pillars)
This man is a headliner. He was on course to break Mfon Udoh’s all-time record of 23 goals last season, having found the back of the net 19 times in 24 rounds of matches, and for his efforts, he was called up to the Super Eagles World Cup squad. He featured in the friendly against DR Congo but was dropped from the final list. He is the inaugural winner of #EunisellBoots by energy giants, Eunisell. He was given 200,000 naira for each goal he scored in the league last season by Eunisell. He will hope to continue his fine partnership with Nyima Nwagua, who got a call-up to the National team for the AFCON 2019 qualifiers in November, after they terrorized defenses last season in the league and cup, contributing over 25 goals between them.
Mfon Udoh and Ndifreke Effiong (Akwa United)
Both players left their Abia based clubs to team up with Rafael Everton at Akwa United after very impressive stints. Mfon Udoh had scored a total of 15 league goals in the 2012/2013 season before the move to Enyimba the next season. He remains the all-time highest goal scorer in the league with 23 goals in a single season and returns home to a team that has improved massively from when he left them. As a proven goal scorer and leader, he will bring energy and intelligence to Akwa United, who will be challenging for their maiden league title. His ability to gel with the squad and form a partnership with Ndifreke Effiong will help their chances of winning the league, as he will have the #EunisellBoots in his sights.
On the other hand, versatile and resourceful Ndifreke Effiong moved from Abia Warriors where he was a mainstay in the team since they gained promotion in 2014. His adept nature in playing a variety of positions effectively makes him a strong addition to any team in the world. He was a member of the victorious National U23 nations cup squad in 2015 and the bronze medal-winning team from the 2016 Rio Olympics. He finished last season as Abia Warrior’s highest goal scorer with 8 goals, and would expect to bring more when he pairs with Mfon.
Destiny Ashadi (Katsina United)
2018 CHAN eagle, Destiny Ashadi has been pivotal for the Chanji boys since they gained promotion in 2016, becoming the creative spark of the team who find it hard to create chances when he is not playing well. He can open up defenses with a singles pass and has an eye for goal and this will be a lethal weapon in the coming season.
He will have to churn out match-winning performances for his team to survive the drop and challenge for continental places, just like when he was the top assist provider in the 2016/2017 league season.
Bernard Ovoke (Plateau United)
2017 league champions have in Bernard Ovoke a winger that is any fullback’s nightmare. With a sleek left foot, the ex Bayelsa United and Rivers United player has been a consistent performer in the league. He likes to cut in from the right and create problems in the opposition’s penalty area. Coach Abdul Maikaba will be leading Plateau United to compete for the title and will rely on Bernard Ovoke to be at his best if they will challenge for the title properly.
Sikiru Olatunbosun (Plateau United)
Sikiru Olatunbosun had been with MFM FC from their time in the lower leagues, which made him an integral part of Fidelis Ilechukwu’s squad that featured in the CAF Champions League in 2018. Formed in 2007, MFM FC is the only team from Lagos that will be featuring in the 2018/2019 season. They will be aiming to grab a continental ticket but will have to do that without their star player, Sikiru, who has now joined Plateau United. Winner of CNN Goal of the Week, Sikiru Olatunbosun earned global fame for a stunning volley against Rangers international at Agege in the 2016/2017 season, and plays a key role in anything his team does in the final third providing goals and assists for his team. He is also dangerous with set-plays around to the 18-yard box.
With the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) stepping in to get the League Management Company (LMC) to commence the 2018/2019 season not later than 13th January 2019, it won’t take much longer for these players hit the pitch and begin to showcase their brilliance.