Loss of CAF places should be NPFL's wake-up call

Oladuntoye Ishaka of Enyimba Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

It has been coming.

Since Enyimba won the CAF Champions League in 2004, Nigerian clubs have been gradually sliding down the African football standings.

Beyond that Enyimba win, the best performances have been Dolphins' appearance in the Confederation Cup final in 2005 and Heartland reaching the Champions League final in 2009.

Between then and now, reaching even the group phase has continually proven to be a huge mountain to climb for Nigerian clubs.

In spite of their domestic struggles, The Peoples' Elephant have been the one club that have continued to carry the green-white-green torch for the country.

So in many ways, it is perhaps fitting that the Aba-based club are the only ones left representing Nigeria in continental competition this year, after securing a spot in the group stages of the Confederation Cup.

Champions Plateau United, runners up MFM MFC and Cup winners Akwa United have all been despatched before the group stage.

United and MFM were first dumped out of the Champions League, before also blowing their second chance in the Confederation Cup.

Worse than not reaching the final or winning the whole tournament, these consistent inconsistencies have now brought Nigeria's domestic football chickens home to roost.

Here is the humiliating indignity of Nigeria's fall from grace.

CAF rankings take into account the performance of a country's clubs in both the Champions League and Confederation Cup in deciding which nations have earned two places each in both competitions.

Over the last five years, Nigerian cubs have picked up a measly total of 10.5 ranking points.

To unpack the numbers further is to peel back the scale of the embarrassment.

In 2016, Enyimba finished third in the CAF Champions League group stage and gathered two points which was multiplied by a weighting factor of four to make eight ranking points.

A year later, Rivers United finished bottom of their Confederation Cup group for a pickup of 0.5 points which, multiplied by the weighting factor of five, resulted in another 2.5 ranking points.

This means that despite sending four teams to the continent every season, the Nigerian league has only managed to reach the group stage of both of CAF's competitions twice in five years, and finished bottom and second from bottom in both instances.

That earned the nation just 2.5 pre-weighting points over five years.

To compare that to the likes of the North African teams would further expose Nigeria, but the NPFL's teams aren't even faring well compared to the other nations in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Democratic Republic of Congo picked up 30 pre-weighting points, Zambia took 10, Cameroon eight, and even the, Cote d'Ivoire, another nation who struggled at the African Nations Championship, accrued 7.5 pre-weighting points.

Even Mozambique, who have replaced Nigeria in the top 12, picked up three pre-weighting points.

This has seen the nation's representatives in CAF competition halved for next year's edition...and the clubs have only themselves to blame.

Since turning 'professional' in 1990, little has changed in how Nigerian league clubs are run.

Club officials are routinely moved around like the political chess pieces they are.

Only Enyimba's Felix Anyansi-Agwu, who has been at his post since 1999/2000, has enjoyed longevity, and even he is in a constant battle to hold on his post.

Clubs are funded on the whims of the state governors and treated like any other government parastatal organisation or agency.

Youth teams and development programmes are practically non-existent, and where they do, some of the players from these so-called feeder teams are even older than those in the senior squad.

Attempts by league organisers to encourage corporate governance structures that would lead to being quoted on the stock exchange have faced pushback, while there's little investment in the structures that prompt and promote viable football business.

To put it in a few words, club officials are more concerned about their next three points with which to satisfy their preening governor that they are 'working' than in building long-term sporting and business concerns that will survive both on and off the field.

Ask any Nigerian football administrator what his target for the season is, and almost every single time the answer will be to 'play continental'.

Well, now that aim just became twice as hard to achieve.

Perhaps this CAF setback - and make no mistake, it is a major setback -- will force NPFL clubs to reassess their priorities.

Just 'playing continental' is not good enough if the objective is simply to participate and not to win.

Deliberate effort needs to be invested in order for the clubs to become truly 'professional' outfits, and while this may lead to more barren years, it's the surest way to guarantee long-term health.