NPFL clubs and consequences of transfer madness
Transfer shenanigans in the Nigeria domestic league are usually so odd that they have become normal, but champions Plateau United stunned even the most world-weary when they announced that they would register 50 players for the coming season!
General Manager Pius Henwan explained that the reason was to give the cub depth as they compete in the CAF Champions League.
Yes, but 50? Come on! Just the wage bill alone presents a nightmare scenario, and this in a country and league where the most common complaint is extended delay in paying players wages. Sometimes, not at all.
Transfer season is usually referred to as silly season, and rightly so, with all of manner of speculation, some prompted by agents looking to up the value of their clients. Others by clubs themselves looking to either do the same for force changes in valuation of their potential targets.
But even in the midst of all the silliness, few things compare to the madness of the Nigerian domestic league transfer season where it is not so much speculation, as clubs essentially overhauling their entire squads. Every single season.
And so Plateau United, who led the league for the vast majority of last season, are not alone. What they have done is merely take what is normal in the NPFL and move it to another level.
Reports out of Damaturu suggested that Yobe Desert Stars, who had just been promoted to the NPFL, had signed up 21 new players for the coming season.
That was not an error. Yes. TWENTY ONE new players. Oh, and if you thought that was all, it was not. The 21 will join 16 players retained from the previous season to make a total of 37 players.
Fellow newcomers Kwara United were not far behind. They signed up 19 new players for the coming season to add to the 24 they kept from their previous campaign in the lower division. That is a total of 43 players.
These squad overhauls are not exactly new or restricted to a few clubs. It is a league-wide blight. Plateau signed 15 players at the beginning of last season, then added another six in mid-season.
At the same time, Kano Pillars signed 18 to add to what they already had. Rivers United did a similar overhaul, signing 16 to add to their 21.
In 2013, Akwa United sacked 15 and retained 21 players before replacing the sacked players with even more.
The story replicates itself across the league. While the final numbers (between 35 and 37), compare favorably on average with elsewhere, it is the mass clear cut and recruitment that presents the problem.
Teams need time to develop an identity, to get used to playing together, to build chemistry. But, Enyimba aside, Nigerian clubs' recruitment almost seem designed to achieve the exact opposite. Trading long term DNA for short term gains.
This attitude is exemplified by Niger Tornadoes, losing finalists in the Aiteo Cup, who fired 19 players and signed 21. Then, with barely a week to go until the start of the new season, sacked the board and coaching staff, and then appointed a new board only to hand both sets of leaders a mandate to win the title.
Comical does not even begin to describe it.
Little surprise then why, Enyimba aside, Nigerian clubs have failed to do well on the continent. That is just one side effect of these overhauls.
Of more immediate concern is the identity crisis. Back in the seventies and eighties, players were not just easily recognisable, but their connection to the clubs meant a connection with the fans. This, in turn led to numbers at the grounds.
With the amount of churn going on, that connection has effectively been severed and continues to be severed every single season, leading to sparse grounds on weekends.
And then there is the aforementioned issue of clubs' inability to pay wages. And how can they, with such bloated squads and little money?
Sadly, club officials fail to see how much damage this constant turnover does to their franchises and the league as a whole.
Perhaps it is time the League Management Company steps in to put a cap not just on the number of players a club can sign every season, but also on their squad sizes.
Some common sense is needed, and there is little chance it will come from any of the 20 club houses.