By Chimezie Anaso
FC Ifeanyi Ubah (FCIU) ended their six-year uninterrupted campaign in elite division with a 1-0 win against Warri Wolves on Aug. 5, in the 2020/2021 Nigerian Professional Football League(NPFL) but fell short of overcoming relegation.
The victory was not enough for FCIU, popularly known as ‘Anambra Warriors’, to scale relegation as they finished 19th on the final league table.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that in the meantime, sports administrators and enthusiasts have been expressing divergent views on the implications of the Anambra Warriors exit from the NPFL to the State, as well as the issue of private club ownership and management.
While Anambra parades a galaxy of football stars, it now joins the league of those without ambassadors in the NPFL, while the FCIU had chalked up the longest record of a privately-owned club that survived in the NPFL.
Other relegated clubs, over the years, included the likes of Giwa FC of Jos, Ikorodu United of Lagos, Remo Star of Abeokuta, ABS FC of Ilorin, Go Round FC and Nembe FC, all of which had suffered relegation from the top league in the last seven years.
Arthur Ebunam, a Green Eagles veteran, blamed FCIU’s ouster on low player morale and survival challenges in the league.
Ebunam, who played in many Nigerian clubs, stated that football management needed so much attention and that Nigeria’s league was not designed to encourage private investors.
“Private club owners don’t have what it takes to run clubs in Nigeria, football is not run like a regular business; professionalism and players’ welfare are germane.
“I have been in the forefront of fighting the government to own a club; Anambra State is not the poorest, the state is overdue to own one,” he said.
Chris Abakare, a football coach, said the relegation of FCIU was a bitter lesson that will linger for a long time as their presence in the NPFL served as motivation for many clubs and players.
Abakare said a lesson from the development was that individuals, who owned clubs should, as much as they could, ensure that the management structure was separated from their person.
“Naturally, it is with a feeling of sadness, Anambra will be out of the comity of football states in Nigeria for a long while.
“The lesson is that everything should not be built around the proprietor of the club, as this doesn’t augur well for the progress of such a club in the long run.
“I support state ownership of clubs, Akwa United FC, owned by Akwa Ibom state government just got crowned as champions, the benefits that will accrue to the state will be many fold,” he said.
On his part, Emeka Odikpo, foremost Nigerian sports journalist and administrator, said it would be tough for the club to return to the top league, because the FCIU lost focus on the club at a time he needed to consolidate on the progress already made.
He said the league was not designed to yield business profits for the organisers, as most participants relied only on the sale of players and this made it difficult for private clubs to thrive.
“It is very unfortunate that FCIU got relegated, it is going to be tough coming back to the elite division for so many reasons.
“Ifeanyi Ubah removed his eyes too much from the club and allowed so much distractions of politics and other interests. To survive in Nigerian league, it’s always ‘eye on the ball’.
“Many clubs that went down, Stores, Insurance, 3SC found it difficult, but somehow remained afloat because they were state run. Individual clubs get tired, with no money to sustain, they sell them off,” he said.
Odikpo called on Nigeria football managers to provide better regulation for the league and make it a business venture for individuals, to invest and recoup their investments.
The way our domestic league is run is mind boggling, the only thing that sustains clubs is just the sale of players to foreign clubs, now there is no return on investment, they just spend money only for referees and officials to ruin their chances,” he said.
Also speaking, Odi Ikpeazu, chairman of the defunct Ikpeazu Redoubtable, blamed the low support base for the high mortality of private football clubs in the country.
Ikpeazu, who commiserated with the owner of FCIU and his management team, said relegation was the last thing any club side would want, but unfortunately it was part of the game.
He said the business side of football, which included gate takings, branding and endorsement, had not thrived because football fans paid more attention to foreign leagues, while the local ones suffered.
“Some of these private owners are doing the best they can and that includes Ifeanyi Ubah; he may not be my favourite personality but what else can a football man do but start a team and build a first-class stadium?
“The problem is that the local populations don’t play their part in helping their clubs grow. most of them would even frown at paying gate fees to watch their own games.
“These fans don’t know that it is the local people of those districts that made them what they are by buying tickets, paying supporters dues and patronizing club merchandise over decades from when they were nothing,” he said.
Ikpeazu said he had never supported the call for governments to own football clubs, rather, the society should evolve the kind of football structure they desired.
“Genuine football clubs worldwide undergo sociological growths, not bureaucratic configurations, governments come and go and everybody’s business is nobody’s business,” he said.
FCIU, established in 2015 following the acquisition of former Gabros International FC of Nnewi which gained promotion to NPFL, now joins the list of other Anambra clubs that plied their trade in the top division and exited in recent league history.
The defunct clubs included, Jasper United, Udoji United and Gabros International.
The Anambra Warriors financed by Nnewi-born oil billionaire and serving Senator, Ifeanyi Ubah, demonstrated rare tenacity during their NPFL sojourn.
FCIU finished 11th in its first NPFL appearance in the 2014/2015 season and showed class the following season to finish fourth and was ninth in 2016/2017 season.
The first relegation hammer was first dangled in the 2017/2018 season when the Nnewi side ended 17th on the table, but were saved by the ‘no relegation’ agreement before improving to 12th place in 2018/2019 season, and representing Nigeria in the Confederation Cup.