The resounding 7-2 defeat suffered by MFM FC of Lagos against MC Algiers in the CAF Champions League second round has once again thrown open the million dollar question: Why do Nigerian clubsides fumble on the African continent, particularly against North African opposition?
So much was expected of the miracle-workers, but once again, nothing happened.
But many observers have pointed out that MFM’s troubles started the moment they finished second last year in the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL).
Key players left and were not replaced immediately.
Top scorer Stephen Odey left for FC Zurich, likewise Austine Ogunye and Oladele Oshobe.
Skillful Sikiru Olatunbosun was not registered for the CAF campaign, and with no ready replacements, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened.
On the local scene, the miracle workers have not set the league alight like last season; losing almost all away matches and winning at home to starve off a possible relegation battle.
It would appear team coach Fidelis Ilechukwu had thrown in the towel even before MFM commenced their CAF campaign assault earlier in the year, as he insisted his team “was not ready for continental football.”
MFM struggled to beat Malian outfit Real Bamako in the preliminary round, and managed a 2-1 first leg win against MC Algers.
Conceeding a goal at home sent alarm bells ringing, and so it was no surprise when the Lagos side were swept away by the ruthless Algerians in the second leg.
“I saw it coming,” said football fan Mbah Anthony.
“You don’t play North African teams especially a club side at home and score only two goals or even allow them to score at all knowing fully well that when they get back to their base, they will do everything possible to win.”
It was a nightmare experience Fidelis Ilechukwu and his boys, as the Algerians poured in goals on a cold Saturday night before 65,000 baying fans.
“It was a very tough game. Our plan was to go there and get a point, but unfortunately, we conceded early,” Ilechukwu said afterwards.
It has become a recurring fact that most Nigerian teams are finding it near-impossible to overcome North African teams.
Some have pointed to the fact that the Nigerian league is still developing, and is light years behind the leagues of North Africa.
“They (North Africans) are all technically and tactically superior, have better structures and planning in place and are more consistent as a team than their Nigerian counter parts which keep changing players every season,” said Babatunde Abdul, a football analyst.
The League Management Company (LMC) must therefore ensure that the reforms currently underway in Nigeria’s local football scene are expedited, so that club sides are financially buoyant to recruit quality players, retain them for continental duties, and also get the needed investment to acquire quality infrastructure for optimum performance.
This will also help stem the mass exodus of Nigerian players to other climes to ply their trade.
Until this is done, the challenges of clubsides competing on the African continent will remain a daunting task.