Finally the 2022/2023 Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) came to an end with the People’s Elephant, Enyimba, winning a record 9th title after the championship playoffs. Despite struggling to secure their slot in the Top Three from Group A that had unbeaten Bendel Insurance and the young Remo Stars, Enyimba who secured their position in the playoff with a draw away to Shooting Stars of Ibadan on the final day of the abridged regular season, won the title in style after consistently displaying superiority over five other teams in the Top 6 of the abridged league. It practically looked like the champions won’t make it to Lagos when the new governor, Alex Otti, dissolved all the state’s parastatals, including the Sports Commission putting the participation of Enyimba in jeopardy. The Chairman of the Club, Felix Anyansi- Agu, it was a big battle to take the team to Lagos as he dedicated the trophy to the new governor who came to their rescue with funds. “I was not sure we are going to make it because of funds but a word to the governor changed everything and within hours, he made funds available and we made it to Lagos,” the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) first Vice President said.
“I want to dedicate this trophy to the governor and all the people of Abia State, it’s a big victory for us and the next thing is to get ready to play on the continent, the CAF Champions League. We have won it before and hopefully, we can do that again.” It was a deserving victory as Eny- imba was one of the few teams that entertained the crowd and in their rank they have the league highest goals scorer, Emeka Obioma, who scored 16 goals in the whole season. Talking about the championship playoff, the first three days were noth- ing to write home about as there were just two victories with the remaining games ending in a draw.
Rivers United was the only team that won on Day 1 while it was the turn of Enyimba to record the only win of the day in Day 2 with all the three games on the third day ending in a draw. The fourth day, however, was fun as there were three victories with Rivers United ending Insurance of Benin’s 21 matches unbeaten run. Remo Stars also defeated Lobi Stars while it was a big victory for Enyimba in the last game of the day against Sunshine Stars, as they won 3-0 to secure a healthy goals differ- ence going into the final day. With Enyimba already leading the log on eight points, same as Rivers United but with a better goals ad- vantage, the final day promises to be interesting and it lived up to expecta- tions. Sunshine Stars defeated Lobi Stars, who was tagged the most dis- appointing team of the competition 3-1 before Remo Stars condemned Insurance to a back-to-back defeat as they pushed themselves forward for the title with a 1-0 win to move top of the table ahead of Enyimba and Rivers United. Enyimba took the lead but Rivers Utd fought hard to get the equaliser and all efforts to get the winning goal proved abortive as Ojo Olorunleke in goal for Enyimba was rock solid be- tween the sticks. The result meant all the top three finished on nine points but Enyimba finished top with Remo taking the sec- ond position pushing the defending champion, Rivers United, to third. Sunshine Stars finished fourth with Bendel Insurance and Lobi Stars finishing fifth and sixth respectively. Finidi George led Enyimba to his first title as manager after a disap- pointing outing last season.
“It was a tough one but I am happy that we are able to win this title,” the ex-international said. “I was not even thinking about the prize money but getting to play on the continent especially after what hap- pened last season. “Enyimba is a household name and not winning is difficult for the fans to take, so now that we are back on the continent, we are going to put everything in place for a successful championship.” Speaking with reporters, Rivers United coach, Stanley Eguma, la- mented the missed chances and laid more emphasis on fatigue as the key reason they couldn’t defend the title. ”We plan to defend our title but unfortunately, we couldn’t, until the last day we had our game plan but we conceded an early goal, we came back in the second half and created a lot of scoring chances and we couldn’t convert,” he said.
“But all the same is football, I think coming from the continent it was a long way, fatigue, wear and tear, it affected the boys till now we play matches almost every 48 hours.” Enumerating the three teams that have already qualified to play on the continent, the country’s best chance of winning the CAF title that has eluded the country since Enyimba won it back-to-back in 2003 and 2004 and they have the opportunity to add to that title. Remo Stars on their part will be playing in the Champions League for the first time in their history and would want to do better than they did on the continent in the last sea- son when they lost out in the quali- fying round of CAF Confederation Cup.