HARSH economic conditions have forced league teams to owe their players almost everything. Rangers FC and Nationale which face more biting times of late, are losing their players.
Three top Enugu Rangers International FC players are in Port Harcourt seeking all means to get engaged by Dolphin FC in time for next weekends resumption of the league from break. When players in the calihbre of strikers Alex Oguaju, Sam Ledor and Edhiri Okwagbe should descend to the level of kneeling down on their knees begging Dolphin officials - team manager Fatai Olayinka and chief coach, Stanley Eguma to be signed at least till the end of the season, obviously, that confirms the reported financial crunch facing Rangers this year.
More than the trio, the sudden appearance of striker Kelechi Okoye in the camp of Sharks FC in Port Harcourt, abandoning his shirt at Nationale FC has proved things are really bad in the Naze camp of the Owerri side.
A few weeks back, club boss Ignatius Okeahialam said in Telephone chat he had paid players their entitlements, mainly to those categorised as "hard-working". Days later some of the players fired back at the chairman, denying he had paid them.
Now lets look at the case of Kelechi Okoye, the powerful striker on the rise, whose commanding role in Nationale FCís line-up has won him a place in Chief Coach Christian Chukwuís Super Eagles brewed at home. As if to prove all is not well with Nationale and perhaps rubbish the loud boast of Okeahialam, Okoye has packed his bag and baggage and forcefully gate-crashed into the camp of Sharks FC.
In fact, club boss, Adokeie Amiesimaka, a lawyer by profession who by some reasoning, thought the high-flying player had committed some criminal trespass into his camp, ordered him out when he joined them at training recently. Adokie, according to club sources, had promised his reasons on the fact that Kelechi Okoye was still owned by Nationale and Sharks does not need his services.
To everyones surprise, rather quit honourably, Okoye rather created a scene when he refused to leave. "Iím not leaving. I want to play for Sharks. Iím not gong back to Nationale and for your information, I have already packed all my things from Owerri and entered into the Sharks camp," the player was quoted as saying.
To those around, there was thought of tense atmosphere and defiance by the player. Amiesimaka showed flashes of anger and he could have been furious at his officials for allowing such gate-crashing and no thought of getting higher directive before allowing the player in. But the former internationalís anger soon evaporated, perhaps, he had seen boldness and honesty of action in what he did. And so, he let him be in Sharks, although he would not confirm whether he would formalize Okoyeís stay by going for his clearance from Nationale.
It is not by coincidence that Okoye is in Sharks seeking his daily bread which he couldnít find in Nationale. Sharks are swimming in the bottom wing of the Premier Table, while Nationale is safely in the middle. Sharks are widely regarded as one of the teams that has better terms and conditions of service for players. Salaries are in on time and sign-on fees are not in dispute. At least, it said that Adokie ensures that these are done. No wonder Okoye is desperate to get in.
Sam Ledor is widely regarded as one of the best players in the Rangers attack and in the league as a whole. With the likes of Ebenezer Ojo, Ighote Otegheri and Jerome Ezoba around him, Ledorís main job is to provide the platform behind the frontal crew. So also is Alex Oguaju, formerly of Plateau United and Julius Berger of Lagos and Okwagbe, who left Nationale the season before.
Sunday Sports investigations revealed the biting financial crunch in Rangers was the reason they decided to quit. In fact, one top Dolphin official said the three had asked to be taking in and paid anything, as long as what is paid them comes in if not as and when due, but at regular intervals. The officials said he was even surprised when one of them was willing to waive sing-on-fee, as long as he gets signed, so as to get regular money.
Rangers team manager, Davidson Owumi has been off the telephone for sometime, hence could not be reached for comments. But a top official called who spoke on point of anonymity confirmed there was problem. "The players have only been paid salary once this year. No sign on fee has been paid. So, if they are owed so much, I wouldnít be surprised if they seek means elsewhere. Afterall, they all have families. How are they expected to take care of them in these harsh times? So, itís not new when things like this happens," he stated.
Investigations showed further in Enugu. That the wide gulf between Rangers and the state governor who provides funding for the team has played a critical role in the current poor state of the players.
Weeks back, technical adviser Kosta Papic had publicly castigated the management for not implementing the agreed conditions of service for himself. He had even threatened to quit after he was ejected from his hotel room for non-payment of his bills by the team officials.
Papic, who is currently on vacation at home in Yugoslavia, is believed to be on his way back to the country this week. Even some Rangers insiders have doubts the man would return given the inherent constraints. "Papic will come back this week, Owumi has sent a return air ticket to him. And he confirmed he is coming," said one official who asked not to be quoted.
The official then threw a bombshell "I have heard that Papic is willing to return. But even if he does, the man has plans to dump Rangers and move on to another club which offers better conditions of service and would match words with action. So, I wonít be surprised if he shows up. Itís a fifty-fifty thing," he stated.
As the league resumes next weekend, Nigerians whose love and passion for football had been awakened by the sudden surge of activities in the local league, should prepare for the worse. Teams are all in crises. No salary, no sign on fees paid and this cuts across the teams," said Felix Awogu, of Minaj Television.
League supervisor Salihu Abubakar has expressed great hopes the second stanza wou ld be better than the first. "I expect the second half to be tougher than the first and we are ready to help the teams work very hard to ensure that we make it a success.
however, Emma Jemegha who covers the league doubts Abubakarís expectations given the crises everywhere.
"What is certain is that players are hungry and we should expect them to play grudge matches. When that happens, the league may lose its shine because players who are owed may not give their best. I think that managements of teams should try to resolve all money problems as soon as possible," he said.
Indeed, Sunshine Stars, Kwara United, Jigawa Golden Stars, Kano Pillars, Wikki Tourists, Gombe United and Insurance, you name it have one problem or the other over money. Lobi Stars have just off-loaded about half their team who had embarked on strike to demand their pay. Plateau United of Jos is not different. Players have written a strike notice to the chairman demanding fair treatment over their pay. Even the CAC Champions League team Enyimba have similar scenario.