Untold Story Of Akwa United’s Champions League Ouster

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By: Bassey Ibiatisuho.

Akwa United’s premature elimination from this year’s CAF Champions League leaves a lot to be desired when compared to the quality of football played for their first NPFL title.

With Sixteen wins and three draws in 19 home games, scoring 53 goals in 38 games and losing just five games last season, football fans in Nigeria expected the team to be a strong force in Africa, leading other Nigerian representatives from the front in this year’s CAF competitions.

Akwa United's team and coach

However, the draw against CR Belouizdad, one of the most successful clubs in Algeria, having won the domestic league title eight times, the Algerian Cup eight times, one Algerian League Cup, two Algerian Super Cups and the Maghreb Champions Cup a record three times was an early sign that the two-legged fixtures will not be a stroll in the park for Akwa United with just two CAF Confederation Cup appearances.

Experience, adequate preparation, quality of players as well as good team spirit, concentration and motivation count a lot at this level of football.

In fact, it determines to a great extent how well a team plays and how far it can go in the CAF competition.

Sadly, all of these factors have remained a major stumbling block for Nigerian teams at the continental level.

Sooner or later it usually shows up and unfortunately, it showed up quite early in the Akwa United’s fold.

Akwa United's Dennis Nya

Akwa United’s Players Registration/Transfer

Losing key players shortly after the completion of last season definitely haunted Akwa United in the CAF Champions League.

The joint highest goal scorer in the league, Charles Atshimene joined Portuguese side CD Feirense.

The best central defender in the league Olisa Ndah joined Orlando Pirates in South Africa.

Nasiru Jubril, Ikechukwu Nwani, David Essien, Kodjo Dadzie, Etim Mathew among others left or were asked to leave the club.

Then the problem of registration came in.

Champions NPFL

Akwa United had ten days after the completion of last season to register players on CAF’s management system for the Champions League before the August 15 deadline.

The shortness of time and unavailability of quality players in Nigeria resulted in panic buys, as eleven new players were brought in.

After signing, they realized that six players (possible starters) in the team had issues with their international passports.

Cases of passport expiration, age falsification, unavailability of passport meant that Akwa United was already depleted at the registration point.

Then Ezekiel Bassey couldn’t get his International Transfer Certificate from his former Egyptian side Petrojet in time for registration.

COVID-19

24hours before departure to Algeria for the second leg, there was a positive case of Covid-19 in the camp.

The result affected a key defender in the team already booked to travel.

INJURY

Travelling without key players to Algeria became a serious concern for Coach Kennedy Boboye.

The worst came when central back Denis Nya got injured during warm-up in Algiers on Saturday night.

The injury further weakened the team and affected the game plan.

All efforts by the medical staff to get Nya fit for the game on Sunday proved abortive.

Dare Ojo, a midfielder had to be deployed to pair Samson Gbadebo at the back.

The absence of Nya was obvious as the Algerians ran riot time and again in Akwa United’s box.

Akwa United’s Players Mutiny

Perhaps one of the biggest problems in the camp of Akwa United in Algiers was money.

The players lost concentration, demanded a $1,000 estacode, $200 winning bonus and $100 daily allowance.

They threatened to boycott their only training session before the match.

It took the intervention of the Chairman, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly Committee on Youth and Sports, Hon. Nse Essien and some of his colleagues as well as the Chairman of football stakeholders, Obong Isong Isang for the players to agree to train one hour after the scheduled time for training on Saturday.

During training, it was observed that some players had only their bodies on the pitch but their minds were far-off.

CRB vs Akwa Utd

Led by Captain Otobong Effiong, assistant, Ubong Friday, Mfon Udo and Godspower Aniefiok, players again threatened to boycott the match.

Hours of pleading by Chairman Paul Bassey who delayed the traditional prayer meeting of the club on match-days and was in tears for the players to focus on the game as the money approved for the match was received late and would be paid, yielded no result.

When all intervention and pleading had failed with the players insisting on their action, the Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Sir Monday Uko had to call in from Nigeria five hours to kickoff to address the players to clear their outstanding.

Chairman Paul Bassey also added $2,200 in a bid to get the players to focus and lift their spirit.

For the players, the money was much more important than the match.

Bassey Ibiatisuho, a Sports Journalist, writes from Uyo.

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