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Ikhana: Thomas Is 2014/2015 NPFL Best Star

Ikhana: Thomas Is 2014/2015 NPFL Best Star

The 2003 CAF coach of the Year, Kadiri Ikhana, tells Completesportsnigeria.com's SAB OSUJI in this interview, that winning the league title for the third time was remarkably special for him. He also discloses that Christian Obiozor scored what he describes as the best goal of the outgone season. Excerpts…

Coach how would you evaluate the concluded 2014/2015 NPFL season as it concerns your club, Enyimba and you as a coach?

Honestly speaking, the last season was something special not only for us at Enyimba as a club but for me as a coach. As a club, Enyimba were able to win the league for the 7th time time which is a record in the country. Then for me as a person, I would say it was exceptionally special. Special in the sense that as a coach, it was the third time I would win the league trophy. Firstly,for Enyimba, secondly for Kano Pillars and thirdly, again, for Enyimba. What really made it special for me is the fact that there are a lot of young coaches on the scene but I was able to compete with them and even won the trophy. It’s something I would cherish so much for so long a time to come.


Which goal would you say stands out amongst the many goals you saw in the season?

There were many exciting goals, I must say. But I remember a particular goal scored by our (Enyimba) striker, Christian Obiozor. It was here in Aba but I can’t immediately remember against which team. After a few passes, Obiozor took on almost the entire defenders, including the goalkeeper and it was inside the net. It was a very spectacular goal I must confess.

Zenith Ziva

That’s interesting. But coach, can you single out one goalkeeper that stood out tall in the entire season and what makes you feel he’s the best?

Yes, it is Femi Thomas. You know Femi Thomas keeps the goal for us at Enyimba. He kept the goal in a greater number of our games in the season. He is disciplined and hard working. Above all of that, he conceded the least number of goals in the season. Unfortunately, I will only have to go through my records to be able to say the exact number of goals he conceded. But the truth is that he conceded the least number of goals amongst all the Premier League clubs in the entire season.

Which match would you point at as the most disappoint game for Enyimba in the entire season?

That was our match against Enugu Rangers. It was decided in Aba and the game ended goalless. It was not the result that really pissed me off; no; the fact was that we did not play up to our full potentials. One would say it was a fair result because it was one of those games that are tagged ‘Oriental Derby’, no, that was far from it. It was just that on that day, Enyimba, as a club, did not play well.

Generally, what is your assessment of the season?

Last season, for me, was a huge success. There were lots of improvements in all the facets of the league. The organizers did a good job and they had a good hang on it. It was a season where we witnessed a lot of improvements. You noticed that attendance at the stadia during matches increased. Referees were more upright in the manner they conducted the games and there were just few incidents at match venues. And even when such incidents occur, the organizers quickly respond to it based on what is in the rule books. For example, I was once handed a fine of N100,000 for what they viewed as improper comment. So I think the league really improved a lot and the League Management Company, LMC, did a good job.

But last season, the top scorer, Mfom Udoh, ended the season on 23 goals, but this time, the top scorer, Gbolahan Salami scored 17 goals, clear six goals behind. Is that not a minus?

No, it’s not a minus. It shows how competitive the last season was. Like I said earlier, there was a huge improvement in the last season and this cut across all segments: the players, coaches, managers, referees, spectators and even the organizers. It was a success on all fronts.

You said you were handed a fine, tell us, have you paid the fine or did you appeal against it?


My employers, Enyimba, paid the fine. I did not go to the NFF Appeal Committee or the Disciplinary Committee.


Coach, you are a veteran of the game in the country. What could you point at as the major draw-back in the concluded season?


The most disappointing aspect of the last season, I think, was the debts owed players by the various clubs. A situation whereby players were owed arrears of five, six, seven or eight month salaries is a sad commentary. The players were also owed sign on fees and they have families and dependants to take care of. Aside that, they must feed well before they can play well. The welfare of players is very important if the game must improve.


But some would argue that the last season was poor for the Nigerian league clubs especially given the fact that all four teams that represented the country in the CAF interclub competitions crashed out in the preliminary stages.


You are right. You see, that has to do with preparation and funding. I remember in 2003 when we won the CAF Champions League, we started preparation much earlier. Again, the league started well on time and the league had been on for about two months before the CAF Champions League started. A situation whereby you use the pre season Super Six tournament as the major preparation for the continental engagements is not ideal.


So what would you advise LMC as we zero in to the coming 2015/2016 season?


First and foremost the welfare of players must be given attention. LMC must ensure that players’ welfare is given urgent attention. They must be guaranteed regular salary payment. Again, a situation whereby teams travel from like Lagos to Maiduguri, Calabar to Sokoto and all of that by road does not augur well for the league. After such long distance trip by road, how would you expect them to play well? And of course, this affects the standard of the league too. They have done well so far I must admit, but there is still room for improvement especially in the area of welfare of players.


You said the last season was a huge success. So what do you expect in the coming season?


From what we saw last season, I’ve cause to believe that the coming season will be better and tougher. You always expect to do better than you did the last time out. Don’t forget too that the clubs coming from the lower league will also want to prove a point. So I believe the coming season will be tough.


Finally coach, Enyimba are the defending champions. They will also be playing in the CAF Champions League. How are you looking forward to the triple challenge of defending the league title, competing in the Federation Cup as well as attempting to win the CAF Champions League for the third time?


We’re not new to the challenges. We’ve been there before and we know what it takes to compete in the three fronts. Right now we are gradually going about our recruitments. I’m not in Aba right now but the players we penciled down for recruitment are coming for talks. So let’s see how it goes but I want to say that we are going ahead with our preparation.


Thank you very much coach for finding time to talk to us. I hope you oblige us when next we call on you.

It’s my pleasure.

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