THE NIGERIA LEAGUE: AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT ITS HISTORY, TEAMS, PLAYERS AND NEWS
The Nigeria League, officially known as the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), is one of the most exciting and competitive football tournaments on the African continent. Since its inception in 1972, it has witnessed unforgettable moments, produced exceptional talent and contributed significantly to the development of football in Nigeria and beyond. In this article, we will explore the background, groups, top players, legends and current affairs of the Nigeria League.
Historical Background of the Nigerian League
The history of football in Nigeria dates back to the early 20th century, when the sport was introduced to the country by British missionaries and colonisers. Interest in football grew rapidly, and in 1945 the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) was founded to organise and oversee the sport in the country. However, the Nigerian professional league was not founded until 1972, with the aim of improving the quality of Nigerian football and providing a competitive environment for the development of local talent.
The league has gone through different phases in terms of organisation and funding, but has maintained its importance as the arena where Nigerian clubs compete for the national title. Teams such as Enyimba FC, Kano Pillars FC and Rangers International FC have been prominent in the league over the years.
The Nigerian League is made up of four football sections or groups:
1: NPFL (Nigeria Professional Football League).
2: NWPL (Nigeria Women’s Premier League)
3: NNL (Nigeria National League)
4: NLO (National League One)
NPFL (Nigeria Professional Football League)
The NPFL is organised in two phases: the regular season and the playoffs. In the regular season, teams compete in a round-robin league, with the 20 teams divided into two groups of 10. These groups, known as Group A and Group B, compete in a round-robin league during the regular season. Teams earn points for wins and ties, and at the end of the regular season, the top four teams from each group advance to the playoffs.
In the playoffs, teams compete in a single-elimination series to determine the league champion. The team that won the playoffs is crowned NPFL champion and has the opportunity to represent Nigeria in international competitions such as the CAF Champions League.
In the Premier League there are clubs like Enyimba FC, with eight championships, Enyimba FC is the club with the most Premier League victories.
Other teams are lwuanyawu Nationale, Rangers Internationale, Abia Warriors FC, Akwa United FC, Bayelsa United FC, Doma United FC, Warriors El-Kanemi, Gombe United FC, Kwara and United FCRemo Stars FC.
In the Nigerian league (NPFL) there are outstanding players such as: Atule Joseph, Dayo Ojo, Ikena Cooper, Sikiru Alimi, Joshua Akpan, Rabiu Ali, Godwin Obaje.
NWPL (Nigeria Women’s Premier League)
The NWPL (Nigeria Women’s Premier League), is the top tier of women’s football in Nigeria. Like the Nigerian League for men, the NWPL aims to promote and develop women’s football in the country. Teams competing in the NWPL are generally women’s clubs established by sports organisations, universities or institutions. Some of the most prominent teams in the league include Rivers Angels FC, Bayelsa Queens FC, Nasarawa Amazons FC and others.
The NWPL has 16 teams. Formerly it was a round robin but recently it was divided into two groups. North Zone and South Zone. The top 3 teams from each zone qualify for the Super 6 to produce only one team as champions, while only one team is relegated from each group. The best overall team plays in the CAF championship.
The number of teams in the championship is not always certain, but they play in a play-off format. Teams converge in a zone and fight each other. It is divided into 2 groups A and B. The 2 best teams are promoted, while the last 2 teams from groups A and B are relegated to the amateur league.
NNL (Nigerian National League)
The NNL (Nigerian National League) is the second league after the Premier League (NPFL). It used to be formally divided into two groups, North and South. But recently, it was decided to play in an abbreviated format, Conference South and Conference North. The Southern Conference was divided into four groups, while the Northern Conference was divided into two groups.
The Southern Conference produced the top teams in the four groups to join the top two top teams in each of the two groups of the Northern Conference. The eight teams converge to play in a promotion match to the NPFL. Only the top four teams from the top playoff spots will qualify for the NPFL four.
NLO (National League One)
The Nationwide league is the most populous league in Nigeria with many teams subdivided into NLO 1, NLO 2 and NLO 3. The sequence of promotion and relegation format remains the same from NPFL, NNL to NLO. Formally it used to be a round-robin game, but because they tried to encourage most of the clubs due to the fact that 90% are privately owned, the zoning or play off format was adopted in all stages. All teams will play each other in a zone, play each other, and the top two teams in each group will proceed to play each other for promotion and also the bottom 2 clubs will be relegated as usual.
In the south zone you can form around 4 groups, having 6 to 8 teams in a group as in the north zone as well. The NLO has its own league members under the supervision of the NFF.
The Nigerian League has produced many talented players who have made their mark in international football. Some of the most notable players to emerge from the NPFL include:
- Jay-Jay Okocha: Considered one of the greatest African footballers of all time, Okocha shone in the NPFL before embarking on a successful career with European clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Bolton Wanderers.
- Rashidi Yekini: He was the first Nigerian to score a goal at a FIFA World Cup and is remembered as one of the top scorers in the NPFL.
- Stephen Keshi: While primarily known as a coach, Keshi also had a distinguished career as a defender in the NPFL before becoming a successful coach, leading Nigeria to victory at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
- Mfon Udoh: The Nigerian striker achieved an all-time record in the 2014/2015 season by scoring 23 goals in a single NPFL season while playing for Enyimba FC.
- Chinedu Obasi: A versatile winger who excelled in the NPFL before embarking on a successful international career, playing for European clubs such as Bundesliga side Schalke 04.
- Rabiu Ali: This midfielder has been a standout for Kano Pillars FC and has represented Nigeria at several international tournaments.
In addition to the players mentioned above, the Nigeria League has seen the emergence of several legends in management and coaching. Some of the coaches and influential figures in NPFL history include Clemens Westerhof, who coached Nigeria to victory at the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, and Kadiri Ikhana, who is widely respected for his contribution to Nigerian football.
The Nations Cup
Nigeria won the Nations Cup in 1980, in 1994, with Christian Chukwu and Shegun Odegbami as coach.
The Africa Cup of Nations was first held in February 1957 in Khartoum, Sudan, and the last edition was won by Senegal. Nigeria did not qualify to play in the last Cup of Nations.
Nigeria national team trophies
The Nigerian national team has won 33 trophies so far.
3 AFCON (Africa Cup of Nations)
7 U-20 Nations Cups
5 U-17 World Cups
2 U-17 National Cups
1 Olympic Gold
1 AFCON U-23 Nations Cup
11 AWCON (Africa Women Cup of Nations)
2 AWCON U-20s
1 AWCON U-17
Nigerian football legends
Kanu Nwankwo, Austin Jay Jay, George Finidi, José Yobo, Mikel Obi, Emmanuel Amunike.
Football academies in Nigeria
There are quality academies in Nigeria and they are doing their best to promote good young talents.
Players like Chukwueze, Kenneth Omerua and Kelechi Nwakali, all players in the Spanish league, come from these academies.
- Papilo Football Academy
- Superstar Academy
- Barcelona Football Academy (FCBEscola)
- High Kings Academy
- Empire Academy
- Kwara State Football Academy
- Lagos Tigers FC
- Midas Football Academy
- AS Roma Abuja Academy
- Buruj Sports Academy
- Superstars Uyo Football Academy
- Pepsi Football Academy
News from the Nigerian League
The NPFL continues to be an exciting and competitive tournament today. Nigerian teams are looking not only for success in the domestic league, but also in continental competitions such as the CAF Champions League and the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
Investment in infrastructure and the development of local talent remain key areas of focus for Nigerian football. The league has also worked to improve the broadcasting of its matches to reach a wider audience, which has contributed to increased interest both domestically and internationally.
Top Nigerian players across Europe:
1: Víctor Osimhen – Napoli
2: Samuel Cukwueze – Ac Millan
3: Taiwo Awoniyi – Nottingham Forest
4: Moses Simón- Nantes
5: Ebere Onuachu-Genk
6: Leon Balogun- Rangers
7: Nigeria Tyronne Ebuehi – Empoli
In conclusion, the Nigerian League is an integral part of the rich history of football in Africa and has produced countless talents that have impacted the sport globally. With a competitive structure and a commitment to continuous improvement, the NPFL promises a bright future for Nigerian and African football in general.