UNFORTUNATELY for Rangers International of Enugu, the Great Renaissance did not last. Just six months ago, the Flying Antelopes were the toast of the whole country, having just won the 2016 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) title to break a 32-year winless run. The coach, players and management of the club were celebrated like heroes and there was so much expectation among the fans about the great things that would follow. All that expectation has suddenly come to naught and Rangers are in crisis.
Title-winning coach Imama Amapakabo’s sack this week is the culmination of what has been a disastrous 2017 football season for Rangers.
First, they started their league title defence on a poor note and are currently bottom of the table, although with a few games in hand. Second, they got knocked out of the CAF Champions League in the first round by Zamalek of Egypt and were demoted to the second tier CAF Confederations Cup. A 2-0 lead against Zesco Football Club of Zambia in their first Confed Cup game last weekend in Enugu suggested that Rangers would secure a comfortable victory ahead of the second leg. But that wasn’t to be as they allowed Zesco grab a late 2-2 draw which has now put their chances of advancing in jeopardy.
The club management led by the veteran Christian Chukwu had seen enough, and decided to finally show Amapakabo the exit. The coach that was celebrated and rewarded with a contract extension for his title heroics just last year was placed on “suspension” with immediate effect.
Pundits have wondered how Rangers unraveled so quickly after the great heights attained last year. Some theorists say that the Enugu State Government which owns the club precipitated the declining fortunes by not fulfilling the promises made to the players for winning the title last year. Others blame the club’s management led by Chukwu for inadequate preparations for the 2017 season. Yet, some others hold Amapakabo and his players responsible for their poor performances on the pitch.
Obviously, there’s enough blame to go round everybody connected to the club, but it is inevitable that the coach will be the primary villain. Therefore, it is not surprising that he’s got the sack.
For me, I just feel that Rangers threw away a golden opportunity to relaunch themselves into the big time. At this time when the talk is about sourcing alternative funding for Nigerian clubsides, being domestic champions and doing well on the continent was a good combination to attract investment and/or sponsorship especially with the kind of cult followership that Rangers enjoy. Unfortunately, they did not even scratch the surface of the opportunity before losing it. It’s a big pity.
As for Amapakabo, there’s no need to cry for him, really. Truth is that coaching is such an unpredictable job where joy and sadness are bed-mates. He only needs to look at what happened to Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City in England to console himself. One day, you’re a champion and the next day, you’re fired!
Back to Rangers, I hope they can still rescue their season, somehow. Leicester’s fortunes improved dramatically after they sacked Ranieri. Maybe Rangers will experience a similar turn-around now that Amapakabo is gone.
Argentina Sack Bauza
· JUST as I was writing this about Rangers and Amapakabo, news came through that Argentina had sacked their national coach team Edgardo Bauza.
Bauza took over the team only eight months ago from Gerado Martino. But with Argentina’s 2018 World Cup qualification hanging in the balance following a spate of bad results, the Argentinian FA decided it was time to pull the trigger on Bauza.
To compound the country’s woes, captain and talisman Lionel Messi is suspended from their next three games. What a story that will be if star-studded Argentina fail to make it to Russia 2018.
Der-Klassiker De Bundesliga
· BAYERN MUNICH underlined their status as the Kings of Germany when they smacked eternal rivals Borrussia Dortmund 4-1 in the biggest game of the Bundesliga last weekend at the Allianz Arena.
There was a massive 15-point gap between leaders Bayern and fourth-placed Dortmund on the league table before the game. Dortmund also had a long injury list, but that did not dampen expectations of a showdown between the teams considering their storied rivalry.
A Nigerian friend and colleague who lives in Germany, Sab Eke, had always accused Bayern of “oppressing” other Bundesliga clubs by cherry-picking their best players at the end of every season. There was evidence of this last weekend as ex-Dortmund star Robert Lewandoski led the Bayern destruction of his former club by grabbing two of the goals.
Thankfully, Bayern have reportedly given assurance that they wouldn’t be “raiding” Dortmund at the end of the current season. But even if they wanted to, Dortmund have sworn they wouldn’t allow them to nick their Gabonese top scorer, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. They would rather sell him to England or Spain.
However, Bundesliga new-comers RB Leipzig continued to keep the pace in second place on the log with a 90thminute winner in a 1-0 victory over Bayer Leverkusen at the Red Bull Arena also last weekend. With just six rounds of matches to the end of the season, Leipzig are four wins away from locking down second place inexorably. That would leave third-placed Hoffenheim in a big scuffle with Dortmund for the final automatic ticket to next season’s Champions League. Both are separated on the table by just one point.
RB Leipzig, Hoffenheim and Borussia Dortmund. Those are the teams to watch as the Bundesliga enters the home stretch, so don’t miss their games. For Bayern, the coronation for a fourth straight Bundesliga title is just a matter of time and you don’t want to miss that, too.