Akwa United, as the NPFL defending champions, finished in 9th position in the concluded 2021/22 campaign won by Rivers United. And the pattern of Nigerian top flight league title holders failing to retain their crown continues.
In this interview with Completesports.com, Akwa United Head Coach, Ayodeji Ayeni, Who took charge of the Promise Keepers from the mid-season of the 2021/2022 campaign admits that defending the NPFL title was a tedious task.
Akwa United lost their last league game 0-2 to Rangers International at the Awka City Stadium last Sunday and Ayeni appraised his team’s overall season performance in an exclusive interview with Completesports.com.
Interview by CHIGOZIE CHUKWULETA in Awka.
Completesports.com: Akwa United, as the defending champions, had a weak defense of their NPFL title. What happened?
Ayeni: Did you say a weak defense? When you check the record of Nigeria Professional Football League, for the title holders in the past ten to twelve years, it has been like this.
Whenever a champion emerged, the following season it would be a tedious responsibility because every team – all the other 19 teams in the League are ready to work extra hard playing against the champions. So being a champion, you meet a lot of stiff oppositions and difficulties along the way.
Be it as it may, it wasn’t a bad season for Akwa United. So, we will go back home and restrategize against next season, to bounce back into the continent. But it [a continental ticket] is not yet ruled out, because there is AITEO Cup on the way. So we can still catch up along the line.
How would you describe Akwa United’s last game of the season against Rangers international in Awka?
It wasn’t a bad performance anyway. It was an average performance. Sometimes what you plan for might not be what you get in in the game of football. I think loss of concentration gave room for those two goals we conceded. I give it to Rangers, they had a better day.
What really happened? Considering the money invested in Akwa United defense of the NPFL title, much was expected from the team…
I can only answer you based on when I came on board in the second half of the season. I left Sunshine Stars to join this team. Maybe l can say that the preparation of the team right from the beginning might not be what I can give answer to now right here. But what l know is, it is capital intensive quite alright. Government really did well and the boys really did well too. But l can tell you that football is a dynamic game. Sometimes you prove it wrong, sometimes you prove it right. By and large, next season l can assure you that the kind of Akwa United you are going to see will be a new brand.
How would you describe the 2021/2022 NPFL season?
2021/2022 season was a very mixed grill season. Complete mixed grill. A lot of expectations, a lot of chaos, difficulties along the way and a lot of issues surrounding the league itself.
What l think is that life is a gradual process anyway. We still have a lot of rooms for all football authorities in this country to go back to the drawing board, fashion out a kind of level of programs or decisions that are going to help this league in Nigeria to forge ahead, to be what it ought to be. But l can tell you, it is not a very bad season anyway. I have seen an average performance from the authority, they can do more.
How do you describe the facility you met on ground, the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium?
Oh, fantastic. This is an edifice honestly. When I came in and saw what is here, l was telling someone that look if they can complete this project, it is going to be one of the best in the country. And l hope they will maintain it. That has been our major problem in this country. We lack maintenance culture. And l can give it to our Akwa Ibom state government. You can see our stadium, it has been ever, ever green. They have been maintaining the facility very well. I think the government here should maintain this facility here.
What is your plan for the AITEO Cup?
There is a marvelous plan. It’s going to be massive. You are going to see it when we start unfolding it.