Why Enyimba success is key to restoring Nigeria's African pride

Bongani Khumalo of Bidvest Wits challenges Chinonso Okonkwo of Enyimba Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

The CAF Confederation Cup draw made for very miserable reading for Nigerian football fans.

Out of four clubs, including the two which dropped down from the Champions League, only one will represent the country in the competition's group phase.

It's a sorry state of affairs, and ignoring the accompanying humiliation, the consequence is that years of underperformance at continental level means that Nigeria dropped out of the top 12 countries in CAF's five-year ranking.

Therefore, only one side will enter into each of the Champions League and Confederation Cup in the 2018-19 competition.

Leapfrogging Nigeria into that top 12 are the likes of Libya, Cameroon and Mozambique.

That's the bad news, but the good news is that this reduced standing within the continental arena could end up being as brief as just one season.

It all depends on Enyimba.

How the People's Elephant perform in the coming campaign could determine whether or not Nigeria make an instant return to the top 12.

Thankfully, the system is fairly uncomplicated.

If Enyimba qualify for the quarter final they add 10 points to Nigeria's tally, which would be sufficient to shoot the country reasonably high in the ranking.

For the moment, and as things stand, Nigeria would be back with four teams in the 2019-2020 competition, but they are sitting in 12th place and hanging on to the position by the thinnest of threads.

Countries like Angola, Guinea, Swaziland and Uganda all have nine points to Nigeria's 10.5 and still have clubs standing in continental competition.

This is the caveat. To keep hold of that most tenuous of grips, Nigeria would need Enyimba to either equal or do better than the clubs from each of those countries.

At the very minimum, and to eliminate these threats, Enyimba would need to reach at least the quarter final. That would guarantee 10 points and move Nigeria to somewhere around ninth on the ranking table, depending, of course, on the other teams' results.

For now, the other 19 NPFL clubs will have to depend on Enyimba to haul them back into those places.

Fortunately, Enyimba are not new to carrying the hopes of Nigerians.

Prior to 2003, no Nigerian club had ever won the Champions League, and losing appearances in finals had become such a staple that the media all but trademarked the word 'elusive' when referring to that competition!

However, Enyimba, then upstarts with next to no pedigree in the Nigerian top flight, let alone continental football, unyoked the NPFL from what had been termed a jinxed competition by winning the title.

They then repeated the achievement very next year.

Despite their ups and downs, the club have built a reputation as one not to be trifled with both locally and internationally.

NPFL clubs could have no more worthy representative to pull their collective chestnuts out of this particular fire.

While there are more long-term, internal measures that need to be implemented to bring NPFL clubs to the same level as their continental counterparts and avoid future similar embarrassment, the short-term goal should be to help and support Enyimba advance as far as possible in this year's tournament.

This means that the NFF, the LMC, and the clubs themselves must take active measures to advance Enyimba's cause.

If the People's Elephant require slight domestic fixture changes to give them time to recover from their continental exertions, both the LMC and opposition clubs should oblige them.

If the club need some of their players to be temporarily exempt from national-team duties in order to help their continental cause, the NFF should see to it that national-team coaches work with the club to find a compromise, rather than gut their squad with excessive call ups.

These, among other things, are not unreasonable expectations from a club carrying the weight of the country's continental future on their shoulders.

It is disgraceful that it has come to this point, but it does not have to stay that way.

We can all be Enyimba...for this season, at least.