The Flying Antelopes are well placed to end their title drought this year and end three decades of disappointment
Enugu Rangers have a great chance to end their long wait for a league title this season, and with the purists backing them to lift the NPFL crown, they will only have themselves to blame if they fall short again.
The Flying Antelopes started the season with much promise and have managed to sustain it till now, unlike in previous seasons.
Do they have the wherewithal, finesse and willpower to keep going until the end of the campaign?
Rangers were formed in 1970 and within four years had lifted the league title. By 1984, they had won six league titles and have a fine tradition in the Nigerian FA Cup.
They finished 12th last season in the league with 49 points from 38 matches, but they almost won the league crown during the 2011/12 season (where they finished second on 58 points) before the withdrawal of Ocean Boys (whom they beat twice during the regular season) scuttled their ambitions, leaving them second behind Kano Pillars.
Stumbling blocks to further successes
Enugu Rangers couldn’t sustain their promising start to life in the top flight and lost their clout in the 90s due to poor management, a lack of focus and poor funding from the Enugu government (their major sponsor) which made them toothless during the time they ought to have been consolidating their authority near the top of the table.
In recent times, however, Rangers have steadily returned to the pinnacle of the game. But how have they done it?
Reshaping the management and technical crew
The Enugu State government did something spectacular when the incumbent governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi rose to power last year, a move which has been celebrated as the trigger for the club’s subsequent turn around.
The governor, through the Enugu State Commissioner for Sports Charles Ndukwe, instructed that the technical and management positions should be declared vacant and all in the club were informed of a need to reapply for their positions along with any other potential candidates.
This drastic step prompted the change the club needed, and while some of the old management returned back to their posts, others were replaced by more qualified candidates.
Some old hands gave way to young enterprising ones; Paul Chibuzor Ozor was retained as General Manager but his team was largely replaced with fresher, hungrier figures.
The wind of fresh breath affected the technical crew positively and prompted renewed vigour among the coaches, while Imama Amapakabo was retained for the sake of continuity.
The governor also called for the support of the private sector in the revamp of sports in the state.
A new model of recruitment
Before the current season, Rangers had always been a dumping ground for average players and they have always had over-bloated wage bills due to poor management of playing resources.
Currently, from the goalkeepers to the strikers, they have players who command respect in the NPFL and play the best brand of football in the division.
They have such an embarrassment of talents that their highest earning player Ifeanyi Egwin finds it difficult to play matches regularly.
The club also went beyond Nigeria to recruit quality players: Nana Bonsu (Ghana) and Pape Ousmane (Senegal) are just two players signed at the start of the season to help the Antelopes realize their objective of ending their 32-year title drought.
The road ahead
Rangers have a balanced run of fixtures ahead of them and can certainly look forward with more optimism than some of their direct title rivals. The Flying Antelopes still have to travel to play Nasarawa United, 3SC and Ikorodu United while they have five home matches remaining against MFM, Rivers United, Giwa FC, Sunshine Stars and El Kanemi Warriors.