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African Football League Preview: Enyimba

The inaugural edition of the African Football League (AFL) continues on with the quarterfinal stage this weekend with eight of Africa’s top clubs in search of a major trophy to add to their collections. Pan-Africa Football is previewing all eight clubs and below is the final preview of the reigning Nigerian champions Enyimba:

Background

Located in the city of Aba in the South-East region of Nigeria, Enyimba are the country’s most successful club with nine titles in the Nigerian top division NPFL. Enyimba’s name comes from an Igbo language word that means “People’s Elephant” and is owned by the government of Abia State like several other Nigerian top clubs. It is the only club from Nigeria that have ever been African club champions with back-to-back CAF Champions League titles in 2003 and 2004.

Nigerian footballing legends Nwankwo Kanu and Finidi George are recognizable names in important positions with Kanu the chairman and George the head coach. Enyimba are the current Nigerian champions after coming out on top in the inaugural edition of the “Super Six” playoff competition that was played in Lagos following the regular season of the NPFL, edging Remo Stars and Rivers United by a narrow margin on goal difference.

Schedule

Quarterfinals

1st Leg- vs Wydad AC on October 22 in Uyo, Nigeria

2nd Leg- @ Wydad AC on October 25 in Casablanca

Notable Arrivals and Departures

Arrivals

FW Joseph Atule (NGA)- Transfer from Lobi Stars (NGA)

DF Gabriel Innocent (NGA)- Transfer from Enugu Rangers (NGA)

FW Anthony Okachi (NGA)- Transfer from Shooting Stars (NGA)

FW Stephen Chukwude (NGA)- Transfer from Sunshine Stars (NGA)

MF Chisom Ngomere (NGA)- Transfer from Sporting Lagos (NGA)

MF Daniel Daga (NGA)- Loan from FC One Rocket (NGA)

Departures

GK John Noble (NGA)- Transfer to Kitayosce (TZA)

FW Chukwuemeka Obioma (NGA)- Transfer to Renaissance Zemamra (MAR)

DF Adekunle Adeleke (NGA)- Transfer to Rivers United (NGA)

MF Fatai Abdullahi (NGA)- Transfer to Rivers United (NGA)

Head Coach- Finidi George

An attacking player in his days who could function as a winger or traditional forward, George joined Enyimba for his first head coaching job and brought the club back to the top of Nigerian football for their first domestic title since the 2015 season. George played for over ten years in European football with top Dutch club Ajax as well as Spanish clubs Real Betis and Mallorca and England’s Ipswich Town.

He joined Enyimba after a spell as an assistant with the Nigeria national team, being turned down for a head coaching position with Nigerian youth national teams. A promising coach with high ambitions, the 52-year-old will be looking to prove he can coach at a high level with Enyimba’s participation in the AFL.

Goalkeeping

Either former Togo national team member Sabirou Bassa-Djeri or Olorunleke Ojo will get the nod for Enyimba’s AFL matches at the goalkeeping position

Standing between the posts for Enyimba will be Togolese veteran Sabirou Bassa-Djeri who was promoted to the number one position following the departure of John Noble. The 36-year-old has experience with the Togo national team and in addition to winning a Nigerian title with Enyimba he also won titles with Cameroonian giants Coton Sport.

Bassa-Djeri shared the goalkeeping duties last season with Noble and Olorunleke Ojo who remains at the club as a capable replacement if needed. There is a possibility Ojo may get the nod from Finidi George for the AFL after spending time with the Nigeria national team in 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying.

Defense

New acquisition Innocent Gabriel scored in his second match for the club against Akwa United and displayed a willingness to contribute to the attack from his right back position

Enyimba have perhaps the youngest squad compared to the other AFL participants and that extends to the defense. Somiari Alalibo and Chikamso Okechukwu, both 21 years of age, appear likely to be the central defense partnership while more experienced players Chigozie Chilekwu and Innocent Gabriel will operate at the fullback positions.

Gabriel showed his ability to contribute to the attack with an excellent long range goal in Enyimba’s 3-2 league victory over Akwa United. The fullbacks are part of Enyimba’s focus on speed on the flanks where there is plenty of pace between their wide defenders and attacking wingers.

Midfield

16-year-old midfielder Daniel Daga helped Nigeria reach the quarterfinals of the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup and was put straight into the Enyimba eleven after signing on loan for the 2023-24 season

All eyes will be on deep-lying midfielder Daniel Daga after the young player signed on loan for the 2023-24 season. The 16-year-old spent last season on loan at NPFL club Dakkada and will gain another year of professional exposure with Enyimba after agreeing to another loan move for this season from second tier club One Rocket. It will be a massive test for Daga at the AFL but his experience with the Nigeria under-20 national team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup over the summer is good preparation for the physicality and skill he will face against Africa’s top clubs.

On the wings, diminutive attacker Joseph Atule is a player to watch after scoring five goals last season for Lobi Stars and Murphy Ndukwu Chukwuma is a young attacker who began his career at Heartland FC before making the move to Enyimba for the 2022-23 season.

Forwards

After a couple of inconsistent seasons, powerful striker Chijioke Mbaoma is eager to prove he can be a reliable source of goals this season for the People’s Elephant

There are several forward options for Finidi George to consider and use his expertise to evaluate. Chijioke Mbaoma is a strong striker who showed potential at Heartland FC before moving to Enyimba where he scored five goals last season. Ekene Awazie can operate either as a forward or out on either wing.

Veteran Stephen Chukwude returned to the club to provide depth after spells with three different Nigerian clubs over the last three seasons. Anthony Okachi is another option at the striker position who previously spent time in Norwegian football and 17-year-old Adiele Eriugo earned plenty of minutes in the NPFL playoffs last season, making him another young player to watch on an Enyimba team filled with rising talents.

Prognosis

Enyimba is the club who the least is expected of at the AFL. With a young team that failed to progress to the CAF Champions League group stage, the challenge of facing one of Africa’s most legendary clubs in Morocco’s Wydad AC will likely prove to be too much to handle. However, Finidi George has gotten the best out of his players during his time at the club and there are plenty of talented young players who have a rare opportunity to show their skill in front of scouts and observers.

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