Bayelsa United Football Club of Yenagoa conquered the local scene with their Aiteo Cup victory and were promptly rewarded with higher continental responsibilities.
They prepared themselves, went into the rugged jungle, they saw, they surmounted the initial Guinean obstacle but most unfortunately, they could not conquer when it mattered most as Tunisian side, CS Sfaxien subdued them in the dense jungle of Sfax.
After defeating the Tunisians by a lone goal margin in the first leg decided in Yenagoa, fans at home had high hopes that Bayelsa United would return from the Battle of Sfax unscathed, especially against the background of the assurance Technical Adviser, Diepreye Teibowei gave.
At the post-match conference in Yenagoa after the first round tie, Bayelsa United tactician, Teibowei, had assured Bayelsans that if the Tunisians could come to Yenagoa and play so well as if the Samson Siasia Stadium was their home ground, his lads could also go to Tunisia to do the same.
Unfortunately however, the young, enterprising Bayelsa side could not live up to the billing at Sfax. Bayelsa United went, they saw but could not conquer as they lost 4 – 0 to the home side, CS Sfaxien. Could it be that the stage was too big for them?
That certainly cannot be the case because they have been down that road before as Bayelsa United campaigned in the CAF Champions League in 2009 getting to the semi-final before they were eliminated. The club also campaigned in the CAF Confederation Cup in 2014.
So, if the stage was not too big for them, what then went wrong that the team lost by such a scandalous margin?
Head of Sports and Outside Broadcast, Radio Bayelsa 97.1 FM, Doris Francis Eniekezimene, said “CS Sfaxien were the better team especially in the first half. They are unarguably the best in the continent when you talk about Confederation Cup. Experience came to play”. She equally said the players of Bayelsa United lacked confidence and showed too much respect to the Tunisians, maybe because of the pedigree of the North Africans.
Director of Sports in the Bayelsa State Sports Council, Sir Braveman Wodi, said he did not watch the match but believes the defeat could be as a result of the starting line up and the strategy Bayelsa United adopted. He further said the team needs to have a richer bench as well.
On his part, Chairman, Bayelsa State Council of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), Alambo Datonye said “I think Bayelsa United Technical crew should have stuck with the starting eleven they used in Yenagoa. Obviously the team missed Okardi Inikurogha and Gabriel Biriduba’s qualities when the game started since they didn’t start. Again, there is need for proper planning and match management.
The match has been won and lost but what are the lessons; the positives that the players, coaches and management can take away from the campaign?
It is proper to respect opponents in the field of play but you do not over respect them almost to the point of hero-worshipping, as Bayelsa United did in the first 20 minutes of the first leg in Yenagoa and all of the first half in the second leg in Sfax, which allowed the Tunisians pump in four unreplied goals.
Second lesson is that in any competitive game you take your chances as they come. Technical Adviser of Bayelsa United, Diepreye Teibowei said this much when he remarked that the Tunisians scored four quick goals in the first half because they took their chances.
In every team sports, team work is crucial so United must do everything to retain the players, and add only a few new players in specific areas when the need arises. According to the Bayelsa SWAN Chief, Alambo Datonye, “there is need for the players in the team to be retained so they can bond and understand each other very well”.
Funding is critical and fortunately Bayelsa United enjoys adequate funding from the state government. However, as observed by Alambo, “finances should be released early to enable the team plan and prepare very well”.
When contacted on what went wrong and what lessons to learn, Yenagoa-based sports administrator, Kali Gwegwe, said rather than discussing technical analysis, what went wrong and playing the blame game, he would prefer to dwell on the lessons from Bayelsa United’s Confederation Cup campaign and eventual exit.
He said, “We need to build a brand with a unique culture blended with a universal philosophy. The culture is to identify and groom home based players from the grass roots. This is what most North African clubs do.
“Secondly, we should embrace the universal philosophy of maintaining a development programme. This would require the club to have a well-funded and organized academy programme to scout and nurture talented youths into world class players. You cannot compare a long-term groomed player with one who went through a crash programme. That is what separates big clubs from small ones.
“North African clubs operate European standard. An average academy player spends between 5 and 7 years in the academy. When they graduate into the senior team, they must have gathered all experience and exposure they would need to play in the big stage.
Unfortunately, government cannot foot the bill alone. We would need the private sector to complement. In addition, the club has to commercialize some of its programmes to raise capital. They should introduce gate fees during matches and sell quality-branded jerseys to raise additional cash.
According to Gwegwe regular training programmes should be organized within and outside the country to develop the technical capacity of the coaches.
Finally, the Confederation Cup campaign is a huge experience and exposure for the players and technical crew. These will stand the team in good stead in subsequent campaigns.