As the referee blew the final whistle at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena in Lagos State, several players slumped onto the lush green turf, others ran in different directions in jubilation.
Fans chanted victory songs in the stands. ‘Nzogbu! Nzogbu! Enyimba Enyi’ from Flavour’s ‘Game Changer’ hit track reverberated across the edifice, providing a perfect symphony for the jubilant players, coaches, and staff of Enyimba who had just been crowned the 2022/23 Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) champions!
The game ended 1-1 against Rivers United, earning the People’s Elephants their ninth and record-extending domestic title. It also got them a CAF Champions League spot.
They finished with nine points in the Super Six playoffs to edge Remo Stars and Rivers United on superior goals difference.
Passion and Preparation
Coach George Finidi described the victory as “fantastic” and hailed his boys for their doggedness all through the season.
Every game was tough but the Nigerian legend believes passion and preparation made the difference for his team.
“[It was] Fantastic. We know it was going to be tough but the boys were prepared and they gave their all,” the former Nigerian international told Channels Television. “I am quite happy with the way they played. They were dedicated; committed to playing the games and you can see the result.”
The club’s Chairman Felix Anyasi-Agwu said the People’s Elephants’ ninth title is a testament to investments in the team.
“That’s why you get the result. Nothing else can give you the results,” the excited Anyasi-Agwu added.”When you invest in quality players, you’re sure of results. With God on your side, the sky will be your limit.”
Following the triumph, four Enyimba players – Olorunleke Ojo, Cooper Ikenna, Sodiq Abubakar and Obioma – made the Team of the Tournament while Finidi claimed the Best Coach gong.
The league victory was Enyimba’s first since 2019 and it came 20 years after a maiden CAF Champions League crown.
Gunning For The ‘History Books’
Despite the most recent title further cementing Enyimba’s status as Nigeria’s most successful club, the team still want to write their name in the history books.
They have won Africa’s premier club football competition twice – the second coming just after their 2003 feat – but like Oliver Twist, Enyimba are asking for more.
“We are going to try so hard to make our families and the country proud and also to try and do what others did in Enyimba – the two stars [winning the CAF Champions League twice],” Golden Boot winner Emeka Obioma said. “We are going to try to add another star; to write our names in the history books.”
During the just ended league, Obioma scored 16 goals to help the Aba-based side to the title but believes he could have netted more if it was not an abridged league.
The Ultimate Goal
His teammate Ekene Awazie was also on the scoresheet in the Super Six playoffs. He struck the 2003 Nigerian champions’ goal in the draw against Rivers United, a feat he is excited about.
“I am very happy. This day, we have dreamt about it right from the beginning,” Ekene said.
“I am so delighted to score the only goal in this match because this is my first goal of the season and I am so happy to be the one to score for my team.”
Like Obioma, he too dreams of making history. Qualifying for the Champions League is not enough and he wants to join the exclusive list of former Enyimba players like legendary Vincent Enyeama who have conquered the continent.
“We would do our best in the continent. It is very sure because we are always there. When it comes to the continent, Enyimba is always top – number one in the Nigerian league,” the player told Channels Television at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena.
“So, it is not going to be any different. We would get there. Definitely, we are hoping to get to the final this time around.”
The competition starts later in the year and Enyimba will be hoping to begin the journey of recreating that iconic night at the Ismaila Stadium when the Peoples Elephants lifted their maiden CAF Champions League crown 20 years ago.