By Abiodun Adewale.
Two games until the world cup break, Sunshine Stars FC of Akure are deep in the red zone. They’ve been floating in the relegation waters for a while now, but as other clubs are swimming up, drowning is the next predicament that comes to mind about the darling team of Ondo State.
One can never imagine the season will be so tough for the Owena Waves. Before the start of the campaign, the team witnessed a change of hands in administration, new players were recruited to bolster the squad, Duke Udi who led them to safety in the later part of last season was retained and that, brought a sense of stability. At least in the thought of it.
However, obstacles started starring at the team in the face in the early stages of the 2018 season.
Yes, they started brightly with a couple of impressive results but few games more, precisely after the 5-0 drubbing in Jos, the story changed and previous punishments of playing behind closed doors and the team being banished to Ijebu-Ode meant nothing to ‘the stadium boys’ – unidentified hoodlums disrupting games in Akure – again.
For breaching the rules and frameworks of the game again, a stiffer punishment was warming up for the Akure Landlords. It did happen, the League Management Company in an unprecedented application of the framwork didn’t think twice before deducting three valuable points from the club, plus fines.
At other points before the big stick was wielded on Sunshine Stars, the LMC had also prevented them from registering or fielding any newly acquired player over unpaid fees of former players.
Duke Udi’s relationahip with the management of the club or better still the state government had turn sour as well. Without much ado, the former Osun United gafffer was shown the exit door unceremoniously. Although the club initially relieved him of his duty as the head coach before finally severing ties with him.
“The management board and the Ministry of Youth and Sports management at a joint meeting today (Tuesday) agreed that coach Duki Udi should step aside with effect from today 13th March and the Technical Director of the team, Coach Henry Abiodun of with CAF licence A should lead the team,” a directive from the state commissioner for Sports, Saka Yusuf Ogunleye asked UDI to step aside with charges of “misconduct and insubordination”.
Few week’s later, the camel’s back was broken.
“The management of Sunshine Stars FC wish to communicate that the Club has finally parted ways with coach Duke Udi.
“The decision to severe ties with Udi became necessary after the coach failed to show up before a panel set up to look into allegations levelled against him, leading to the decision for him to step aside on the 14th of March 2018”. An official statement by the club, spelling the end of Udi’s engagement read in part.
Duke Udi was replaced by former coach Henry Abiodun, a CAF License A coach and was saddled with interim responsibility. But certificate aside, the blows have been dealt and the damage was already telling on the team. The Owena Waves were placed 17th on the log with 13 points from 12 games at the time of his appointment.
Opinions are however divided on the ability of Henry Abiodun to lead the team.
“To be sincere, I don’t have faith in the current Coach. He’s coached them before, and he didn’t get it right. He doesn’t have a relegation fight experience. In fact, his only stint in the NPFL is with Sunshine Stars alone and if accumulated, is not up to two years. His capabilities are limited.” Johnston Adanlawo, a popular side fan spoke naijafootballplus.comfrom Akure.
To the expectations of a few within the Sunshine State, Abiodun made a perfect start to life against a highflying Yobe Desert Stars in a matchday thirteen encounter on March 18. The team fought back from a goal down to win 2-1 at home and moved out temporarily from the relegation waters.
Thier style of play is still enterprising and the belief system around the team has been positive. On the back of this positivity, vital points have eluded the Henry Abiodun led team. On the home front they’ve been warm and cold and it’s always been about crying foul play on the road.
They haven’t been short of optimism however, but how long before this resurgence gain momentum?
Ask anybody around the Akure stadium, it is until the LMC allows the club to field signed players before it could happen. There’s another fainting hope too that the deducted points would be returned. That’s a wildcard however.
These subtle appeals have been resounding for a while now. Does it mean Sunshine Stars are so thin currently? No. There are still capable legs but further depth in quantity, quality and experience could have made the difference, according to the club’s spokesman, Chris Okunnuwa.
“The need to increase the team in terms of quality and quantity can’t be overemphasized. Kunle Odulamni and Ajibola Otegbeye just rejoined us and we have other players who are still waiting to be cleared before they can feature.” Okunnuwa hinted.
But what if? What if these players aren’t cleared in time for this rescue mission? What if the deducted points are gone forever?
That, however also points back to the decision of the club to let go some of the legs that had beefed up the team recently. Ayo Saka and Samad Kadri are two notable names who left the club and are currently core parts of the present table toppers, Lobi Stars’ team.
Those names are perhaps some of the least on the list of players that have prosecuted games for the club. Three years ago, Sunshine Stars narrowly missed out on a continental spot after an endless neck-and-neck race with Enyimba for the title. The Aba club went on to win their seventh title that year.
After that pulsating season, Sunshine Stars have witnessed an alarming erosion of identity and ability from the dugout to the field. Kennedy Boboye wasn’t given a second look, Samson Unuanel was hired and left, Solomon Ogbeide heralded another era but wasn’t given another nod too, Austin Eguavon walked away and Duke Udi was shamed.
The Kennedy Boboye led team in 2015 had Prince Aggreh, Paul Onobi, Tamen Medrano and they were complement by the homegrown talents of Dayo Ojo, Tunde Adeniji, Abe Sunday, Sunday Emmanuel and Seun Olulayo to mention but few.
To say that the most successful era of the club was created by homegrown players from OSFODEC academy is stating the obvious. The days of CAF Confederations cup and CAF Champions League are long gone.
It’s normal business to cash in on players, but who are the replacements?
You cannot count your chickens till they are hatched. The blend of experience and freshness in some new names could propel the team. But until they are allowed to feature, Sunshine Stars must look within, remain invincible at home and dig deep for few points on the road.
That could be hard still, especially when another bottom rocked team like Kwara United is fighting hard. So it means their destiny is not solely in their hands. While they work hard, they have to depend on the results of other teams as well.
Off the field and on it, something absolutely ruthless must happen in order to guarantee safety.