Apart from being a former junior international and having had a stint with Enyimba of Aba, little was known about him in Nigeria’s soccer scene. However, all that has changed as Imama Amapakabo is probably the most popular local football coach in the country today, as he is set to end Enugu Rangers’ 32-year trophy drought, writes Kunle Adewale
No football club had dominated the Nigeria’s soccer scene more than Enugu Rangers and if there is one football club that had produced notable players for the national team, it is the Flying Antelopes. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Rangers dominated the scene like a colossus and names like, Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okalla, Stanley Okoronkwo, Kenneth Abana, Dominic Nwobodo, Aloysius Atuegbu, Sylvanus Opkalla, Jay Jay Okocha and Michael Emenalo readily come to mind.
At a stage, the Coal City side was producing about 10 players for the national team, and the popular saying then was “No Rangers, no Eagles.”
But all the dominance came to an end in 1984–the last time Rangers won any trophy of any kind in the country. Since then, the team has been struggling with one crisis or another, notably lack of funds.
On Sunday however, the famous song, “Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy Enugu Rangers another champion,” will rend the air at the Cathedral, Stadium, Enugu and the man at the centre of it all is Imama Amapakabo.
The former junior international does not hide his intention to do the unthinkable from the beginning of the season.
“I am hopeful and optimistic that this Rangers squad is going to win the league title that has eluded them for 32 years now. But like I always say, for a team to win a championship all sectors must work together. Right now, the players and technical crew of the team are working harmoniously. It is left for the sponsors of the team and the management to also come to the table,” the former Enyimba coach had said at the beginning of the league.
Standing at 60 points from 35 matches, the Flying Antelopes are three points ahead of second-placed Rivers United. Just a point from Rangers’ last game against El Kanemi Warriors on Sunday at the Cathedral in Enugu will see the Pride of Old Eastern Region crowned champions of the 2015/2016 NPFL season.
And should Rangers lose their last game, Rivers United would need at least 6-0 defeat of Akwa United in Uyo to upstage Rangers.
On the secret behind the team’s success this season, Amapakabo said, “I can’t say there is anything so special. I think the secret of any achievement is hard work, determination and a bit of luck here and there. And one can define luck as when preparation meets opportunity. So, we have been working hard and luck is also smiling on us. Ours is a story of adequate preparation and opportunity meeting luck.”
He also, praised the effort of the state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, for his support and commitment on the team. “I learnt for nine years plus, no sitting governor of the state had paid the club a visit. This present governor has shown more than just passive commitment to the club,” he said.
Amapakabo also had kind words for the League Management Committee, LMC, noting that except for one or two pitches, the LMC shouldn’t have approved for matches, “there has been an improvement in so many ways.” “Officiating has always been a universal factor. Even if you go to the English Premier league, you will find some issues with officiating because referees are human beings. If you go to the Bundesliga, you will still find some issues. However, once these mistakes are not smart errors, you understand with the referees. But if they are deliberate, it becomes worrisome. Presently, we are recording away wins and so nobody is so sure of home matches again. The away teams also know that if they play well, they can win away and this is good for the league. I have not seen a good goal that was scored that was disallowed. So I think it is a big plus for the NRA and the league as well,” he said.
The impact and effort of Amapakabo did not go unnoticed by the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF. The federation has drafted him to assist acting Super Eagles Coach, Salisu Abubakar.
He was also part of the Eagles training for last month’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Tanzania before he returned for Rangers league game leading to speculations that National Team Technical Adviser, Gernot Rohr, sent him packing.
“There is no truth in the report that I was told to leave the camp. The Technical Adviser, (Gernot Rohr) arrived camp and held a first meeting with everyone in camp, in a wonderful atmosphere. He preached team spirit and insisted each and every person in camp is important. After the day’s training, I went to meet him for permission to travel to Enugu and lead my team against MFM FC in a rescheduled NPFL match on Wednesday. He saw the need for me to be there and wished me good luck. He also told me that it was important I returned to camp immediately after the match,” he said.
Rohr, who has always spoken about his desire to work with local coaches, also corroborated the story. “I never dismissed him. Rather, I was excited that we have a member of the technical crew doing so well with his club and I have heard many people say Rangers have a good chance of winning the League, and I know it is a great club with a great tradition.
He told me it was important for him to go as three points from there would see his team topping the table, with few matches left in the season. You can only encourage such a person,” the German said.
Amapakabo has indeed expressed his desire to one day handle the Super Eagles.
“In whatever human endeavour you find yourself, if you do not aspire to get to the top, then you are not worthy to be there. I aspire to one day coach the senior national team. It is also my dream to one day coach the Super Eagles to win the World Cup. These are my aspirations. I believe the time will come for me to be called to come and handle the Super Eagles,” he said.
One of Rangers, standout player this season, Chisom Egbuchulam, also hailed Amapakabo, saying, “he is a good man and I enjoy working with him greatly. He knows how to bring the best from his players. And don’t even bother asking who the best manager in the NPFL is, because my answer is Imama.”
In spite of Enugu Rangers having almost 100 per cent chance of winning the league, Amakapabo insists it is after his last game of the season that he would celebrate.
“I want to first thank my players because without them, we won’t be at the position we are today and special thanks must go to all my players. Our destiny is now in our hands because we need a point in our last game, but you know sometimes football is funny, and that is why I want to wait till the final whistle of our last match before the celebration party would begin,” Imama said.
Meanwhile, the management of Rangers International has said it was planning to celebrate Nigeria’s 56th independence with the NPFL trophy.
‘We have One Hand on the NPFL Trophy’
Enugu Rangers head coach Imama Amapakabo says his side already have ‘one hand on the trophy’ as the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) winds up this weekend.
Rangers will emerge this season’s NPFL champions if they avoid defeat against El Kanemi Warriors in their final league game of the season in Enugu on Sunday.
Even a 1-0 defeat to El Kanemi Warriors will still not stop Rangers from celebrating their first league triumph in 32 years as long as their closest challengers, Rivers United do not register a massive victory in Uyo against Akwa United in their final league game of the campaign.
“Rangers have one hand on the trophy but we still have 90 minutes to play (against El Kanemi Warriors) and in football anything can happen,” Amapakabo told supersport.com.
The youthful trainer added that he would not adopt a conservative approach against El Kanemi Warriors, even with the knowledge that a point on Sunday would be enough to secure the title.
“I always press high and try to strangulate my opposition no matter where I play, home or away, and Sunday’s game won’t be different,” he said.
Rangers have already secured qualification for next season’s Caf Champions League and Amapakabo insists that continuity must be maintained if success is to be replicated on the continent next season.“We can only succeed on the continent by having continuity and adding a few players in certain positions,” he explained.
Rangers currently occupy top spot in the NPFL standings with 60 points from 35 matches.
‘NPFL Destiny in Our Hands’
Abia Warriors head coach, Abdul Usman Biffo has said his side are 100 per cent in-charge of their status quo in the on-going top-flight.
The Umuahia Warriors are hosts of Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) in Sunday’s Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) matchday 38 clash at the Umuahia Township Stadium.
Biffo said his side are not worried over the pedigree of the opponents but to further the side unbeaten record to six matches.
“We are not under pressure as the destiny to avoid relegation is right there in our hands.
“We need a point against 3SC to scale the hurdle but we are going for the whole three points to get the job perfectly done.
“It’s not really our headache the quality of opposition but for us to prepare ourselves well to contest for the whole three points at stake.
“We have already gone five matches unbeaten we are working on six to end the season on high as well as make the teeming supporters happy.
“I will not consider Abia Warriors as bad performers in the outgoing season but praise the entire team to have quickly fixed the loose ends to put it on solid path.
“I think for the team to be on the verge of escaping relegation is worth celebrating.
“We have confidence to get better and vie for laurels in the upcoming league season,” said the former Giwa FC and Niger Tornadoes coach to supersport.com.
Meanwhile, 3SC striker, Ifegwu Ojukwu has said that his side still have an unfinished agenda at top-flight side Abia Warriors.
Ojukwu said that the Ibadan landlords want to end their glorious campaign in the ongoing top-flight on a high with a decent result at the Umuahia outfit.
“We are secured as far as the ongoing top-flight is concerned but we still have an unfinished work to do at Abia Warriors on Sunday.
“We want to end our campaign on a high with a respectable result at Abia Warriors.We are going there to play our very best game aimed at challenging for the whole three points at stake.
“Abia Warriors are the one under severe pressure to win the encounter to secure their status quo in the NPFL, not us, but that does not mean we are going there for jamboree or sight-seeing.
“We are satisfied with our achievement, especially cementing our spot in the top-flight. We actually wanted to finish the league campaign among the top three teams, but the unique circumstance we found ourselves in hindered the lofty dream. We are not complaining as we consider the outgoing season a good one, hoping to make the upcoming one balm and glorious,” the former Ikorodu United marksman said