How Insurance secured long-held promotion dream with young grassroots players who bleed Bendel

By Daily Sports on January 10, 2019

Views: 2,489

“God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called.” Christian folks like this saying. Arguments about its ethical soundness aside, it simply implies that sometimes the ones thought to be most qualified for something do not necessarily achieve it as those who were dismissed but who eventually became victorious, by a certain divine or unexpected chance, at the expense of the seemingly more qualified. 

For Bendel Insurance Football Club’s young homegrown (those who were plucked from grassroots clubs in Benin City where Insurance are based) players, this saying in some sense applies to them, having just played starring roles in lifting the club, one of Nigeria’s best known local teams, out of the doldrums of about 10 years in the second tier of Nigerian football which is the Nigerian Professional League (NPL) back to the elite league, the Nigerian Professional Football League (NFL). 

On Wednesday (January 8, 2019) morning Bendel Insurance officially gained promotion to the NPFL after beating Shooting Stars FC of Ibadan 1-0 at the Enyimba International Stadium, Aba where 8 teams have been battling in a mini league to see which 4 clubs gain promotion. 

The win against Shooting followed the impressive 3-0 thumping of Delta Force FC and a 1-0 triumph over Remo Stars who picked up the second qualifying spot in the Southern Conference group. 

For years, there had been a philosophical approach by the minders of Insurance to achieve promotion by going after players from all over Nigeria and seemingly not showing enough zeal to select and trust players from the grassroots of Benin City as the club chased promotion. 

This was a departure from the approach that heralded the glory days of the club which prided itself in the days of yore on bringing through players directly from secondary schools within the then Bendel state to achieving national and international success. 

Then there was the failure of backing their transfer policy up with an aggressive financing for the players and officials of the team as well as a lack of the management skills to create internal harmony and play all the boardroom political battles at the NPL league organising level to back up this recruitment policy. It was very much a scattergun approach. 

The poor financing of the club over the years, with players being owed salaries endlessly, and with the club always falling short made the Insurance institution a source of big embarrassment for Edo State. 

Then came the Godwin Obaseki administering in 2016. One of the well-stated priorities of the administration at its start was the revamping of the sports sector and it was the deputy governor Philip Shaibu who the Governor gave the remit to ensure Insurance returned to its pride of place in Nigerian football. 

Shaibu, an avid football lover, took on the task with fervor. Immediately, Insurance players and officials were placed on the payroll of the state as normal civil servants, with the salary of players flowing steadily at the end of each month. 

The deputy governor raised spirits of the players further by actively participating in the team’s training sessions, going through each training drill with the players and bringing in an air of genuine camaraderie into the club. (He even registered as a player this season and made history as the first serving deputy governor in Nigeria to make his debut as a player in the Nigerian professional league in the just ended regular season.)

After a season in which club legend and former coach Roland Ewere unfortunately was unable to steer the club on to promotion, the Edo Government decided to move him on and brought in Monday Odigie, a coach with good experience of international football. 

The appointment of Odigie followed an elaborate rebranding ceremony of the club by the Edo government, in which a firmer resolve was taken to bring usher in true professional standards in the club. 

One of the major philosophical shift was the focus on grassroots players within the state. A thorough recruitment process was embarked upon with open screening sessions and a quiet reassurance afforded grassroots players who showed high qualities that they would be relied upon for the season. 

In came a number of players who just last year were still playing in youth competitions for their various grassroots clubs. 

Newly formed youth club Eagles Wings FC of Benin City provided a number of players including 16-year old towering center back Benjamin Tanimu and pacy attacker Ugwu Michael. From BJ Foundation FC (2015 Edo FA Cup champions) came striker Junior Osaghae, an attacker with a great heading skills and an ability to press defenders like a wolf. Also from BJ arrived super strong teenage defensive midfielder Kalu Moses via Dynamite Force FC, another Edo NPL club where he had a short stint and Michael Enaruna, an excellent left-footed creative attacking midfielder. 

These recent graduates from grassroots football in and around Benin City brought with them youthful zeal and energy. They are quick and technically gifted players who have long grown as friends and who know very well the unsavory history of Insurance in the recent past and they developed a soul for the club quickly. 

Soft talking Tanimu said after their qualification to the NPFL in Aba: “When I joined the team, I was initially surprised at how quickly I was trusted by the coaches having come with no reputable profile. But I noticed something in the group that gave me belief. We were young, united and ready to play to instructions.”

This attitude of mind; the humility to fully implement the game plans of the coaches is an invaluable one for the success of any club and Insurance had it in their case for promotion. 

The young grassroots graduates lads and a few retained older heads like inspirational captain and striker Charles Omokaro formed the fulcrum of the first team that prosecuted the league campaign and won Bendel Insurance promotion.  

Of course, the Edo Government and the coaches of the team could have taken another approach of splurging out on well known names of the league who were thought by many to be more qualified but they took the risky but well-measured step of promoting players from the state and “qualified” them by instilling confidence and thrusting them into the thick of the action with comparatively good pay package. Today this move has paid off handsomely. Up Bendel!


•Photo shows Bendel Insurance line up during one of their Super 8 matches in Aba 

Source Daily Sports

Posted January 10, 2019


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