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Enugu Rangers: The journey to ignominy

Enugu Rangers during a league encounter in the NPFL. Courtesy LMC Media

Enugu Rangers hold the singularly distinguished record of being the only Nigerian club never to have been relegated from the top flight.

It is a record that puts them on a revered pedestal in Nigerian football.

But within one year of landing their first title in 32 years, the club are about to join less-hallowed company.

Sunday's 2-0 defeat at ABS FC dropped the champions down to 17th position - one of the four relegation places - and they now walk a tightrope as they tread water in the drop zone.

Rivers United, under intense pressure of their own, come visiting this weekend, leaving Rangers no margin for any further errors.

Their situation is not made any easier by the suspensions handed to club general manager Christian Chukwu and secretary Joseph Onwukwe over their part in the arrest of former coach Imama Amapakabo last week.

Acknowledged without question as one of the elite clubs in Nigeria, Rangers have fallen on lean times, both on and off the pitch.

Since their last title in 1984, Rangers have failed to win any silverware, although they did make the FA Cup Final five times between 1987 and 2007.

Whether the club survives or go down, this will still count as one of the most humiliating periods in their storied history.

So why the major turnaround in fortunes? Here are four reasons ...

FINANCING
Like the majority of clubs in Nigeria, Rangers are owned by the state government. The Enugu State government, which owns Rangers, are neither in the top revenue-generating states in the country, nor among the top receivers of federal government allocations.

Irrespective of their standing as Nigerian football aristocrats, Rangers have not been given the attention their status deserves by successive state governments.

For the last three decades, the club's management has had to run on funding that makes shoe-string budget sound like the height of decadent opulence.

It is no surprise then that the club have failed to compete in the transfer market, depending mainly on the lure of the name to attract players. Players who are quick to move on at the first opportunity.

In the thick of last year's title charge, Rangers' players were owed wages and match allowances. The problem continued into this season. At one point, the team boycotted training just before an important Champions League game.

And after defeat to Zesco in Zambia for the second leg of their CAF Confederation Cup play-off, coach Agbo - who had replaced Imama Amapakabo - claimed his players had had nothing to eat before the game.

BUNGLED PLAYER RECRUITMENT
Between 2000 and 2007, Rangers played in three FA Cup Finals, got to the CAF Cup semifinals, and played in the Champions League in 2006 and 2013. Most of those performances were under the leadership of former player Davidson Owumi as general manager.

The former striker, with the help of coach Lawrence Akpokona, administered lean resources by picking young, unknown talent and grooming them into stars. In recent years, that recourse to young talent has gone and Rangers' player recruitment has taken a poor turn.

Last season, in the middle of their push for the title, Amapakabo made oblique references to the fact that he needed more resources. He never quite got them, but the team still managed to get over the line.

At the start of the current campaign, the club signed players, then failed to register them on time for both domestic and continental competition, leaving the squad lean and hamstrung as they chased glory on two fronts.

The diminished resources contributed in no small part to their sub-standard performances this season.

INTERNAL WRANGLING

Rangers have continued to live in the shadow of their glory years. Coach after coach who has managed the club has had to contend with the dark shadow of former Rangers players looming over them.

These players wield a remarkably strong influence on the ownership, the fans and the current team, to the point where the state government has supported them with facilities, including a bus.

But this shadow has lent itself to a festering internal crisis within the club. One former coach, who chose to speak anonymously, told KweséESPN that they are a bad influence on the club.

"They always feel like they know everything. Every move of a coach or player is analysed and criticised and compared to the past."

That influence has led to a constant battle between old and new. Last year's title win pushed it to the surface, with the new bloc empowered to assert their own authority, and the old pushing back to remain relevant.

LEADERSHIP ISSUES

The last time Rangers were involved in continental competition, Davidson Owumi was general manager and Lawrence Akpokona was coach. Since then, the entire management hierarchy has changed, as has the coaching staff. Multiple times.

It means there was no continuity in management, and the current team had little to no clue about what to expect on the continent, according to Amapakabo.

"The team failed to build on the success. They were confused and had a leadership that didn't know what to do and how to go about it. Most importantly, politics stepped in internally and externally."

Amapakabo did not explain what that politics is, but it is a clear reference to the internal wrangling already mentioned above - the inability to register players signed in good time; the disjointed travel arrangements; strained finances.

Rangers have seven more matches to keep their league record unstained. At the moment, it is not looking very good.