By Mfoniso Williams & Akila Matawal
For the first time since 2017, the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) held a full season, with all teams playing 38 matches apiece.
Out of 380 matches played, 288 wins and 92 draws were recorded; while 791 goals — representing 2.8 goals per match — were scored.
From the statistical viewpoint, the season was comparatively successful. Thirty-six of the 288 victories were earned by away teams — and that’s a new record. The 791 goals scored and 92 draws recorded are also the highest in the top-flight’s history.
Akwa United overcame a poor start to the campaign to win their maiden title. And for guiding his side to lift the trophy, Kennedy Boboye gets our honours.
The team is dominated by Akwa United and Nasarawa United, with the two clubs contributing three players apiece.
There is no room for Kano Pillars captain Rabiu Ali and Kwara United’s Michael Ohanu, who scored 14 apiece.
The race for the Golden Boot continued till the final seconds of the season. Akwa United striker Charles Atshimene and Nasarawa United’s Silas Nwankwo led the way with 18 goals apiece going into the final game of the campaign.
And with only stoppage time left to play at Okigwe Stadium, where Nasarawa United were taking on Abia Warriors, it looked like Atshimene had scooped the award — having scored less than an hour earlier at Lobi Stars to move a goal clear of Nwankwo and five ahead of the other top challengers, Rabiu Ali and Michael Ohanu.
However, with barely two minutes of stoppage time remaining, Nwankwo netted against Imama Amapakabo’s men to move level with the former Warri Wolves man, and went on to claim the accolade via the “Least number of goals scored from penalty spot” tie-breaker.
We pick out individual stars who stood out for their teams in our best XI for the 2020/2021 season.
Goalkeeper: Adewale Adeyinka (Akwa United)
After not getting the nod in the first few games of the season, Adewale Adeyinka grabbed his opportunity to prove himself following an injury to Jean Efala and never looked back. He went on to keep 16 clean sheets and establish himself as first-choice. His heroics proved very useful•
Right-back: Chigozie Obasi (Nasarawa United)
Obasi put on one of the best defensive displays of the season, but that wasn’t the only aspect of his game that endeared him to many. Starring at right-back, the former Lobi Stars man contributed 12 goals — scoring four and delivering eight assists. His long-range strike against FC Ifeanyi Ubah is arguably a contender for goal of the season•
Left-back: Evans Ogbonda (FC Ifeanyi Ubah)
FC Ifeanyi Ubah’s Evans Ogbonda may have gone the whole campaign without finding the back of the net, but his record of double-digit assists made it difficult for our analysts to overlook him.
The left-back provided an unassailable 14 assists for the relegated Nnewi side, and that stat caught the attention of a host of NPFL clubs, before he signed for champions Akwa United•
Centre-back: Olisa Ndah (Akwa United)
A fan favourite, Olisa Ndah was a key member of the Akwa United side that cruised to league glory.
His strong partnership with Sampson Gbadebo solidified a defence line that was the tightest in the league, with only 24 goals conceded.
Ndah would later join South African club Orlando Pirates•
Centre-back: Tebo Franklin (Nasarawa United)
Another breakout star of the 2020/2021 NPFL season, Tebo Franklin rarely put a foot wrong during the campaign. He stood out, especially in the big games. Also, he completed 85 per cent of his tackles and proved very difficult to beat in the air all season.
The solid defender, who provided two assists, was duly rewarded with a national team call-up for July’s friendly with Mexico.
He now pitches his tent with BC Hacken in Sweden.
Defensive Midfielder: Afeez Nosiru (Kwara United)
Kwara United were one of the surprise packages of the season.
The Harmony Boys narrowly missed out on a continental spot on the final day, no thanks to Rivers United’s late triumph at the appeal committee of the NFF.
Regardless, Afeez Nosir proved his mettle with great outings for Ilorin side. He scored twice.
Central Midfielder: Oche Ochowechi (Plateau United)
Plateau United had a disappointing season, which saw them finish ninth in the table and 20 points adrift of champions Akwa United. However, their star player Oche Ochowechi was brilliant all season. The midfielder notched six goals and three assists during the campaign.
His brilliant displays earned him a move to Portuguese side CD Feirense in August.
Attacking Midfielder: Godwin Aguda (Rivers United)
Godwin Aguda made a shock move to Rivers United from Rivers United. He went on to help the Port Harcourt club secure Champions League football, before sealing a move to Swedish second-tier outfit Falkenberg last month.
He netted nine goals during the campaign.
Left Winger: Silas Nwankwo (Nasarawa United)
Silas Nwankwo finished top scorer in the 2020/2021 season after scoring 19 goals. He also notched six assists.
His goals and consistency catapulted Nasarawa United to second position on the log for many weeks before a final day meltdown against Abia Warriors ended their continental ambitions.
For his golden boot exploits, Nwankwo is an easy pick into our team of the season.
Centre Forward: Sadeeq Yusuf (Sunshine Stars)
Sunshine Stars’ survival last season hinged largely on Sadeeq Yusuf.
The Owena Whales scored only 28 goals all season. Nearly 50 percent of that — 13 — came from the former KAA Gent U21 player.
Right Winger: Charles Atshimene (Akwa United)
Ndifreke Effiong’s departure to Ahli Benghazi midway through the campaign caused panic among the Promise Keepers faithful. However, Atshimene — who joined the club from Warri Wolves at the start of the season — stepped up to fill the void left by Effiong.
Atshimene hit 19 goals — a joint tally with Silas Nwankwo.
Atshimene’s goals — including a hat-trick on matchday 37 against MFM FC — helped seal the title for the Promise Keepers.
The Delta-born striker has since moved to Portuguese second-division side CD Feirense.