What Ogunbote’s return means to Sunshine Stars

By Ayobami Animasahun

Photo: Sunshine Stars

It is seven years and 11 months since Gbenga Ogunbote departed Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) side Sunshine Stars for supposed greener pastures – a search that has led him back to the Akure based club for a second stint as the head coach.

Reports of Ogunbote’s imminent return had been circulating the rumor mills for weeks until Sunshine Stars confirmed the news last week.

Following his departure from Sunshine Stars, Ogunbote had worked with Sharks FC, Shooting Stars, Giwa FC, Enyimba FC, Enugu Rangers, and recently led Lobi Stars to a fourth-place finish in the abruptly ended 2019-20 NPFL season.

While each of these clubs offered peculiar challenges, The Oracle – as Ogunbote is fondly called – left a significant marker at the exit door of each of the clubs.

For starters, the newly inherited task at Sunshine Stars is delicately poised to redefine Ogunbote’s career, especially with regard to his first stint at the club. The team accrued a total of 71 points in his first season (2010-11) and no other tactician matches that season-tally in the history of the club.

To put in a different context, 14 different managers were appointed by Sunshine Stars since Ogunbote departed in 2012, but none – with at least five games in charge of the club – beat his 50% win rate in league matches during his first stint. Only Duke Udi, who was in charge for 25 games, came closest with a 48% win rate.

Away from Ogunbote’s exploits with Sunshine Stars in the league, he also set a staggering standard with the club in CAF competitions. In his debut season, the Owena Whales reached an unprecedented CAF Confederation Cup semifinal stage where Club Africain ousted the team. The following season, he led the Sunshine Stars to their first and only appearance in the semifinal stage of the CAF Champions League before they lost to eventual winners Al Ahly.

For such high standards set in first stint, the pressure to raise the bar is often enormous for returning coaches and could offer a quick route to failure. However, Ogunbote seems to have a knack for beating his previous standard when he makes a return to an old club – at least judging by his stint with Shooting Stars. With a 50% NPFL win record in his second spell with 3SC, Ogunbote toppled a standard of 45% set in his first appointment albeit enroute to helping the club avoid relegation on both occasions.

Back in Akure after a massive 8-year sojourn across the country obviously lands him in a familiar cottage but with a somewhat different environment. Array of stars he worked with during the 2-year reign are either retired or have little gas left in their tank. The Ondo State Football Agency Chairman, Mike Idoko, with whom he had a very good working relationship, now works with Lobi Stars. He would also be greeted by a depleted Sunshine Stars squad that has been struck by the departure of certain stars from the squad during the transfer window. Such is the task for an Oracle to live up to the billing.

Ogunbote’s immediate focus will be on the short-term, fix as he looks to build a competitive team to match his reputation ahead of next season. The Oracle has a daunting first-season legacy of helping his new club finish higher than their position in the previous season before his appointment. Moreover, his influential status is ostensibly expected to play a key role in attracting quality players, and possibly another reunion with his “loyal and trusted legs” could give the Stars a decent shot at the top-three next season.

Defense is an art which only few, including Ogunbote, can master. Bar his stints with relegation battling Shooting Stars, his teams are often highly discipline defensively. Taking over a Sunshine Stars team that allowed 29 goals from 25 games last campaign – most by any team in the top half of the league standings – shows The Oracle has his work cut out. I would not expect miracles to happen overnight but looking back over a long period of time and especially at his first time with the club, his goal differential was 26 from 74 league matches. That could serve as a decent template for the forthcoming campaign.

Unlike 2010 when Ogunbote’s appointment was greeted by Sunshine Stars’ fans with a bit of skepticism fueled by a half-decent campaign at Gateway FC during the previous season, he is now in a position of greater power and respect. Now is the time to give the club’s fans a glimmer of hope as they continually yearn for close competition…and possibly an opportunity to watch their darling team lift its first title ever.