Fidelis Ilechukwu takes up Heartland FC task and the chance to join Nigerian coaching elite
Ilechukwu has left the Lagos-based club after 13 years for Heartland FC, ending his storied stint at MFM FC where he worked his way to becoming a highly-rated coach.
The story of Ilechukwu and MFM FC started in 2006 when he joined the church-ran amateur football club. With him as the coach, the club gradually worked their way from an amateur club to become a professional outfit and in 2013 got into the Nigeria National League (NNL), the second-tier division in Nigerian football.
After winning the first edition of the Church World Cup in Goa, India, Ilechukwu led MFM FC to promotion to the NPFL, Nigeria’s top division.
It was in the NPFL that Ilechukwu’s works at MFM FC caught the eye. Life at the top was tough at first as MFM FC struggled in their debut NPFL season in 2016. They had to fight to a 1-0 win over FC IfeanyiUbah in a very emotional last day of the season game to avoid the drop.
In the following season, however, MFM FC became the team to watch especially at their home ground of the Agege Township Stadium in Lagos. With the advantage of the time he had spent working with his player, Ilechukwu’s MFM FC were a very cohesive team that played a brand of football that stirred admiration from everyone in the league.
Propelled by three main players-Chukwuka Onuwa was pulling strings in midfield, Sikiru Olatunbosun fitfully evoked magic while Stephen Odey was constantly delivering goals to make a title push. It was only towards the end of the 2017 season that they lost their momentum and still finished second behind winners Plateau United.
It was a massive season for MFM FC who had just gone from relegation candidates to title contenders in a year. However, with limited investment in the squad, not even the brilliance of Ilechukwu could keep them at that level.
Odeh left for Europe, robbing the coach of his star striker and in the next season, they finished 11th. A host of departures further depleted his squad before the 2019 season. Olatubosun and Onuwa both left to Plateau United and Enyimba respectively.
Despite the departures, MFM FC were still decent in the 2019 NPFL season and only narrowly failed to make the Playoffs in what would turn out to be Ilechukwu’s last season in charge of the club.
After 13 years of growth and impact, Ilechukwu is leaving MFM FC with a reputation as one of the highly-rated coaches in Nigerian football.
For journalist and NPFL insider Adepoju Tobi Samuel, one of Ilechukwu’s main achievements was the players he discovered and brought through the club. The likes of Odey, Olatunbosun and Onuwa all developed under the manager.
“The players he developed at MFM FC were fantastic and very talented,” Samuel Tobi told Pulse Sports.
After scoring a worldly in a league game in March 2017, Olatunbosun told Pulse Sports that it was Ilechukwu that convince him to leave baseball and take up football.
“I was a baseball player but also playing football for Real FC in Lagos,” the forward told Pulse Sports.
“With Real FC, I played at the Lagos Football Association (LAFA) League and I faced and scored against MFM FC in the semi-final.
“That was where he first saw me, he came to me and told me to join MFM FC.”
Even more impressive from Ilechukwu was the fervour that reverberated from him to every corner of the club. Everyone felt it, from fans to players. He was a sight to beyond on the touchline especially during home games, bouncing on the touchline from kickoff to full time.
After four seasons in the NPFL with MFM FC, Ilechukwu is leaving to test himself at another club, Heartland FC. Leaving MFM FC was inevitable. He almost left after the 2017 season but he stayed after pressure from the club hierarchy.
There is no stopping him this time as he has made the move to Heartland FC where he will have the chance to create a way for himself into the Nigerian coaching elite. It is what is expected of him after everything he achieved at MFM FC.
Indeed, he has the qualities to be among the Nigerian coaching elite. He has proven to have a good understanding of the game and his man-management skill has also been excellent.
Ilechukwu is also very well-liked by the media. He has cultivated a couple of relationships with journalists in the true nature of a coach who knows how to manage the media. His suit and tie attires for match days also made him stand out as the modern manager in the NPFL with often uptight coaches.
“Fidelis Ilechukwu has long been seen as one of the modern-day trainers in the NPFL,” journalist and NPFL insider Fisayo Diaro told Pulse Sports.
“His ability to constantly turn stone to bread while at very modest Lagos side MFM follows him to this new and bigger challenge.
“This can be likened to leaving his comfort zone to a realm of the unknown. He will now face Nigerian football realities big time and only time will tell if this move will be the step to unearthing Nigeria’s next big thing in coaching or if it will be a step to exposing him as a local champion.
“Whichever way, the world awaits the unravelling of Ilechukwu at Heartland.”