Are MFM FC genuine NPFL title contenders?

The Olukoya Boys have started the new campaign like a house on fire, but will they be able to go the distance?

The abrupt end to the 2018 Nigeria Professional Football League season left many unanswered questions, and Mountain of Fire FC may have been quietly content that the domestic chaos overshadowed their own troubles.

On the back of losing star forward Stephen Odey, the Olukoya Boys could not replicate their 2017 heroics, where they finished an astonishing second in just their second season in the Nigerian top flight.

They failed to make it to the group phase of the Caf Champions League nor the Confederation Cup, after receiving a traumatic 7-2 mauling by Algerian heavyweights MC Alger.

By the time the league was wrapped up, they languished in 11th, five points from the relegation zone.

MFM vs Sunshine

There were fears ahead of the new campaign after the Lagos-based outfit sold more key players in Sikiru Olatunbosun, Chukwuka Onuwa and Stanley Okorom. The first two had formed a fearsome partnership with Odey, and their loss appeared set to be compounded by rumours that coach Fidelis Ilechukwu was on the verge of moving out too.

Fortunately, Ilechukwu has stayed on, and MFM have started the season particularly well.

They comfortably top Group A, even with outstanding games still to play, and their 100% record at home has underpinned their magnificent start to the campaign. At the time of writing, their departed stars are not being missed.

Ironically, the departed players are struggling to get starting berths at their new clubs, several of whom are struggling.

MFM did recruit in the transfer window but virtually all of the arrivals were academy players from amateur leagues or those promoted from the MFM Feeders team.

The most notable signing was Michael Ohanu, who arrived after scoring 25 goals in the Nigeria National League in 2017 for promoted Kwara United. However, one top-flight goal with the Ilorin outfit and three goals after transferring to struggling El-Kanemi Warriors had seen that reputation wane. He was far from a guaranteed success.

Of the lesser known transfers, Kabiru Adeniji has been the standout player, with four goals in eight games, the highlight being his sole strike at Remo Stars on matchday seven.

Austine Opara PS

Mountain of Fire will not go about buying big names in the NPFL, unlike rivals Enyimba, Kano Pillars, Akwa United. Rather their aim is to breed and nurture talent to prominence as Odey once was. Could Adeniji follow in his footsteps?

Even though MFM have started the season well, it remains to be seen whether their current squad can specifically compensate for the firepower lost in the offseason sales.

To this effect, there’s bound to be a potential struggle as the season wears on, especially in the second half as the pressure increases on the church-backed club.

Austine Opara PS

Speaking after the 2-0 win over Sunshine Stars, captain Austine Opara charged the new signings to fill the void left by the departed players.

“With spirit, teamwork and focus, I believe we will be at the top,” he told Goal.

"Yes, this abridged league is tough and anything can happen, but we need to have the right mindset.

“Good players will always leave for better teams, but it’s the responsibility of those who replace them to carry on and try to perform like them.”

Ultimately, MFM's key strength may come in the form of their manager; Ilechukwu deciding to stay was the real saving grace!

Fidelis Ilechukwu

Had he departed the Agege Stadium, they might not have had this fine start. He’s been with the club since its formative years, and has developed several talents that have benefited the club both on the pitch and financially.

The narrow relegation escape in their maiden season to the miraculous second-place finish the campaign after is a clear sign of his team’s adaptation to the NPFL.

Whether the church-owned club make it to the playoffs or ultimately become champions remains to be seen, but with Ilechukwu still in charge, we can at least expect MFM's values - the faith in youth, the atmosphere and the brand of football - to shine through in the NPFL.