MFM's Ilechukwu: Combining Mourinho, Guardiola and Conte's tactics worked for me

Olu Ogunfeyitimi
The tactician has revealed how he achieved a remarkable turnaround with the Olukoya Boys mixing the tactics of the European gaffers

When many expected Fidelis Ilechukwu to struggle in charge after a relegation-troubled debut topflight season, his tactics inspired them to greater heights in 2017.

The gaffer, who enjoyed over 10-year romance with the Olukoya Boys, unexpectedly quit his post after a final day 1-0 win over Ifeanyi Ubah to escape relegation in 2016.

He returned to the helms with the promise to turn things around. However, he lost the services of star players like Musa Newman and Ifeanyi Ifeanyi to Akwa United but made the huge leap with the trio of Sikiru Olatunbosun, Chukwuka Onuwa, and Stephen Odey.

Amidst their highs and lows, he stressed that combining the philosophies of Manchester City's Pep Guardiola, Manchester United's Jose Mourinho and Chelsea's Antonio Conte turned their fortunes from relegation fighters to title contenders.

"After we escaped relegation in 2016, I knew we were not that bad because we played well but I only needed to be fully in charge and instill discipline," Ilechukwu told Goal.

"At the start, I promised the chairman [Dr. Daniel Olukoya] that I will take the club to the top three of the table. Though we had our ups and downs despite we eventually lost the league title to Plateau United, It was a really tough campaign because I took many risks.

"I settled down well to think of how to make a difference in our second season [in the Nigeria Professional Football League]. We lost some of our key players like Ifeanyi Ifeanyi and Musa Newman, but we coped at last.

"I knew success will not come easy but I was ready to do whatever it takes to get the result on the pitch. I had three coaches that I adopted their philosophies because I don't rely on one. I used Jose Mourinho's idea of packing the box when it is needed.

"I also adopted Guardiola's style of keeping the possession no matter the pressure during the match - the ball must be on the ground and the team must dominate."

"While Conte's philosophy of having fewer defenders and more players in the midfield and the attack was another tactic I used. So when things change, I can change to any of them," he continued.

"When I started early last season taking the risk and implementing those philosophies I adopted in our away games, we concede up to four goals. That's one result is different from the other, especially when we play away from home.

"For example in one of our home game against Gombe United, if not for the adoption of Mourinho's style of packing the box, we won't have survived the match because they gave us problems as they were fighting against relegation.

"I had the mindset of trying to play some of the key players at home and sharing the team in the first round. I go with my second team to away matches, especially when we are travelling by road to play teams in far regions of the country.

"I also did this to give every player the opportunity to showcase themselves and resting our key players and it worked for me all through the season."

Following the move of the team's top scorer Stephen Odey, who scored 18 goals to Zurich, the gaffer assures he will unearth another talisman ahead of the new season.

"Stephen Odey has really tried seeing the background he had. Many coaches he had played under could not manage him, but I’m pleased I was able to get the best out of him," added Ilechukwu.

"We have some psychologists and trainers, who helped us, work on him and brought the best out of him. We saw him at the Principal Cup, where he was always scoring 19 goals.

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"I believe he could make great breakthrough in club football and brought him in while in Nigeria National League. Though he couldn't make success then, I decided to give him the chance immediately Musa Newman left the team and he had rewarded my trust in him.

"Now, he is gone to Europe, I've long been working on securing a replacement for him because as a coach it is unreasonable relying on one player for too long. We will surely find a new replacement for him."

With continental football returning to Lagos for the first time in 16 years, Ilechukwu will be hoping to make another successful outing on all fronts.