Have MFM FC hit rock bottom with Fidelis Ilechukwu’s departure?

Tolu Olasoji
The pragmatic coach has ended his time with the church-run club after 13 years; where do the Lagos-based side go from here?

Mountain of Fire and Miracles FC have been growing in leaps and bounds since gaining promotion to the Nigeria Professional Football League for the first time ever in 2016. They have become a household name and an exciting brand in the shortest time, and a lot of that has been due to Fidelis Ilechukwu.

The young coach started out with the church-run side from their formative years in 2006 in the Nigeria Nationwide League, the lowest tier in the country. However, this memorable relationship has come to an end after Heartland announced him as their new coach last week.

Ilechukwu’s decision to move from Lagos to Owerri might come as a shock to many, but this may well be the right time or him to move on.

For the past two years, a host of players who have made MFM the formidable force they are, have left. This started out with Stephen Odey, who joined FC Zurich in Switzerland, and he was soon followed by Sikiru Olatunbosun to Plateau United and Chukwuka Onuwa to Enyimba.

Full-back Stanley Okorom also moved to Enyimba, Goalkeeper Ospino Egbe joined Lobi Stars and as if that wasn’t enough, captain and solid centre-back Austine Opara left for Aba again. Then in one swoop, Chijoke Akuneto, Julius Emiloju, Olatunde Abisoye and Jonathan Zikiye all left the Agege Stadium for Sunshine Stars.

The heart had been ripped out of MFM FC.

Austine Opara - MFM vs. Heartland

Most of these players were nurtured by Ilechukwu, and obviously seeing them part one by one, won't have gone down well with him.

MFM failed to make adequate replacements for these departed players, and it led to a drop in form. The struggles were evident as the Olukoya Boys weren't their same imposing selves, not even on their own turf, where their slick and stylish football was notably absent.

Odey’s departure was the first sign of Ilechukwu wanting to leave the Agege Stadium, but he was however pressured to stay by the club hierarchy. When the trio of Onuwa, Olatunbosun and Okorom left last year, Ilechukwu’s desire to exit only heightened. With the club failing to make it to the NPFL playoffs, it was clear that more key players would follow.

 The end was surely near for the coach as well.

Fidelis Ilechukwu PS

Opara’s switch to Enyimba was the final straw, so it's little surprise that Ilechukwu threw in the towel.

Where does it go for Mountain of Fire FC from here? Are the struggles set to continue or will there be a new revival?

It has been rumoured that Ilechukwu’s long-time assistant Suleman Obinna will take the reins at the Agege Stadium. He has taken charge of the team a couple of times in Ilechukwu’s absence, and secured some good results, especially away from home.

This particularly pleased Ilechukwu, who claimed his number two had what it takes to manage the team.

“I have lots of respect for [Suleman], despite [him] being my assistant,” Ilechukwu told media after MFM’S stalemate at Wikki Tourists back in May. “For me, [he] is a sign of better things to happen in the future for these youngsters and, of course, MFM FC.

“He has the technical qualities, understands the work ethic of the game, and above all, is committed and dedicated to duty.”

Ilechukwu has been the binding force behind Mountain of Fire FC becoming what they are today; as much as it hurts to see the players he developed leave, nothing can be done to really stop that happening considering the club's current standing within the broader footballing world.

The project envisioned by the General Overseer of the church, Pastor Daniel Olukoya, was to take boys off the street and make them become worthy ambassadors for the Christian faith and society at large.

This kind of model indicates that different crop of players will be produced and sold off, and maintaining top form will therefore be difficult on the long run.

Fidelis Ilechukwu

Ilechukwu’s impact will be greatly missed.

To be in the dugout for three years - in an unpredictable top flight where managers come and go in the shortest space of time  - and 13 years in total, is an achievement worth celebrating.

It won't be easy for him to recreate the influence he enjoyed and the growth he oversaw at Heartland, while for MFM, it may be near impossible for them to replace the charismatic coach any time soon.