The meteoric rise of Mountain of Fire and Miracles FC in the Nigeria Professional Football League is a remarkable and inspiring story.
After narrowly beating the drop in their maiden top flight season, despite impressing, some fans were of the opinion that they would struggle to survive again in the next campaign. However, that wasn't the case...not by a long shot!
The Olukoya Boys rose above criticism and mediocrity to finish a fine second, four points behind Plateau United, having run the eventual champions close. They ultimately qualified for the Caf Champions League in the process, ensuring continental football returns to Lagos for the first time in many years.
Unlike their first season, where they struggled to maintain their early form, Fidelis Ilechukwu’s men didn’t choke under the pressure this time around.
They went unbeaten at home throughout the campaign, dropping points only twice - to Akwa United and Enyimba - and were undefeated in all South-West derbies contested, taking maximum points away at Sunshine Stars and Remo Stars.
Retaining Ilechukwu and the bulk of the squad - particularly Stephen Odey, Sikiru Olatunbosun and Chukwuka Onuwa - was instrumental in MFM’s success, as ambition and stability underpinned their campaign.
However, while MFM FC can enjoy their magnificant campaign, the example of Enugu Rangers - who declined remarkably after their title success in 2016 - shows why the Lagos-based upstarts cannot afford to rest on their laurels or get complacent as they look to make their mark in Africa.
Being a privately run club, MFM need to be different from the rest in their approach to continental football. The majority of teams that are government-owned have always seen the Caf competitions as an avenue to generate revenue and that’s it.
Subsequently, they don’t prepare their teams well for the tournament and end up embarrassing the country. This is exactly what Rivers United, Enugu Rangers and Wikki Tourists did last season.
While it can be said that management issues rocked the aforementioned clubs, thus affecting performance, MFM boast stability in their hierarchy, and will only have themselves to blame if they don't achieve as they ought to in continental competition.
This is why it's imperative they get their preparation right.
MFM will need to look to improve their away form heading into the continent.
Nigerian clubs have struggled on their travels around Africa, and considering the culture of the NPFL, as teams approach away games negatively, it isn't hard to understand why.
The Olukoya Boys were very poor on the road last term, losing 14 times, and if they can’t do something about their approach to away games, they might not go far in Africa’s premier club competition.
They also need to work on their defence; while they scored 42 goals last term, they conceded 41, the sixth-highest in the division, and it was arguably their failure at the back that denied them an unlikely title.
MFM FC's approach and structure has the potential to change the landscape of Nigerian football; they have a good structure of recruiting grassroots players who realise their potential under Ilechukwu’s guidance, with Odey, who was among the contenders for the top scorer award last season, one of several star examples.
The Lagos-based side also have a distinctive attacking pattern of play which has entertained Nigerians and earned them many 'neutral' admirers.
These are the kind of values MFM must continue to establish, as they could have a domino effect which will be for the good of the game and could help inspire other teams to follow their bold approach.
Continental football represents a huge reward for MFM, but they must consider it as another step on their fascinating journey, rather than an end in itself. They must keep up with the ambition and innovation that has underpinned their success to date.
If they do this, then they can help to restore some Nigerian pride in the Caf Champions League...after all, it's been a while!