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One of the originals keeping MFM FC together

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AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

Football is acknowledged as a team sport, where every one of the 11 players in a game is expected to contribute his quota to the success of the collective. No one player is indispensible, but in many instances some stars have been more outstanding than their mates in the successes of their teams.

This particularly is true of a team going through a rebuilding process with a squad populated by rookies. Such is the fate of MFM Football Club of Lagos, which has defied all odds to be ranked among the leading lights in Nigerian football in their less than 10 years in the national game.

Like many successful sides, bigger and richer clubs always prey on MFM squad for good players. But like Hydra in Greek mythology, MFM continually defy the odds to maintain their stand among the topsides of the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL). But after last season, the club suffered the type of exodus they had never experienced before when almost all their first team stars joined other clubs.

However, rather than suffer the fate associated with such desertions, MFM FC have maintained their position among the top eight teams of the league. Amazing, but that is down to the meticulous job the club’s management has done in the off-season. And of course the managerial skill of their young coach, Fidelis Ilechukwu.

There is also another factor, which fans of the club call the Austin Opara aura, which has permeated the young squad.

Still the club captain, Opara has been exceptional in all his team’s matches in the four-week old campaign. The central defender has some technical skills that has helped MFM FC to pull off outstanding victories like the recent 1-0 defeat of Enugu Rangers at the Agege Stadium.

The Olukoya Boys began their campaign in the top flight league of the 2015/2016 season with many youngsters tutored by Coach Ilechukwu when the club gained promotion from the tough Nigeria National League (NNL) in the previous season.

Now, in the current season, many of these players that made MFM FC the pride of Lagos at the Soccer Temple in Agege in less than two years in the NPFL, achieving what many notable big clubs couldn’t, have left for greener pastures.

At the commencement of the 2018/19 season, Coach Ilechukwu was left with a virtually new team, a young squad of new players, who he described as highly inexperienced. But after four matches, only the most ardent followers of the club will notice big change in the playing staff.

Notable among the players, who departed the club are Ospino Egbe, the former number one goalkeeper, and Monsuru Bashiru, a midfielder. They now play for the current NPFL champions, Lobi Stars of Markurdi.

Other departed players are Sikiru Olatunbosun (Plateau United), Onuwa Chukwuka and Okorom Stanley (Enyimba FC of Aba), Ademola Adesola (Kano Pillars), Harrison Chimezie (Heartland FC) and Chukwudi Ekeocha (Remo Stars), among others.

Majority of these players, right from their amateur days, brought joy to Lagos fans, especially supporters, who had been starved of top-flight football in the city for some years after the exit of the defunct Julius Bergers, and the unceremonious departure of Stationery Stores.

MFM have always been noted for their free flowing football, with ball possession and crisp passes as their trademarks.

But with the exit of the club veterans, Opara and a few of the old guard, including Akuneto Chijioke, Folarin Abayomi, Adeyinka Nojeem, were now saddled with the challenge of keeping the side together, while Ilechukwu continues to work on bringing the club back to what the Agege fans are used to on each match day.

Speaking to The Guardian on the exit of the players from the club after the hard-earned 1-0 victory over a highly experienced Rangers of Enugu on Wednesday, Opara said there was nothing the club could do as the players decided to take the offers they received from other teams.

“We now have some player the club newly recruited to the squad in addition to the ones that we have on ground. We cannot because some players left descend to lamentations and stop working hard.

“The new players have been working together with us to make the team better so that the fans will not notice much difference from the club they were used to. But we thank God that everything has gone according to plans, as we are now doing well in the league with the impressive results at home,” he said.

Opara, who became the first player as a debutant of the NPFL to win two awards in one month, that is as Player of The Month, and also the clubs Long Service Awards, said all he could do for the former players was to pray for them to succeed in their new clubs.

“I must confess that I missed these players a great deal but since they have left, there is nothing anyone can do about that. It is left for us to move forward with the materials we have. That is football for you.

“When offers come, the next thing is to discuss it with the manager for him to know what he thinks about it and the decision that you have already taken. For these players, I want to say I am happy for them,” he said.

Opara said he would study any offer that comes his way very well before deciding what to do, adding, “Whatever I do, I must carry my coach and the board along because they have done so much for me.

“Before the start of the league, I had offers but my coach advised that I should wait for another season to help this team stabilise. He promised that he would release me if any good offer comes my way after this season,” he stated.


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