Heartland FC manager Fidelis Ilechukwu believes last season’s off-field troubles that blighted his first season in charge of the club are a thing of the past and has declared his side’s readiness for the new campaign whenever it kicks off.
A proposed 6 December kickoff date for the 2020-21 Nigeria Professional Football League season looks increasingly unfeasible with unconfirmed reports suggesting the start date has been moved by a week ostensibly to give clubs more time to comply with licensing regulations.
Clubs, meanwhile, are still reeling from the aftermath a seven-month ban on football caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the youth-led nationwide protests against police brutality and bad governance that rocked the nation in October, all of which conspired to ensure less than ideal preseason preparations for NPFL sides.
With clubs yet to be officially notified of any shifts in the league’s start date, Ilechukwu says while they may not be “one hundred percent ready”, Heartland’s preparations in the off-season means they’re reasonably prepared for whatever decision organisers make.
“We’re ready but understand we may not be one hundred percent ready because the 6th of December is the league date and everybody is aware of that,” Ilechukwu told busybuddiesng.com.
“If by the end of the day it’s moved to the 13th, I know it’s an advantage to some teams and it’s a disadvantage to some teams. So that is how it is in life, because some people have been in preseason while some people have not done anything at all which should give them edge to do that, so that’s football for you.
“But Heartland football club we always prepare. We may not be 100 percent ready, I think with what we’ve done and the kind of preparation we’ve had, to me will be enough to start the league.”
Ilechukwu ended a 13-year association with Lagos club MFM to pitch his tent with Heartland last year, in a move that was wildly celebrated by fans of the Naze Millionaires.
However, his debut season didn’t quite pan out as envisaged for the U23 national team assistant coach who had to deal with a myriad of off-field issues that nearly derailed their campaign before Covid-19 forced an early end to the 2019-20 NPFL season.
A change of governments after Hope Uzodinma replaced Emeka Ihedioha as governor following a Supreme Court decision, precipitated a long period of instability that saw infighting and multiple reorganisations at boardroom level.
A salary backlog seven months long as at August, was recently defrayed by a few months by the government which also announced a new administrative board for the state-run club.
With a semblance of normalcy now returning to club, Ilechukwu says the mood around the place has been lifted with players especially pleased with the governor’s promise to ensure all salary backlogs are cleared.
The former MFM coach believes the governor will be true to his word and says his players will always keep to their side of the bargain to give their best when they take to the pitch in the new season.
“The most important thing now is that our governor will not disappoint. I don’t think he will ever, because he has promised to make everything right so players are happy and believe me the players are happy,” he said.
“So we’re prepared, we’re just waiting. In our own side we always do our best, in as much that sometimes the best may not be enough, considering that a lot of things are surrounding football. But we’re always ready, we try our best.”