MFM FC coach Fidelis Ilechukwu is the youngest head coach in the Nigeria Professional Football League at 39. The Nnewi-born Ilechukwu, in this interview with Completesportsnigeria.com's ADEBOYE AMOSU, speaks about his sojourn into coaching and his aspirations…
You were an unknown figure before the start of last season, could you please tell us how you get into coaching?
I started coaching from the grassroot level as far back as 1999. Initially, I was into business, I was selling used clothes (Okrika), but that after things did not work out for me, I decided to go into coaching. I started gathering little boys around educating them on how to play football.
I did that for several years before meeting Pastor David of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministry who asked me to come and manage their team.
Looking back now, how do you feel coming from the grassroots to become the manager of a club in the Nigeria Professional Football League?
I want to give glory to God for where I am today. I must also say a big thank you to Pastor David for standing by me even when the going was tough. At a time I wanted to pull out but he said no I must continue.
At the end of the day, I handled Mountain of Fire football team from the grassroots. We won over 16 trophies. There was no competition in Lagos that we did not win.
Then we moved on to Amateur Division Two where we experienced a lot of challenges. We produced a lot of talented players then but couldn't hold on to them as we were just an amateur side and the players were not under contract with us.
A good example is Wilfred Ndidi (Super Eagles midfielder who recently joined English Premier League champions, Leicester City ). Another one Jide Idowu, a former Flying Eagles player.
From Amateur two, we gained promotion to Amateur one and then to the Nigeria National League.
Today, we are playing in the Nigeria Professional Football League and I must say it has been a long and tortuous journey.
As a young coach, you must have had some coaches you look up to while growing up, people you see as role models…
Yes you are right. Here in Nigeria, I look up to coach Nduka Ugbade. I have worked under him before and he is my father and a mentor too. He taught me a lot of things and everything I learnt from him is working for me today.
Outside Nigeria, I love José Mourinho because he is someone who turns nothing into something. I love drama in football and Mourinho is some who gives plenty of that.
You know with Mourinho, there is never a dull moment. He always has something to say before and after every game.
You look as young as some of your players, how do you mange to control them and instil discipline in the team?
Honestly, that has been the edge for me because when you are young it is easy to relate with the players. I have a cordial relationship with all of them and they look forward to training on a daily basis.
It's always important to have a good relationship with the players. Some of them are married and you have to advise them on things that are beyond their age.
It is not money alone that you can use to motivate the players. Getting closer to them and knowing their problems can go a long way in raising their performance.
If a player is not giving his best, you need to get close to him to know the real season behind it.
There is this saying that the head coach is the chief psychologist in every team, how do you manage to get the best out of your players especially with your club not having big budgets compare to the big teams in the league?
You are quite right. Let me give you an example, after every game it is always normal to see some players not happy because they were not part of the starting line up or didn't play at all and as a coach you have to make sure you carry them along and make them happy.
I always give my players room to say their minds whenever they are not happy but it is must be done with discipline.Even jokingly too, players can express their mind but you have to respect me as a coach.
For us, we don't have big money to sign players but we thrive on good relationships with our players and total discipline.
Let's talk about your coaching philosophy, what brand of football do you like most?
I love attacking style of football and at the same time always like my team to defend very well too.
I love quality midfielders who can always dictate play for my team.
Last season was MFM's first in the NPFL, you started very well and later fizzled out and barely managed to escape the drop, how would you describe the experience?
It was a tough one, I must confess. I never knew the NPFL was this tough until my team participated in it (long laughter).
This season we have won two games already and I have told my players not to allow that get into their heads as we still have a long away to go.
What happened last season was a big eye opener for us. We started very well and the players got carried away thinking things would continue that way.
We also suffered from indiscipline. I was not totally in charge of the team. I'm a coach who loves doing things my own way. I don't mind the club giving me an ultimatum or a target.
If I don't do well you can then sack me instead of interfering in my job.
Was that what led to rumours of you resigning from the post at the end of last season?
I don't like interference in anything I do as a coach. I love people offering me advice. I love people contributing positive things, coming to training sessions to offer support.
You break the spirit of the team when you control coaches and players know about it. The players will not respect the coach because they know he is not in charge.
It is better for me to go back into business than to be controlled as a coach. I'm an easterner and I love business so much.
So this 2016/2017 season, you can say you are fully in charge now?
Yeah, I'm fully in charge. The day you don't see me here again, you know I'm not in charge. That's the type of person I am. I don't hide my feelings at all.
In my life I don't go after things that are beyond me. There are people who want to build estates or mansions in a day. That's not me.
I won't accept a job when I know I won't be free to pick my players or do what is right. I have choice, which is business.
What are your aspirations for the new season knowing full well that you will come up against big guns in the league like Enyimba, Kano Pillars, Rivers United and others?
I believe we will do well this season even tough it's not going to be easy. I like the level of discipline in the team which is needed when you are competing in a tough league like the NPFL.
Personally, I'm working under pressure because I want to prove some people wrong.
There is no tribalism or sentiment in what we do here. You don't have to be in the team because you are pastor's son or because the coaches are collecting money from you.
Everything must be done on merit. If you do things are done on merit you will definetely get the best results.
You are probably the youngest coach, at age 39, in the Nigeria top flight. Ten years from now, where do you hope to see yourself?
For now, I believe MFM FC is the best football team in the world.The reason why I said this is because It is a place where you are not earning much but the little you have, you enjoy it.
So, 10 years from now, I will like to handle the national team. It is my wish, I hope to be there one day even if not as a coach but a curator (long laughter).
I will keep working hard towards achieving that and I believe I will get there soon. I remember telling Ugbade one day I will meet you there.
But before then, if big clubs like Enyimba, Kano Pillars, Rivers United come calling would you accept their offer?
Why not, you see MFM FC is meant for repositioning. I'm not supposed to be here forever. One day I will leave and the young coaches here will take over.
I don't have to be here forever. The young coaches here too must get the chance to manage the team one day.
I once worked under Ugbade and I'm here today as the head coach. So, others must get the chance to manage the team in future.
On a final note, what message do you have for the fans of MFM and Fidelis Ilechukwu?
They should keep supporting us and stayaway from trouble. Like I usually tell them, football is not a must-win game. You can't win all the time and they must understand that.
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