With anticipation building for the kickoff of 2015/16 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) this weekend, two newly promoted clubs from Lagos State, Ikorodu United FC and MFM FC, are prepared to pull their weight among the best clubs in the country.
Npfl.ng reports that Ikorodu United will have their first taste of NPFL football this season when they host Abia Warriors at Onikan Stadium on Sunday, 21 February, while MFM FC is away to Nasarawa United same day.
The clubs came from different backgrounds before gaining promotion to Nigeria’s elite league at the end of last season but they have brought back top league games and excitement to Lagos, the Centre of Excellence, where football fanatics have missed premier league actions for a decade. Now the fans are chanting, ‘the League has come home.’
Ikorodu United FC, which was founded in December 2014 under the chairmanship of Adewunmi Ogunsanya, is among the few clubs that are privately-owned in Nigeria.
Belgian coach, Maurice Cooreman tutored Ikorodu United to secure promotion to the top flight after just a season in the Nigeria National League (NNL) but the tactician has since departed for Akwa United, leaving ex-international Edema Benson to carry on as chief coach.
In terms of playing staff, npfl.ng gathered that Ikorodu United management has confidently retained the bulk of the squad from last season including striker Francis Shedrack whose decisive goal in their last game against Ekiti United earned them a promotion ticket.
Youngsters such as defender Kabiru from 36 Lion FC, Ebiye who was signed from Bethel FC and the others offer further encouragement that the Ikorodu side seems well placed to survive in the NPFL.
Club boss Ogunsanya, while speaking on his club’s preparedness for the season, said Ikorodu United “is ready to surprise other participants of the professional football league.”
As part of plans to ensure the club perform well, the management has introduced some innovations to rebrand club football in the country. Already, GOtv Nigeria has joined as sponsor for the new season and the club are doing a lot in mechandizing and venue packaging as well.
“Top on our management’s plans is to woo back the Lagos spectators to come out and watch our games. We want to create an avenue where the stadium will be filled by 12 noon for a match scheduled for 4pm.”
Coach Benson is not the boastful type but the former international believes Ikorodu United will be a force to reckon with among the NPFL teams this season, considering their traditional style of keeping the ball, passing accuracy and scoring stunning goals.
For MFM FC, the journey to the premiership took the ‘Prayer Warriors’ about a decade, playing through the ranks, from an inter-church football tournament named after their General Overseer Dr. Daniel Kolawole Olukoya, to the amateur and then the Nigeria National League.
Founded in 2007, MFM FC, which narrowly missed elevation in 2014, secured promotion to Nigeria’s elite league when they garnered 28 points to finish tops in the NNL Group B-2 in an eight-team format last season.
The achievement made MFM FC the first football club owned by a religious body to play in the country’s Premier League. The club play their home games at the Agege Stadium.
Chairman of the club, Godwin Enakhena, said what transformed into MFM FC originated from a vision seen by Dr. Olukoya in 2006, “that God told the GO to reposition the Nigeria youths for Christ, including those in the diaspora. Then, he came up with the D.K Olukoya Football Competition, a church programme meant to hunt for youths that are gifted in competitive sports, especially football.”
MFM FC however grew from strength to strength to become the toast of their followers and have won laurels from various competitions including the 2014 edition of the Church World Cup held in Goa, India.
Enakhena, a broadcaster said having achieved their promotion dreams, MFM FC are ready to make their deserved presence felt in the top flight count; “MFM FC is prepared to face the challenge of the Premier League, we will prove our worth by playing good football to entertain our followers. Our watchword is to reposition the youths and play football without violence.”
He said the club management has great respect and trust in the ability of coach Fidelis Ilechukwu to steer MFM FC to success during their campaign this season. Ilechukwu was elevated to head the technical crew following the departure of chief coach Nduka Ugbade to the national U-17 team.
Enakhena told npfl.ng that the welfare of their players remains paramount in their plans for the season, adding “we have promised to cater for our players, the technical crew and other staff, that’s the best way to get the best from them.”
Although the club’s best goalkeeper Joshua Enaholo, has since joined Enyimba International while their best striker John Okoye will equally not be part of their squad this season, but MFM have the players to survive in their new assignment
Steven Odeh who netted brilliant goals that sent MFM FC to the top flight last season offers versatility in attack and has kept faith with the team. The arrival of Festus Ajah from relegated Bayelsa United may not excite the fans who may not know much of him but he undoubtedly possesses the quality to strengthen coach Ilechukwu’s side.
Also, there is Stanley Okoro who plays in the right back position, and Oladele Oshobe’s composure in the middle of the park could help Odeh flourish further forward. Chuka Uwagba who has great potential and other players definitely add a blend of youth and experience to ensure the club passes the test of the premier league in their first attempt.
Meanwhile, Barrister Seyi Akinwunmi, the chairman of Lagos State Football Association says his men are in a great expectant mood to host premier league games involving Ikorodu United and MFM FC.
According to Akinwunmi, Lagos hasn’t had it so good in the past 22-23 years. “Honestly, the feeling in Lagos is electrifying because it’s like football is coming back home.
“We have not had a single club in the Premier League since 1993. But here we have two clubs that will bring top clubs such as Enyimba, Enugu Rangers, Heartland, Shooting Stars and a host of others to Lagos State. I’m happy this is happening during my tenure as boss of the FA,” the First Vice Chairman of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) said.
The Chairman of Lagos Sports Commission, Deji Tinubu, Dotun Coker a member of Lagos FA and Chairman of 36 Lion FC of Lagos, Mr. Gafar, also expressed their excitement in seeing the return of top football league to the state.
Some football fans said they can’t wait to watch top league matches in Lagos. Tokunbo Adeoshun, a lawyer in Obalende, said: “We have missed good football in Lagos State for years, but we are very happy now that Ikorodu and MFM teams will give us something to cheer.”
Another fan, Ayomide Alo who claimed he is a die hard Stationery Stores supporter said what Lagosians have missed for many years may come back if Ikorodu United and MFM FC live up to expectation in the top flight.