Technical Adviser of Plateau United, Fidelis Ilechukwu has said his target in the 2023 CAF Champions League is to guide his team to at least the group stage. In a recent interview, the former manager of now relegated NPFL clubs, MFM and Heartland, spoke on his first season in Plateau United, what is required for the team to do well in the continent and his coaching philosophy.
How would you describe your first season in Plateau United?
It is a good season for us because at the start of the season, not many people believed that we would make the top five. Considering where I was coming from, it was very difficult to believe that Plateau United would perform well. But in football, when you have good management, it makes your job very easy. I am working with fantastic management. We achieved all these because of the quality of management and the hard work of the players. At the beginning, there was a lot of pressure on the players from the fans but thank God at the end of the day, we have a reason to be happy. It was patience and perseverance.
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Looking back, what would you have done better to achieve more than a second place finish?
In league football, it is good to prepare adequately for the second round. It is the round where you separate a lot of things. If you don’t have back up in your team when a lot of the players are fatigued, because of congested fixtures and long trips for away matches, you will get into trouble. Even in the first round, after playing 19 matches, the players can become tired. Some may have injuries as well. We had a lot of challenges in the second round and that was why we couldn’t close the gap on Rivers United or even go ahead of them. Another thing is that goal scoring has been very difficult for most African footballers, let me put it that way. So, when you have chances but you can’t convert, you are putting pressure on the team. In the second round, we defended very well but failed to convert our chances. So, in the first and second round, goal scoring was a problem.
Why did your team pull out of the ongoing Aiteo Cup?
Pulling out of the FA Cup was management’s decision. It was a painful decision because considering where we finished in the league and how compact our team is, I believe we have a lot of advantages to win the FA Cup this season. But our management decided that they want the players to rest and refresh since we have gotten a continental ticket.
Did you support the decision by the management?
I won’t say that I was happy about it because it would have been an opportunity for us to win the Aiteo Cup. However, we have to go with the decision of the management. No coach is bigger than the management. But if I have my way, I want to work, I want to win trophies.
You are rising so fast in the coaching profession. What is the secret behind your success story?
No matter how good you are, if you don’t know how to manage people, you won’t get the best out of them. In Africa, people face a lot of challenges. If you can’t psyche up a player who is being weighed down by multiple problems, you will be wasting your time, if you continue to talk to him about tactics and techniques. He might even think you are crazy. So, one of the greatest advantages I have as a coach is that I work very hard to have a good relationship with my players because that is number one thing in football. Even in the office, if you don’t cultivate such a good relationship, your staff won’t confide in you or open up even when they have issues bothering them.
You are always animated on the touchline and many people like this…
Yeah, I do that because I see the touchline as a stage. I like to make good use of my stage, which is the touchline. It is just like if you are a musician and you know how to make good use of the stage, people will like you and your music. I love using my stage because coaching is fun. I like making myself happy. Football is fun.
You once qualified MFM for the Champions League but didn’t perform very well. What should Nigerians expect from you and Plateau United this time?
The same way I praised the management of Plateau United is the same way I expect them to give the team financial support. Continental football is very difficult. In MFM, we didn’t do well because we had many players who left the team after we won the continental ticket. Plateau United is different but I won’t tell you that we are hundred per cent ready. Everything depends on the management. We are always there to work. We are waiting to see how we can bring in a few experienced players to fortify the team. It is very important. But if we are slow about it and we end up not getting the players, believe me, I won’t promise you that we are going to reach the group stage. Time has come that we must not deceive ourselves when we are not doing the right thing. But the truth is that the General Manager and Technical Director are working tirelessly for us to get what we want. So, I am praying that we are also strong in the area of finance so that we would be able to achieve our target.
You didn’t perform well at Heartland. What was the problem?
Talking about my time in Heartland, I won’t blame the management because I am a living witness. If I blame the management, it means I am a very wicked person. When I was there, I don’t know about now, but government support was so poor. Things got from bad to worse in my second season. Government didn’t help much. It is for this reason that most times, it is good to appoint management that is capable. It is not every time that the government will bring out money in time. If you wait for the government to release money before you travel for matches, there will be serious problems.
Do you have a personal target in the 2023 CAF Champions League?
Seriously, my target is to reach the group stage with Plateau United but I know it is not going to be an easy thing. It is going to be a very difficult task that will require a lot of sacrifices. It will be a thing of joy to reach the group stage because Plateau United have not reached that stage before. And when I was in MFM, I qualified for the Champions League but failed to reach the group stage so I want to do something different this time.