INTERVIEW: Why I chose Rangers despite big money offers from other clubs- Fidelis Ilechukwu

Enugu Rangers, one of the prominent clubs in Nigeria’s football league system, has maintained its position in the top flight since the league’s inception in 1970. While 3SC (formerly known as Shooting Stars) dominated the South-West region, Enugu Rangers established their dominance in the South-Eastern part of the country.

In the past, many players aspired to wear the red and white jersey of the Enugu-based Flying Antelopes. Football legends like Christian Chukwu MFR, Emmanuel Okala, and others have proudly represented the team, adding to its rich history.

Similarly, various managers have sought to make their mark on the long list of successful coaches at the club. However, in recent times, Enugu Rangers have struggled to recapture their former glory. Their last league triumph came in 2016, followed by an FA Cup victory in 2018. Unfortunately, the team has experienced a downward trend in the past five seasons, failing to secure any titles.

Despite coming close to ending their trophy drought in the current season, Enugu Rangers lost the Federation Cup final to Bendel Insurance by a lone goal. As a result, the club was determined to turn things around and announced Fidelis Ilechukwu as their new manager last Wednesday, following the departure of former coach Abdul Maikaba, whose contract expired. The appointment of Ilechukwu reflects the club’s ambition to revive the success and fond memories associated with Enugu Rangers.

The announcement means Ilechukwu will return to the Southeast two seasons after departing Heartland of Owerri.


L-R_ Barr. Ferdinand Ugwuarua, Coach Fidelis Ilechukwu, Christian Chukwu (Mfr) and Dr. Orji Iloakazi at the unveiling of the coach in Enugu (1)
L-R_ Barr. Ferdinand Ugwuarua, Coach Fidelis Ilechukwu, Christian Chukwu (Mfr) and Dr. Orji Iloakazi at the unveiling of the coach in Enugu 

Ilechukwu, who left Plateau United over structural issues and political infractions, played 56 games, won 28, drew nine, and lost 19, scoring 79 goals during his two-year spell with the Peace Boys.

During the 30-minute exclusive interview with Premium Times, Ilechukwu said Rangers are an “institution”—the reason he joined the Enugu-based side despite big money offers to join other clubs.

He also shared his relationship with the Mountain of Fire and Miracles General Overseer, Dr. Olukoya, whom he holds in high esteem.

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Despite joining the CHAN Eagles technical crew in 2019, Ilechukwu believes he isn’t too young to offer his services to Nigeria’s men’s senior national team.

Excerpts…

PT: What are the innovations you plan to bring to Rangers?

Ilechukwu: I haven’t met with the players but I have seen the facilities today (Friday) and equipment for the team and we are trying to see what we can bring in terms of improvement and balls so that the players will have more balls in the team. At the same time, we had a meeting with the technical crew of Rangers International and tried to look at the technicality of the team last season and try to see what can be done.

All this was what we discussed in the meeting on Friday and I can tell you that by Saturday I will see the list of dropped players and do my investigations if there is anyone that can be brought back to do trials and retained in the team.

For now, Rangers haven’t dropped players because I haven’t seen the list, so by Saturday I am going to see the list and look at what I am going to do. We will also look at the contract of players that have expired as well.

You know Rangers is an institution, Rangers is a movement; it isn’t like other clubs where players’ contracts are terminated easily. I was told in the meeting that they don’t want issues, so they have to look at everything to make sure that there is no problem, and this is what we want to look at. The team is going to resume on the 17th, and we are waiting for the resumption of the team. That’s when we can start deciding what to do. Already, we are looking at the players we can bring because there isn’t time because the league is fast approaching.

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Coach Fidelis Ilechukwu (R) with Rangers Admin. Sec., Barr. Ferdinand Ugwuarua at the unveiling of the coach in Enugu (2)
Coach Fidelis Ilechukwu (R) with Rangers Admin. Sec., Barr. Ferdinand Ugwuarua at the unveiling of the coach in Enugu 

PT: What prompted the move from Plateau in the first place?

Ilechukwu: Seriously, Plateau United is a team I love so much. Plateau showed me love, the management made me comfortable. I don’t know why I was so loved. Plateau United was just like MFM. I don’t want to talk about Heartland FC. But at the same time, I have to look at the things that affected me in the club I manage when state politics changed. For example, when PDP changes to APC and vice versa, it always leads to a crisis in the team, and the crisis will affect the technical area and adviser, which will lead to a change in the leadership of the club. All this is what I am running away from.

Another reason is that Plateau United haven’t named the General Manager of the club. The pilot of the club matters a lot. During my time in Jos, I waited and waited to at least know who would be the General Manager of the club to know if he would be someone with knowledge of the game or otherwise. I was told to sign another contract if not two, but one. My response was, Who is the General Manager? At my level in football, what if I sign and someone who cares less about the project assumes a position? What will happen?

There are some things you think you are bigger than, but they have affected me before, and I know the impact will affect me again, and that’s what I am running away from. It’s not about bringing in so much money. I think there is money in Plateau United, but I have to prevent the effect and look at a team that’s a movement. A team that’s always arranged in terms of the issues of the players and others. The committees are waiting, everybody is seated and hungry about how Rangers will go back to where they belonged before. I know it isn’t going to be easy, but I see the hunger and passion of everyone.

PT: Can you tell us about your relationship with Dr. D. K. Olukoya?

Ilechukwu: After God, then it’s D. K. Olukoya, and when I say that I am sorry, he is the only man that can make me bridge my contract. He’s my father, he’s everything. He’s the man I can’t compare with anything. And MFM is the team built from our hearts. We aren’t happy the team isn’t in the league right now and if tomorrow anything happens and Daddy wants me, what I will do is look at what and who we will advise to see that the team comes back to where it should be. “If he says, that young man, I want you to come back; I don’t have an option.” Do you understand me?

Even if they are paying me N100 million per month, I don’t need him to pay me. Everything isn’t about money. The same way I rejected some jobs with 500k above where I am right now is the same way I will leave if the need arises to be with MFM. He’s the man who took me off the street. You might not know what he means to me. I might look like someone who’s mad right now, even if it’s amateur. “When I was in MFM, I was very stubborn. Even if I wanted to use the training pitch, they would say this is for students. I will go and use it. I will go to the welfare unit, park there, and tell them all of us are MFM.


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If you call Daddy that this Fidelis Ilechukwu has started, he will say, “The man needs prayer. Just pray for him.” That gave me the advantage that I will do it in your face. The highest you will hear is to pray for me, and if the person tries, that’s what he will hear. He showed me that love. Even when I went to Daddy that those players have issues, he would ask, “Have you prayed for them?” You, too, go and pray for them. If I remember all those things, who am I to say no? If he calls me, I am sorry. I just have to answer.

PT: How did the relationship start?

Ilechukwu: It was from 1996/1997, no be today oo, no be moimoi oo. I was the first coach from then until 2019. I can tell you that the first dollar note I touched in my life was from Dr. Olukoya. He taught us so many things, starting with how to love people, and how to bring people together. Let me tell you, I learned how to manage people from Olukoya. He’s a pure manager. I don’t know where he schooled, but I can tell you that in all the activities, he’s always number one. If you take an issue to him, he will tell you it will work out of nothing. He will tell you it’s possible. After collecting my salary, I went to meet him, and he said, Take this $1000. After I went to change it in Yaba I said what kind of love is this? It’s too much now! Upon everything, no tribalism, he taught us how to love, how to work and manage people, confidence in people, and believing in ourselves. Who am I? Is it because of a three-year contract? Don’t let him hear you so that he doesn’t call me (smiles).

PT: Are you interested in taking the Super Eagles’ job?

Ilechukwu: “I want you to understand that Fidelis will be 45 by July 21st. before they used to say I was the youngest coach, but last week I understood that I am not young anymore. I should be a mentor by now. It’s human beings like us that will do the job. If you look at, for example, some set of players in the Super Eagles, you will understand that they are players groomed by us only a few would be before us. The likes of Osimhen and Co. are still young players. We don’t have the chance now, but people might be thinking we don’t have the skill, but it isn’t true. Very true, It’s turn by turn, whoever is or will be there, we are praying and supporting because the Super Eagles is our own and everybody is supporting. There is no mountain we can’t climb, no matter how tough it is and you just need to give it a try and get good players with the right mentality.

Relate with them with love and motivate them so they can do it. Make sure they are happy, and they will deliver for you. Wherever we are, we are happy, and we will be ready to support the Eagles in any way, even as a curator. We don’t mind. Whoever is there isn’t a problem; what matters is the result.”

PT: What are your targets ahead of the new season?

Ilechukwu: Rangers struggled in the league last season, and they started from the round of 64 to the final in the FA Cup. They played in the final and lost, but I gave it to Maikaba. He has done well. He’s a coach I respect. It was just hard luck that they didn’t get the continental ticket.

Giving me a target is a good thing, I tell you. Rangers is an international team. Rangers are a movement. They believe in that spirit of never-say-never, but you can have that spirit when you do good recruitment. So if you say target for Fidelis Ilechukwu, make sure that you are going to finance the target. If the welfare of the player is 100 percent, the salaries of the players and those you will bring is higher than what they are earning. I can tell you that the target of Rangers is to win anything winnable. We can’t say all these things with our mouths. Money has to be provided. Believe me, we will hit the ground running, and so on.

PT: If we give you the privilege to pick three players in the league, who will they be?

Ilechukwu: I think I will pick Divine Nwachukwu from Insurance. He’s an attacking midfielder. I will go for Bankole Kayode in Remo; he made big saves against me. My match against Remo, it was Kayode against Plateau United. I can tell you that Kayode made one save, and I was asking, “Are you sure this boy is still alive? And again I saw him again saving another ball.” Whenever I see Remo Stars training, I used to look for the boy. He’s fantastic.

Another player was the highest goalscorer in the league last season, Emeka Obioma.

We have a blank cheque. Governor Ubah is ready, and I can tell you that. Even if we can’t bring players of that level, I can tell you that we can get players who our psychologist can psyche to that level. We can go to the grassroots and get some players and psyche him to what we want. I pray we have enough time to do all we want to do. I hope the league begins as stated. We have six weeks if I am not mistaken.

It’s too short. At the meeting today, those I saw at the table, Christian Chukwu, the General MFR was seated, and those that have Rangers’ blood. On Thursday, I met Emmanuel Okala; he told me he started with Rangers and ended with Rangers. He refused to go despite having big offers. I saw medals everywhere, and I was afraid. This is a movement. It’s beyond what we think from the outside, but if we don’t recruit well, all we will have are stories.


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