By Jacob Ajom
Two Nigerian clubs, Heartland of Owerri and Kano Pillars competed in the 2009 CAF Champions league and, no doubt, gave the country a credible representation. The clubs also raised the profile of Nigerian football in the continent.
Pillars had the misfortune of being eliminated by HeartlandÂ in the semi final At the end, Heartland won the silver.
The two Nigerian clubs were hailed then as achievers as no time in the history of the competition had two Nigerian clubs survived the league stage since the competition was transformed by CAF. Nigerians were jubilant and the clubs were seen as model clubs.
The managements of the two clubs promised the players a lot of goodies while the euphoria lasted. It is almost one year now, only the management of Kano Pillars has been able to fulfil its part of the bargain, rewarding the players with cars. Other monetary commitments have also been met by the club. No doubt, the clubâ€™s present standing in the countryâ€™s Premier League speaks volumes. They are third.
As for Heartland, the story is heart-rending. The players were promised a special reception to be hosted by the state governor for their efforts. Everybody was expectant as such events are marked with rewards. Till date, nothing has been given to the players.
Now there is a feeling of discontent, betrayal and deceit among the players. The camp is on the boil as the players are now adopting strange attitudes towards the clubâ€™s campaign in the Globacom Premier League.
â€œThe players donâ€™t want to give their best again, while most of them are looking elsewhere and praying for the end of the league so that they can leave,â€ our source said. He added that the situation had been aggravated by the fact that a player who played for Pillars the previous season hasÂ now been given his car; his reward for reaching the semi final of the CAF Champions league. â€œThis has infuriated Heartlandâ€™s players more as they still could not fathom why they, who got to the final of the same competition, could not ride cars of their own.
The last straw that may have broken the camelâ€™s back was the fact that the players were asked to pay N2,500 as surcharge for the uniform they would use at the reception. The players vehemently refused to pay and instead, told the management to cancel the reception if the club could not purchase the uniforms for them.
Sunday Vanguard sports further gathered that with the tension in camp, it would not be surprising to see Heartland Football Club of Owerri drop points easily. Will Imo State governor, Ikedi Ohakim allow this happen? A million Naira question that begs for an answer.
Information reaching us have it that the government of Imo state had washed its hands off the problems bedeviling Heartland of Owerri, particularly, as it affects finances.
We gathered on good authority that the state government was still worried that the N500 million meant for their campaign last year was misappropriated.
Despite the uncertainties surrounding Heartland of Owerri, the clubâ€™s management last week caught the attention of the Nigerian football community when it signed former Nigeria number one goalkeeper, Ike Shorunmu as the new goalkeeper trainer.
It was gathered that Shoronmuâ€™s arrival in camp was greeted with enthusiasm as most of the players and officialsÂ received him with open hands.
Heartland is noted for going for the best technical hands in the land as they already have in their fold some of the best coaches in Nigeria, Kelechi Emetoele and Ben Iroha.