By Onochie Anibeze

Felix Anyansi Agwu has admitted challenges in Enyimba but strongly defended Governor Kalu Orji as showing interest for the progress of the team.Enyimba have been facing financial difficulties which affected their performance and robbed them the dynamism that distinguished them from other clubs in Nigeria.

Many blamed the governor for not driving the club the way his predecessor did.

But the man who has been piloting the club for years including their two- year reign as African champions(2003 and 2004) yesterday exonerated the governor, saying the problem in Enyimba had to do with global recession and not directly linked with the governor. Recession, he said,  affected attendance to their games and the atmosphere during matches  changed.
“But I can tell you that things are picking up. We are joint leaders on the league table with Lobi. We wouldn’t have been there if things have not picked up. Our governor has been doing his best and I want to use this medium to commend him for all that he is doing for our club. Our target is to be league champions again and play in the continent again. We are determined to do so. Whatever problem we had was a momentary one which we have overcome. And we wouldn’t have overcome it without the governor’s assistance. We are getting better and now we are at the top. We hope to remain there and end the season as champions of the league,  a year after winning the FA Cup. A double, this time, will be great for us.” Just as he spoke words on their sister club filtered in.

Heartland will tomorrow in Owerri, their home, attempt to step into the shoes of Enyimba. They play the first leg final of Africa’s biggest club competition, the Champions League.

Heartland got this far an agitated side. They were being owed allowances and bonuses including salaries. After media outcry the government of Imo State led by Ikeddi Ohakim paid the players last week. They went into camping last Sunday, the day the advance team from TP Mazembe, their opponents, arrived Owerri. While Mazembe went to Qatar for preparation from where they arrived Nigeria, Heartland went to Nnewi. The Congolese do not have stories of unpaid bonuses or the like.

The above portrays a clear picture of the circumstances around the two clubs. But Heartland have proven that monetary rewards are no absolute factors that inspire  results on the field although they are necessary for motivation. Players have a way of damning some problems once the referee’s whistle goes. That’s why some prefer to boycott games than play when they have issues with management. On the field, they give their best and if they lose it may not directly be as a result of any missing bonuses. This singular natural factor has been responsible for Heartland’s success story to the final. The players are determined. Another is the output of their couches who have done absolutely well to get this far in spite of the neglect from the state government.

Media reports, we gathered, compelled the governor to join the team in Kano and tomorrow he will be at the stadium if he is in town. But he needs to back up his presence with such an action that will inspire the players and sensitise the entire state to massively support their team. He has not done so at the moment. He appears not to realise the magnitude of the achievement of his club. He appears not to realise the importance of African Champions League trophy. There will be $1.5 million from CAF and $3million from the World Club of Champions Competition.

Most importantly, there’s the prestige of Heartland being Africa’s champions, the spotlight on Owerri and it’s people and the general respect they will command in the continent and beyond.  The political implication is expected to be tremendous but Ohakim may not earn any mileage from it the way he is going. It already appears lost since the usual razmataz that such a final attracts is not in the air. His attitude is responsible. But those close to the club say that his enthusiasm was affected when officials misused N500m he released to the club at the beginning of the season when he set up a committee to ensure a smooth run in the Champions League.

Fanfare or not, the players will be going for history when they play the first leg of the Champions League tomorrow. Interestingly, they play a side they met in their group stage, winning 2-0 at home and losing by same margin away. Coach Kelechi Emeteole commented this way: “They are a good side and one interesting thing is that we know ourselves. That will make the match explosive. We know what to do and we will try to do those things. I think we are good in scoring goals and will score. If we score two to three goals we will be able to have a good show in the final leg. We are after that cup and we can get it.”

Ben Iroha, his assistant, thinks the visitors will fall in Owerri and recalled that when they lost in Lumumbashi their players lost concentration for obvious reasons otherwise there was possibility of escaping defeat. He however envies the great support Mazembe enjoy at home.

“When you play there, you can’t believe what you see. The whole stadium, the whole fans, everything is in their colours and it can be intimidating to inexperienced players. Their fans are wild and I wish Nigerians could be like them in this respect. Whatever happens, we are two matches away from history and we will go for that history that only Enyimba have been able to write in Nigeria. I’ll be happy to be part of it.”

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