OPINION: Heartland FC’s miraculous survival: Second Chance or False Dawn?

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Heartland FC, popurlarly know as the Naze Millionaires, are a traditional football club based in Owerri, a city in South Eastern Nigeria and were lucky to escape relegation after the 2017/2018 NPFL season was truncated at the 24th game for very obvious reasons.

Naijafootballplus.com eastern Nigeria correspondent, Chinatu Jon, looks at the merits and demerits of staying in the NPFL for the embattled club alongside the way forward for the side.

A return to the topflight for any club exudes a lot of expectations especially when the club in question waltzed past all the clubs it faced in the lower division and was sure of promotion even before the end of the season but when expectations are a direct opposite of reality, disappointment set in and confidence is lost.

This seemed to be the case of Heartland FC in the 2017/2018 NPFL season. They gained promotion from the southern conference of the NNL, topping the table for long periods at that time and were happy to return to the topflight, where everyone feels they belong to but alas they made everyone to consider if they’re ready for the big challenge at all.

Inasmuch as it is not bad to keep faith with the manager who masterminded your promotion, a move to the echelon of club football requires quality to stamp authority and with all due respect to players in the NNL, the playing levels are different and only a few players make the move and fit in seamlessly as was the case with Junior Lokosa, Nyima Nwagwa, Tosin Omoyele and the likes.

The Naze Millionaires failed to recruit enough quality, bringing in players from the NNL and a few fringe NPFL players which made the team look very new and bonding became an extra hurdle. Lost scandalously to the then defending champions at the same venue that their relegation was confirmed, and failed to win their next five. A win finally came when a fellow troubled new entrant visited.

Heartland FC endured a terrible season where everything happened and developed rapidly at each turn, hitting the highest of heights at a certain point and going down to the doldrums at another point. They ended up with three coaches, Ramson Madu who was sacked just after winning the League Bloggers Award, Ezekiel Onyegbule and Turkish Mehmet Tayfun who has also left the team. These three averaged a new manager every eight games and no team can gain stability that way.

With the decision by the LMC not to relegate any team this season, Heartland FC are now faced with the option of either fixing the team to properly challenge for survival and glory or allow themselves to make the same mistakes and return to the lower division.

Exiting the Aiteo Cup should come as a good chance for a struggling side to pull their acts together and formulate a working strategy for the growth of the team.

If everyone goes to sleep and hinge the team’s resuscitation solely on hope rather than conscious efforts, the abridged 2018/2019 NPFL season will come as a rude shock as it is very likely that teams will be grouped according to their regions and a bulk of the teams in the region Heartland FC finds itself are headliners and a lot need to be done to stay above the last three. This is a second chance offered to Heartland FC but they can also make a false dawn out of it.

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